Thursday, June 27, 2013
Fear Strikes Out. And "scared shitless".
One on one competition between two athletes of comparable ability has a single objective to achieve victory: destroy the opponent's will.
Basketball has the illusion of one on one but that can be interrupted at any time by other players. Among the mainstream sports in the USA there are three one on one confrontations:
- pitcher/batter in baseball.
Boxing's crushing of the will is plainly brutal by its nature. Tennis lacks the physical contact and overt brutality of boxing but is is just as focused on destroying the opponent's will. Baseball is somewhere in between. The pitcher and batter are separated as in tennis but the possibility of lethal force is a real and present danger.
The pitcher controls the action and this not a match of equals. The pitcher stands on a mound throwing downhill. The pitcher always wins in the long term. Always. Since 1916 only two batters have had a .500 batting average (BA) for as many as 40 at bats (AB) in a season.
Since 1916 only ten pitchers had BA against >=.319 and qualified for league ERA title:
The pitcher may hit the batter with a pitch but the batter may not hit the pitcher. 99% of the time the pitcher may do this with impunity and any punishment rarely fits the crime. 100% of the time the batter is punished for retaliating. The pitcher and batter are never equal in any sense.
By its nature the batter is in mortal danger even if the pitcher is not acting with reckless disregard for human life. The pitcher might hit the batter accidentally. The batter might hit a pitch that strikes the pitcher but that is much less likely.
Batters must deal with the basic human aversion to being hit and enduring pain and injury. We naturally recoil from that. The batter must act against his own best interests.
How many batters had the talent to hit .400 but could not deal with the intimidation of being hit? Slow pitch softball to me is the essence of the game: hit, field, run the bases. The softball pitcher merely facilitates getting the ball in play. Softball batters can have a .500 BA. There is zero fear. When we watch Major Baseball League (MBL) games we rarely notice the fear. It usually takes a violent act for us to be awakened but the batter is aware on every pitch because the batter may die on each pitch.
Thoughtless announcers use the word plunk to describe a batter being hit by pitch (HBP). For a ball traveling at 90 miles per hour (mph) released from about 55 feet a more appropriate word might be drilled.
Even worse is the description of a batter being hit in the head: beaned. Say what? How about the batter had his skull fractured or his face smashed?
We accept the intimidation. The pitcher fires a fastball at the batter's head and the batter is expected to use his world class reflexes to flip himself backwards onto the ground to save his own life. If he doesn't then the batter is often blamed. After getting up the batter is angry and/or frightened. He's not thinking straight. The pitcher throws a curve ball low and away and the batter swings and misses, striking out. Now he's really upset. But what can he do? If he charges the mound, he will be suspended. Possibly worse, his antagonist may beat him up, adding insult to injury. See Nolan Ryan throwing at Robin Ventura, Ventura charging the mound, Ventura getting pummeled by Ryan who is outraged that his right to act with reckless disregard for human life has been challenged.
If the pitcher is not succeeding enough against a particular batter to satisfy himself, he can simply hit the batter in the head with a pitch. See Roger Clemens "beaning" Mike Piazza. Imagine Roger Federer charging the net and hitting Rafael Nadal with his racket because Nadal is winning their tennis match.
Remove fear and loathing from the batter's box. Reduce the pitcher to a facilitator, not the dominant player on the field. Or eliminate the pitcher completely, replaced by a machine or tee.