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Friday, August 21, 2009
Alan Dershowitz: MLB Needs Much Tougher Penalties on Beanballs

Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz (of many sources of fame, including being a member of O.J. Simpson's successful legal team in People of California v. Simpson and successfully representing Claus von Bulow in his murder trial), has an interesting op-ed in the Boston Globe on what he considers to be inadequate penalties for big league pitchers who throw at and hit batters, as well as the managers of those pitchers. Dershowitz proposes dramatic increases in punishment.

Here's an excerpt:

* * *

It has become routine in baseball to throw at a batter. Being beaned is part of the risk of playing baseball . . .

Such was the case with Kevin Youkilis, back in the Red Sox lineup last night after a five-day suspension. The throw that prompted Youkilis to rush the mound was, according the Major League Baseball, deliberate. He was hit on the back.

Youkilis and pitcher Rick Porcello were both suspended for five days even though the decision to throw at Youkilis was premeditated and deliberate whereas Youkilis’s response was unpremeditated and provoked. Death, serious injury, and the end to careers can result from being struck by a ball, particularly in the head; it is rare for anybody to be seriously hurt when a batter charges the mound with his bare hands. Accordingly, an equal penalty for these two very different offenses was outrageous.

Moreover, the penalties were anything but equal in impact. Youkilis, one of the most consistent hitters and fielders in Major League Baseball, and one of its most difficult outs, missed approximately 25 at bats and numerous fielding chances. During his five game suspension, the Red Sox lost 4 games and won only 1. The five day suspension of Porcello, on the other hand, barely affected his team. Normally a starting pitcher gets to the mound only once in five days, so Porcello didn’t even miss one full rotation . . .

The message conveyed by Major League Baseball, even if unintended, is that it pays for a pitcher to throw at a superstar. Since human nature will often cause a batter to respond impulsively to being struck, a pitcher can trade a meaningless suspension for a meaningful one against the opposing team.

Moreover, had Youkilis not charged the mound, it is extremely unlikely that Porcello would have been suspended at all. But even if he were to have received a slap on the wrist, managers will now have an incentive to continue to encourage pitchers to throw at valuable batters, since their team can derive a benefit.

* * *
The minimum penalty for a manager must be suspension for an entire season, perhaps even for life. For the pitcher, suspension for the season should be mitigated only if the pitcher turned in the manager. There should also be penalties for any baseball player who hears the manager or coach order the beaning of a player without reporting it.

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To read the rest, click here.


"The message conveyed by Major League Baseball, even if unintended, is that it pays for a pitcher to throw at a superstar. Since human nature will often cause a batter to respond impulsively to being struck, a pitcher can trade a meaningless suspension for a meaningful one against the opposing team."

That is just plain wrong. I know there are examples of this, but to say that "often" a player will charge the mound is just flat out incorrect. Other than Youkilis this season, can anyone else name a player who has charged the mound this season? Of course there's Robin Ventura, etc. who charged the mound, but with the amount of beanballs that are being thrown lately, Youkilis is the only one who has actually charged the mound. Plenty of players have been "held back" and benches have cleared, but I can't recall any other mound chargings this season. Maybe someone can correct me if I'm wrong.

Blogger Pbenn001 -- 8/21/2009 9:37 AM  

Does anyone else find the irony in Dershowitz here: I mean a criminal defense attorney being so outraged at misconduct--but in favor of harsher penalties and harsher punishments rather than a discussion of "rights" and "second chances" for such misdeeds! (Could he be a Red Sox fan, maybe, I'm just sayin')

Anonymous Anonymous -- 8/21/2009 10:49 AM  

He has to be a Red Sox fan. I just can't help but wonder if he has ever played baseball in his life.

Also, calling for a full season or even a lifetime ban on managers? Get real Mr. Dershowitz.

Blogger Pbenn001 -- 8/21/2009 11:21 AM  

Kevin Youklis "missed approximately 25 ABs." So he missed (as a f-t regular) about 1/25th to 1/30th of the season (625-750 AB/season).

