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BRUSHBACK-STABBING....

OVER THE PAST CENTURY or so of major-league baseball, an army of pitchers, managers, and self-ordained experts have tried to convince the public that throwing high and inside is an integral part of the pitching art.

Everyone knows the lyrics: "You have to keep the hitters honest. Keep them from crowding the plate. Make them respect you."

Yea, sure. A pitcher does have to work both sides of the plate. But "pitching high and inside" is a smokescreen for intimidation. Dusting the hitter off. Knocking him down. Sticking it in his ear.

The whole ugly hit was classically enacted in Yankee Stadium on July 7, when Yankee pitcher Roger Clemens beaned the Mets' best hitter, Mike Piazza, with a 90-mile-an-hour fastball. The crack was heard over TV, and Piazza went down and out.

As he lay stretched out on the ground, apparently lifeless, the pitcher stood motionless on the mound, his face set in cement.

It was scary, and it brought out the worst in everyone:

The Mets' manager called it malicious and deliberate.

Piazza (upon regaining his senses) called it "definitely intentional."

The Yankee owner, an immortal sportsman, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The Mets were yelling to cover up the fact that the Yankees were beating the pants off them--a statement that certified his spotless record for tastelessness.

Back in the early 60's, we asked the greatest pitching coach of the time, John Sain, to define the term "pin-point control" for us.

"I'd call it the ability to pitch a baseball within five or six inches of your target," he said.

That registered with us. It meant that anyone who pitched high and inside and missed his target by a few inches could wind up hitting the batter in the face or skull.

That is flirting with disaster. But it never seems to bother anyone. The only response it ever draws from a baseball man is, "The pitch just got away. Nobody wants to hurt a another player."

We have never believed it. The pitchers do what they believe they have to do. Maybe they don't want to hurt anyone. But they accept the risk and shrug when they do hit someone. "It's all part of the game," they claim.

The Piazza beaning had to be the worst non-call of the season. Think of it: a notorious brush-back pitcher is facing his nemesis (a hitter who has gone 7 for 12 against him, with three home runs) in a critical game in a heated intra-city rivalry. He delivers an obvious brushback pitch that hits the batter on the head and knocks him cold--and the umpire doesn't even issue a warning to the pitcher.

It is becoming incredible. The umpires keep telling us how wonderful and irreplaceable they are, and then continue screwing up.
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Title Annotation:pitching and beaning
Author:Masin, Herman L.
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2000
Words:466
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