As I write this, it is Memorial Day. A day to remember the soldiers who died in battle supporting the various U.S. interests. Very few baseball fans know the names Eddie Grant, Elmer Gedeon, Harry O’Neill, Bun Troy, or Bob Neighbors. These are five former major league players killed in action. Grant and Troy fought in World War I; Gedeon and O’Neill served in World War II; Neighbors was in the Korean conflict. I saw too many instances today during the telecasts where the meaning of Memorial Day and Veterans Day were confused and mixed together. Now I write about baseball but did want to acknowledge their sacrifice. I will save my thoughts on military pandering at baseball games for another day.
Now on lower stakes, and in its own way, Memorial Day brings to mind Ray Chapman. He is the only player to be killed during a Major League baseball games. He was hit in the head by a pitch from Carl Mays in a game between Cleveland and the New York Yankees in August 1920. Mays was known to throw at guys’ heads, which was not uncommon at the time. According to the New York Times article from August 17, 1920, the pitch which killed Chapman caused a depressed fracture on the left side of his skull approximately three and a half inches in length. There were blood clots on his brain. Carl Mays was not charged with a crime. Mays was understandably shaken by the incident, but he went on to pitch another nine years in the majors, leading the league in wins and innings in 1921. One notable statistic is for the duration of Carl Mays’ career, his frequency of hit batters dropped by nearly half in the seasons after the death of Ray Chapman.
What this has to do with modern baseball is how cavalier some can be with wanting pitchers to throw at batters for perceived slights. Fernando Tatis Jr. hit a home run on Saturday against the Houston Astros and he stood at the plate until the ball had finished its journey into the distance. He then proceeded to give us the bat flip, a medium trot, a stutter step at third base, and got iced out with the Padres ‘Swagg Chain” before going back into the dugout. The baseball carmudegoeons were out in full force. It was usually some guy who has vivid recollections of where they were when Ronald Regan was shot. They kept chiming in how this sort of bahavior would have never happened in their day, or how they would have dealt with Tatis. This means throwing at him or another member of the San Diego Padres. https://youtu.be/qTtNWNVl79s
Fastballs averaged 88.5 MPH in 1980, compared with 92.7 MPH in 2021. Pitchers are bigger and stronger than they have ever been. Some guy who never played past high school, the land of the 78 mile-per-hour heaters, has no concept of the damage that can be done to a person regardless of where they are hit by a pitch. https://youtu.be/BjjZFj5dhLk Kevin Pillar was his hit in the face with a 94 MPH fastball and ended up with multiple fractures to his nose. The proponents of hitting guys thinks it is a simple task to just dot a fella with a fastball in the ribs, butt, or wherever. The pitcher who hit Pillar had to be sent down to the minor leagues in an effort to clear his minWith this type of thinking it is acceptable to take another persons health and livelihood into our own hands when we feel we have been embarrassed or shown up on a baseball field. This makes no sense to me. Simply pitch better. There is always another way for the pitcher to give the batter his comupance.
Wes Burton, a pitcher from Ole Miss University is one guy who is highly emotional on the mound and while his antics can grate on some opponents, but does make thing memorable. We have seen the Trevor Bauer and Amir Garrett show in the Major Leagues. All it will take now is for some industrious players to put something together for the pitchers and there we have it. Bat flips and a strikeout celebrations will be able to be on equal footing. Baseball is a game and it is entertainment afterall. https://youtu.be/1O4a_1kZAWM