The Right Cross – A Baseball Tradition

“He grabbed me and said, ‘I didn’t have the ball’ and then he punched me. … I was trying to pick up my helmet. I tried to take a step around him and he grabbed me. I thought he was going to say ‘Hey, are you OK?’ And I was going to say the same thing. The words came out, I got hit and the next thing I know, all hell broke loose.”

A.J. Pierzynski

And somewhere Carl Reynolds agreed.

Fact, Michael Barrett popped Pierzynski on the jaw on Saturday and the sports world threw up their collective arms and were either shocked, titillated or they missed it.

Violence on the field is hardly a new concept in any of the major sports always seems to make us to a check on our own hot buttons for what is acceptable, and what is not acceptable in relation to the subject.

Saturdays incident has a precedent that goes back to 1932, when on the 4th of July Washington outfielder Carl Reynolds scored on a broken play on a sacrifice fly. After a brief collision Reynolds celebrated with the team’s batboy, at that point his teammates implore him to touch the plate, fearing that he had not done that cleanly. As he turned to go towards the plate Dickey smashed his jaw with a right cross, breaking it in 2 places and causing a general melee. For his infraction Dickey was fined $1000 and suspended for 30 days, a pretty stiff fine and punishment during the Depression. Dickey claimed he was confused by Reynolds coming at him after the run had scored.

In the natural order of things you’d think that a precedent had been set, one would expect a similar type of punishment if a similar infraction occurred in a game in the future.

But no one ever said that baseball was the slave to any order, much alone natural order.

Jumping ahead to 1960 and into the National League another famous punch can be found lurking in the shadows; this one is highlighted by the participant who personified fiery and shoot from the hip as a manager in the 70’s and the 80’s, I’m talking about Billy Martin a man whose brief career in Cincinnati and the National League gets lost in his giant life in baseball.

The Indians wanted Johnny Temple, the Reds wanted Gordie Coleman, and Billy Martin came over as a trading chip and a placeholder.

“We had picked up Billy Martin in the off season and I loved him. He had the Napoleon complex so many little guys have and he always seemed to be in a fight. Someone always wanted to knock him down and he’d always retaliate.”

Jim O’Toole

May 15th – Phillies vs. Reds. Reds pitcher Raul Sanchez hits three Phillie batters in a row, the third being 6’9” Gene Conley. In a fit of rage rookie Phillie manager Gene Mauch rushes Sanchez on the mound starting a fight between the two teams. In a “peacekeeper” role Martin gets popped in the face by Conley.

“I was holding back Mauch and Conley belted me. But I got Conley too. I had to jump up to hit him. Fighting him is like fighting a two story building.”

Billy Martin.

For his trouble Martin hurt his hand and missed two weeks.

Mauch was fined $100 by NL President Warren Giles.

Martins hitting mojo was never fully charged and as the decade matured his bat wilted. A contact hitter with both low strikeouts and walk totals Martins stay in Cincinnati was highlighted by his last year with a .300 plus on base percentage.

August 5th – The one-year anniversary of Martin getting beaned in the face as a Cleveland Indian by Senator pitcher Tex Clevenger’s fastball, Martin had seven facial bones broken, but declared it an accident and forgave Clevenger for the incident. On the anniversary the Reds are in Chicago playing the Cubs and the Senators are also in town to take on the White Sox in the evening.

Several of the Senator players visited the Reds clubhouse prior to the contest and engaged Billy Martin in a conversation, Billy felt that he was being crowded in the National League (The Dodgers in retaliation for a Roger Craig collision had beaned Vada Pinson three times since the incident causing the Reds to be somewhat on edge.) According Senator pitcher Hal Woodeshick Martin was “fed up with getting knocked on his ass every time up.” And then he swore, “Someone’s going to pay.”

On the mound that day for the Cubs was 22-year-old Jim Brewer, a rookie making his fourth start of his career. After walking Martin to lead off the game Brewer gave up 3 hits and allowed 2 runs. In the second inning he got two quick outs and Martin stepped to the plate. The first pitch was high and tight and Martin acted as if he had been struck in the helmet and took off for first, the ruse didn’t take and he was ordered back into the box. Brewer threw the 1-0 pitch and Martin took a half swing and his bat skittered out towards the mound landing ten feet to the right of the rubber.

Martin said it “Slipped” from there he walked out to the mound to retrieve his bat. In his hearing with Warren Giles he claimed that Brewer was “mouthing off and that if he had kept his mouth shut nothing would have happened. Brewer admitted he asked if Martin wanted to fight. Martin’s reply was “No, I’m out here to get my bat, kid.”

It was then that Martin attacked Brewer with a surprise right, fracturing his cheekbone and orbital, starting a general ruckus that featured an angry Brewer stalking the field with a broken bat in his hand.In the aftermath it was obvious the culture of the game was going to point to the pitcher vs. the hitter aspect of this fight. The Sporting News ran stories about Martins 1959 beaning, and even printed a letter to the editor about “The Carl May’s Pitch” from former Major Leaguer Dummy Hoy. The general consensus was that the batter was at the mercy of the headhunters.

Martin gave his final word on the matter, “Nobody, and I mean nobody is going to throw at my head, they can hit me anyplace else, but not in the head.”

When a man has a history of violence, as well as a history of being beaned what to you use as your basis for your ruling on the matter?

This is the sort of thing that Giles had to ponder, even despite current Reds GM Gabe Paul’s assertion that “Its pretty difficult to figure the thinking processes of a man who has been hit in the jaw by a pitched ball.”

“We can’t have batters charging the mound every time they think the pitcher has thrown at them.”

Warren Giles

After hear both sides, Giles levied a $500 fine and a 5 game suspension for the infraction.

In the aftermath two opposing camps arose, those who felt the penalty was too lenient and those who felt it was not warranted due to the nature of the altercation, that being a pitcher – batter confrontation.

On the side of Giles was too harsh was Reds slugger Frank Robinson.

“Giles ruling should make Don Drysdale very happy.” At the time Drysdale led the National League in hit batsmen with ten.

On the other end of the stick was Cubs owner and the man who signed Jim Brewers checks. Wrigley called for a $1000 fine and a suspension that equaled the disabled Brewer’s absence, he even went as far as to call the decision “Wishy Washy”

Certainly a precedent had been set with the Dickey situation, but the introduction of the pitcher into the fight changes the ground that it begins on, and as for Saturdays combatants we hear this from the man with the quick right cross.
“He had every right to hit me,” Barrett said about the initial hit. “He made a great play in taking me out before the ball could get to me. As soon as I got knocked down, I fall back, a little startled at first. All I know is when I got up and gained some kind of consciousness, he’s walking toward me and sort of bumps into me. At that point, I just reacted.”I wish I would have pushed him away from me. Unfortunately, what’s done is done. All I know is that as I’m laying down, he’s walking toward me and nudges me — barely nudges me. At that point, I don’t know what’s going on.

“A.J. is an emotional player; we all know that. I felt, especially after watching the replay, that after he touched home he could have easily gone back to his dugout. He didn’t have to cross over and come toward our side. I was clearly two to three feet on the other side of home.” Barrett said he regretted it wasn’t a PG-rated play on his part. “There are kids watching,” he said. “You don’t like for those sort of things to happen. I expect to be disciplined. … When you hit another grown man, it’s never right.’

So I suggest that when Mr. Selig ponders the Barrett punch from Saturday after noon that he pay credence to the events that transpired almost 74 years ago and not the one from 46 years ago.

One final note, in his short time in the National League Billy Martin was never hit by a pitch.

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