Conservatives, Liberals, and Beanballs

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Writing Friday on ESPN.com, baseball analyst Tim Kurkjian discusses  a significant change that has occurred in major league baseball.  Specifically, the adoption of a "zero tolerance" policy regarding acts of "retaliation" by pitchers, i.e., beaning batters for various perceived offenses.  As Kurkjian explains:

"Retaliation has forever been a part of baseball. And it usually hasn't taken much for retribution to occur: Intentionally hitting a batter, admiring a home run at the plate, a slow stroll around the bases on a home run, a rolling slide into second base, stealing a base, dropping a bunt or swinging at a 3—0 pitch when you're 10 runs ahead, and peeking at the catcher's signs all might get a baseball thrown at you at a very high rate of speed."

Kirkjian recounts tales of various big—name pitchers who have thrown at batters:  Bob Gibson, Don Drysdale, Nolan Ryan, and, more recently, Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez.  In Kurkjian's words, baseball is "a hard game played by hard men."

But is this still true?

Recently, major league umpires have become quick to eject —— and the commissioner's office quick to suspend —— pitchers who hit batters with pitches, even when it is not clear if the pitcher was trying to bean the batter.  As former Los Angeles Dodger great Davey Lopes explains:

"Retaliation "has been virtually eliminated compared to how it used to be.  The game is no longer policed by the players, it's policed by the people above the umpires.  They have taken the fear element out of the game.  They have taken the intimidation out of the game.  Pitchers don't even throw inside anymore.  When they do, hitters get all upset."

The result is not only a much more hitter—friendly balance of power between pitcher and batter, but arguably a softening of a once—tougher game.  Is this a positive development?  Personally, I don't think so.  I doubt most professional ballplayers think so, either.

More generally, I suspect that most people who think of themselves as "conservative" oppose the move to eliminate beanballs from major league baseball, whereas most people who think of themselves as "liberals" probably applaud this trend. For liberals, eliminating beanballs is probably seen as a mark of progress —— a movement away from "antiquated" notions of retribution, revenge, and corporal punishment, and towards more "enlighted" forms of impersonal, bureaucratic punishment (suspensions and fines).  But conservatives, I think, are more likely to see beanballs as a form of "frontier justice" that fosters rugged individualism, mutual respect, and a greater appreciation of the complex social conventions of the sport.

Another liberal—conservative difference that probably expresses itself in differing attitudes towards beanballs is the liberal impulse to rid society of all risk of physical injury (e.g., requiring kids to wear helmets and elbow pads when roller skating or riding bikes, which was unheard of 30 years ago).  Conservatives are less risk averse in general, and much less supportive of bureaucratic regulations that require people to behave in certain ways so as to reduce risk.  Obviously, hitting a batter with a fastball presents a real danger of injury.  Hence, liberals are likely to view beanballs as "bad" in themselves, whereas conservatives are more likely to weigh the risks and "benefits" of beanballs —— and conclude that some beanballing is a good thing.

Whatever the underlying psychological or philosophical dynamics, the subject of beanballs provides an interesting litmus test of a person's conservative or liberal instincts.  I have no doubt that Al Gore would oppose beanballs, or that George Will would favor beanballs.  I wonder what President Bush thinks?

Steven M. Warshawsky  5 28 06 

Writing Friday on ESPN.com, baseball analyst Tim Kurkjian discusses  a significant change that has occurred in major league baseball.  Specifically, the adoption of a "zero tolerance" policy regarding acts of "retaliation" by pitchers, i.e., beaning batters for various perceived offenses.  As Kurkjian explains:

"Retaliation has forever been a part of baseball. And it usually hasn't taken much for retribution to occur: Intentionally hitting a batter, admiring a home run at the plate, a slow stroll around the bases on a home run, a rolling slide into second base, stealing a base, dropping a bunt or swinging at a 3—0 pitch when you're 10 runs ahead, and peeking at the catcher's signs all might get a baseball thrown at you at a very high rate of speed."

Kirkjian recounts tales of various big—name pitchers who have thrown at batters:  Bob Gibson, Don Drysdale, Nolan Ryan, and, more recently, Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez.  In Kurkjian's words, baseball is "a hard game played by hard men."

But is this still true?

Recently, major league umpires have become quick to eject —— and the commissioner's office quick to suspend —— pitchers who hit batters with pitches, even when it is not clear if the pitcher was trying to bean the batter.  As former Los Angeles Dodger great Davey Lopes explains:

"Retaliation "has been virtually eliminated compared to how it used to be.  The game is no longer policed by the players, it's policed by the people above the umpires.  They have taken the fear element out of the game.  They have taken the intimidation out of the game.  Pitchers don't even throw inside anymore.  When they do, hitters get all upset."

The result is not only a much more hitter—friendly balance of power between pitcher and batter, but arguably a softening of a once—tougher game.  Is this a positive development?  Personally, I don't think so.  I doubt most professional ballplayers think so, either.

More generally, I suspect that most people who think of themselves as "conservative" oppose the move to eliminate beanballs from major league baseball, whereas most people who think of themselves as "liberals" probably applaud this trend. For liberals, eliminating beanballs is probably seen as a mark of progress —— a movement away from "antiquated" notions of retribution, revenge, and corporal punishment, and towards more "enlighted" forms of impersonal, bureaucratic punishment (suspensions and fines).  But conservatives, I think, are more likely to see beanballs as a form of "frontier justice" that fosters rugged individualism, mutual respect, and a greater appreciation of the complex social conventions of the sport.

Another liberal—conservative difference that probably expresses itself in differing attitudes towards beanballs is the liberal impulse to rid society of all risk of physical injury (e.g., requiring kids to wear helmets and elbow pads when roller skating or riding bikes, which was unheard of 30 years ago).  Conservatives are less risk averse in general, and much less supportive of bureaucratic regulations that require people to behave in certain ways so as to reduce risk.  Obviously, hitting a batter with a fastball presents a real danger of injury.  Hence, liberals are likely to view beanballs as "bad" in themselves, whereas conservatives are more likely to weigh the risks and "benefits" of beanballs —— and conclude that some beanballing is a good thing.

Whatever the underlying psychological or philosophical dynamics, the subject of beanballs provides an interesting litmus test of a person's conservative or liberal instincts.  I have no doubt that Al Gore would oppose beanballs, or that George Will would favor beanballs.  I wonder what President Bush thinks?

Steven M. Warshawsky  5 28 06