(It would be rude of me to wonder if a batter really averages 5 ABs a game; qualifying for the batting title requires 3.1 AB/game, so that seems as if it should be more than a SD high. Or maybe the DH-ing, more3 batters-per-game AL needs to change the minimum ABs required to a higher number. But that's an aside. Then again, Youk has had 569, 528, and 538 ABs in his last three presumably-full seasons.)

Meanwhile, Porcello missed a start. Now, he's a rookie, so I can't look at the past, but he has started 22 of Detriot's 110 games to date, so it looks as if his punishment is probably just about the same as Youklis's (1/30th of his season), especially if you consider that he was ejected with a three-run lead in the bottom of the second (he's averaging more than five innings a start), and Detroit ended up losing that game, so really he lost two games for that suspension.

At worst, Youklis was penalized no less than Porcello. Realistically, Porcello's penalty was greater.

Blogger Ken Houghton -- 8/21/2009 8:52 PM  

Very good points Ken. I'm still baffled at the audacity of Dershowitz in this piece.

Blogger Pbenn001 -- 8/21/2009 11:30 PM  

Dershowitz's comments come from one perspective--that of the batter who is beaned (much like his beloved Youkilis). However, what about the other side? What about pitchers who have their strike zones shrunken to the outer half of the plate because big and burly hitters wearing elbow, knee and shin guards crowd the plate. How are pitchers supposed to get control of the plate again?

Here's a counter-solution as bold as Dershowitz's original. Teach pitchers how to bean batters. Want to protect the batters from getting hit in the head? Teach pitchers to throw with control at the thighs. Sure, people will get hurt--but we're talking about professional athletes. If you are so worried about the possibility of someone getting hit in the head (which, if I'm correct, has happened less over the last decade than pitchers being hit on the head by line drives from batters who have no fear at the plate), teach pitchers how to bean someone properly. One of the most effectively bean ballers in our era? Greg Maddux. Why was he able to paint the outside corner so well without batters just inching closer and closer to the plate? Because they knew they'd get one between the letters. Come on, Dershowitz! It's baseball!

Blogger Mitchell J. Kim -- 8/22/2009 9:59 AM  

The game of baseball needs to go back to the good ol' days, not make ridiculous changes based on the belief of a pompous Harvard Professor that takes a legal and hard nosed approach the game
How many deaths occur from beaning batter and throwing chin music?
You will never know what is premeditated, although you will think you do.
Penalties for life?
Penalties for all teammates not reporting their manager telling the pitcher to bean a batter. Is this guy crazy??? Baseball hasn't been the most honest sport, but this Dershowitz guy is out of his league when talking about this.

You are taking to much away from a game that needs a
blast from the past injected into it.
What next Dershowitz, should the NFL become Flag Football?

Blogger Thomas44 -- 8/23/2009 5:09 AM  

I think something being overlooked here is that the commissioner most likely wouldn't be able to do what Prof. Dershowitz is proposing, even if the commissioner agreed with him. Player discipline for on-field misconduct (a mandatory subject of bargaining) is subject to the CBA, which provides a right to have suspensions reviewed by a neutral arbitrator. So in other words there is precedent here, just as exists in the court system.

Blogger Rick Karcher -- 8/23/2009 9:16 AM  

First, we should probably distinguish between "beanballs" aimed at a batter's head and hitting batters in some other part of their body. As Dershowitz points out Youkalis was hit on the back not in the head like David Wright, Tony Conigliaro, or Ray Chapman.

Ross Bernstein, a prolific writer from Minnesota, has written three books under the main title "The Code." His most recent one is about football. His first one covered hockey and the second one covered baseball. The premise of all three books is based upon interviewing current and past players about the enforcement of on-field discipline. Nearly everyone with a passing interest in these three sports knows something about these unwritten rules and how a sport self-polices certain behavior.

I think Professor Dershowitz's suggestions produce a punishment that exceeds the degree of the problem. I also agree with Rick that the collective bargaining agreement would involve a neutral arbitrator in baseball. In football, however, there is a substantial debate at the moment about the degree of control Commissioner Goodell should be allowed in discipling off-field behavior by NFL players.

Blogger Ed Edmonds -- 8/24/2009 2:30 PM  

"After further review"....I think Dershowitz could not have been serious in this, but rather he just wanted to be an instigator.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 8/24/2009 6:57 PM  

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