Are baseball beanings ever justified?

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Things got a little chippy in yesterday's contest with the Braves, as David Carpenter plunked Corey Dickerson for basically no reason. Let's break it down!

The unwritten rules of baseball--specifically those related to intentionally throwing at a batter--are one of those issues of which every fan seems obligated to have an Opinion, with a capital "O." It's either a ridiculous relic of a bygone era, or a necessary tool to protect your teammates from aggression. It seems hardly any fans are indifferent to the issue; sort of like gun control, you're either fer it, or agin' it.

Unless there are vast hordes of the apathetic who just don't bother to engage with the tiresomely opinionated, which is probably the case, but let's ignore those wet blankets.

Yesterday there was a mini-brouhaha between the Rockies and the Braves. Allow me to summarize (video here).

In the bottom of the eighth inning yesterday afternoon, Corey Dickerson was at the plate. The Rockies led 8-3, which is a healthy lead, but as the Braves should well have known after their seven run inning two days ago, no lead is safe at Coors Field. Dickerson took a huge swing, looking to hit the ball to the Rooftop, and on his follow through his bat bashed catcher Gerald Laird in the face. Laird went down in a heap. He had to get helped off the field. Evan Gattis suited up to replace Laird, and on the next pitch, Dickerson received a 93 mph missile to the backside.

Now, by any reading of those arcane unwritten rules, was Dickerson asking for it? Did he not show sufficient remorse for smashing Laird's mask off, unintentionally or not? Corey sort of wandered off instead of showing any concern (what good could he have done anyway, other than get in the way of the trainers?). Furthermore, Dickerson perhaps disrespected the Braves throughout the game by repeatedly pushing for extra bases; in the second inning he was thrown out for trying to turn a double into a triple, and in the seventh he hustled his way to a double on a bloop to center. Could the Braves possibly have taken offense to this overt display of trying to win?

This is the Braves, so who the hell knows. The Braves are the Egyptian Magi of protecting the tomes of How The Game Is Played (as Grant Brisbee so hilariously documents; in fact, I'm stepping all over his toes with this post, but he probably won't bother to cover this edition of Braves lunacy since no benches were cleared). When you're playing the Braves, if you don't show immaculate etiquette at all times you're getting hit. Admire a home run? That's a plunking. Celebrate a strikeout? That's a plunking. Consider the Tomahawk Chop problematic? That's a plunking. Basically, if you play the Braves with any sort of verve, that's a plunking.

Back to our narrative. Dickerson, understandably miffed, took a good hard look at pitcher David Carpenter, who said something along the lines of, "you sir, have the boorish manners of a Yalie," which I think must have been what got noted hot head Walt Weiss really steamed. He came blasting out of the dugout, ready to body slam the already-ejected Carpenter. The umpires held him back, until he got a bit too demonstrative, so they tossed him as well. What a mess. At least it got Jack Corrigan to use the words "gutless" and "classless" in regards to Carpenter.

In phase one of Operation Vengeance, the Rockies scored two runs in the inning, clearly salting it away.

Phase two came in the ninth after Nick Masset retired the first two batters easily. Next came Gattis, and if you believe in the unwritten rules in any sense, then what happened next was inevitable. First of all, it was probably Gattis who called for Dickerson's beaning. Second of all, the game was clearly going to be a win, unless Chad Bettis were pitching. Third, the original HBP was so clearly undeserved that a lack of reaction would be totally gutless. Naturally, Masset whacked Gattis on the shoulder, getting himself and bench coach Tom Runnels ejected. Masset received a plethora of high fives in the dugout.

HBP Justifiability ranking for David Carpenter: 0/10

Obviously Carpenter's plunking was total crap. Dickerson didn't do anything wrong. Carpenter (and let's just expand it to the Braves in general) took a perceived, nonexistent slight, and decided to escalate the situation. At no point did the Braves have anything resembling a coherent reason to plunk Dickerson. Everyone in the stadium is now dumber from having watched that. I award them no points, and may God have mercy on their souls.

HBP Justifiability ranking for Nick Masset: 9/10

Obvious reason for retaliation. Game clearly won. Semi-guilty party at the plate. No more Braves games in the season. Wadda ya need, a road map?

The only reason Masset loses a point is that his pitch crept a little bit high. It bounced of Gattis' shoulder, uncomfortably close to his head. It's one thing to blast a guy in the rear end (wait, let me rephrase that...), but once you elevate the ball, bad things can happen. Obviously those bad things did not happen in this case, but let's keep it belt high next time, eh Masset?

Of course, all this is predicated on the idea that these unwritten rules have validity in the first place. At this point, it starts to get philosophical. Baseball is a game played by large men, for the better part of year, and each season is a mountain range of ups and downs. On top of all that, the pressure to win--defeat, demolish, destroy, prevail, overcome, insert aggressive verb of choice--is severe. There's just no chance that these guys are going to have the forbearance of a Buddhist monk when dealing with such pressures. When a team has the audacity to add the threat of physical pain to that equation, letting such disrespect go becomes an untenable option. You hit our guys, we'll hit yours. Tit for tat.

On the other hand, this is 2014. We no longer live in a time when we settle our differences by pistols at dawn. Can't baseball be a gentleman's sport, where the purity of the competition is the goal, not some fanatical devotion to maintaining "toughness?" Can we relegate HBPs to the realm of the unintentional, instead of as a police measure, which could disable players or get them suspended? Isn't it all a bit childish?

In my opinion, the status quo is acceptable. It's quite possible that these guys need to have that weapon in their arsenal; major league baseball players are men with big egos and big expectations. Sometimes things get scrappy. Hit a guy, get hit back, let off some steam, and get back to work the next day. If someone does something really beyond the pale, then suspensions are in the offing. Baseball is a hard nosed game, and that's part of its appeal.

Either way, I'm glad the Braves are gone.

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