After Noah Syndergaard‘s first pitch of Game Three of the World Series, my wife asked me if he meant to do that. I said that he absolutely did, as he set himself up for a couple of strikes on the outside of the plate immediately after tossing the ball to the backstop, ever-so-closely to Royals’ SS Alcides Escobar‘s chin. Fortunately, after looking back at the tape, those who were intelligent could see that the ball was actually over the plate – it was just high. Perhaps the Royals and Mike Moustakas, who chose to chew his gum harder than a teenage girl while barking at “Thor” from the dugout, could reflect a bit on the truly scary attempts at backing players off the plate that Syndergaard’s opponent, RHP Yordano Ventura, was unleashing earlier in the year.
These supposed “heinous acts” that pitchers are making are a part of the game. After listening to Sam Miller and Ben Lindbergh on Baseball Prospectus’ “Effectively Wild” for so long, they started talking about the need to suspend pitchers for extended periods of time for throwing “at” opposing players, as it could be labeled assault, as a baseball could potentially kill someone, as it did Ray Chapman in 1920. At that point, I began to tune them out. Sure, you could say that hitting batters doesn’t belong in the game, and your argument is valid; however, once hitting a batter becomes an act of terror on the diamond, pitchers won’t be allowed to pitch inside – or they won’t want to – to avoid fines and suspensions.
Imagine Bob Gibson, Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, or Greg Maddux pitching without using the inside corner of the plate…it changes the history of the game – and it doesn’t even take into consideration the fact that players are crowding the plate now more than ever.
The fear that I have in removing pitching inside is that the offense would take off. I understand that games are long and that it bores the “fans” who don’t want to be at games for hours, but adding offense makes games longer, and here’s an important question: why is Major League Baseball catering to the fan who doesn’t want to watch baseball? With offense exploding, fantasy sports would become a bigger factor in the sport, which would add viewership, but isn’t that the same thing as the National Football League, whose offense-first philosophy has forced defenses, if you can call them that, into 11 large men who aren’t actually allowed to defend anything?
Baseball is a different sport. It is poetic. It is full of meaning – at least for those who are passionate about the sport. To remove pitching inside is to change a game that has thrived for so long on the same rules. Let the baseball nerds have their robotic umpires, statistical analysis, and mathematical wizards within the front office, but if you want to call pitching inside bullying, then take your politically correct, getting picked last in gym class behinds out of the sport that I, and so many others, love for what it is and what it has always been: the battle between the minds and abilities of a man throwing a ball and another man having seconds to make an inference and a swing.