A baseball is hard and when it’s thrown at someone intentionally at 95 mph, it can be like a weapon and endanger a batter’s career. So I understand the reaction from Milwaukee’s Brandon Woodruff Tuesday, after Chicago Cubs pitcher Ryan Tepera clearly tried to hit him with a pitch. Woodruff looked at Tepera and yelled:
“That’s f-’d up.’’ Only, he didn’t say “f’d.’’ MLB suspended Tepera for three games Thursday, and rightly so. But let me say this:
I would have been outraged if the Cubs HADN’T thrown at one of the Brewers.
Baseball has its rules and its codes, and it can be tricky business separating the two. People get worked up over the danger involved in intentionally hitting someone. Plus, as a rule of thumb, you shouldn’t take policing matters into your own hands.
But now that I’ve gotten all of that out of the way as a disclaimer, do you want to know what’s really f’d up? The Brewers hit Cubs catcher Willson Contreras in the head with a pitch last week. The next night, they hit him in the upper arm and shoulder, close to his head again. In fact, Brewers pitchers have hit Contreras seven times in the past two seasons, more than any player has been hit by any team.
Earlier in the game Tuesday, before Tepera threw at Woodruff, Woodruff hit Contreras again.
On top of that, the Brewers and Cubs are rivals. The people of Milwaukee don’t care for the people of Chicago in general. The cities would be rivals if Chicagoans ever thought about Wisconsin at all, other than as a place to go for fireworks, snowmobiling or Christmas trees.
You never know for sure if these hit-by-pitches are on purpose. But when you keep hitting the same guy, and doing it near his head, the message in response needs to be clear even if it is an accident:
Stop having that accident.
What about the rules and codes? Well, the Cubs broke both. The rules say you can’t throw at a guy, though the codes allow it as a matter of retaliation, for policing measures. But the codes also say that if you do throw at a guy, you don’t throw it at the other team’s pitcher. Woodruff is a pitcher.
Another code, though, mandates that if you throw at someone, you don’t throw it above his waist. That’s why the Brewers, who keep hitting Contreras up and in, needed a message. Otherwise, sooner or later Contreras would’ve gotten hurt. Tepera’s pitch actually missed Woodruff (typical: Cubs pitchers can’t hit a large, stable target) and went behind him. It also was knee level. MLB pitchers should at least have that much control.
This retaliation stuff might seem childish from the outside. But if you’ve played sports, you know that between the lines, a lot of things are going on. A lot of nuance. Rules can’t cover it all.
If Tepera weren’t making half a million dollars a year, and the Cubs weren’t a multi-billion dollar operation jacking up ticket prices to gouge people who miss going to games because of COVID, I’d be starting a collection for Tepera right here to help pay his fine.
Baseball isn’t the only sport with codes. All sports have them. Even as a small-college tennis coach — at Roosevelt University in Chicago — I talked with my players three days ago about an act of gamesmanship that an upcoming opponent does.
When you’re about to serve to that player, she stops, turns her back, fiddles with her strings, jumps up and down to fire herself up, and then turns back and let’s you serve. If she starts doing that to you, I told our players, serve one into her back.
You get to choose when you serve, not your opponent. Don’t let her mess with your head and take control. Hit her in the back once and she’ll never do it again. A coach from another conference team told me he told his players to do the same thing.
“Hit her in the back,’’ he said.
I realize a baseball is hard and a tennis ball, even over 100 mph, is less dangerous.
But that’s exactly the point. The Brewers are jeopardizing Contreras’ career, especially when throwing near his head. The Cubs had to stop it. And Ross, the manager who also got a one-game suspension, had to let the Cubs and Contreras know that he’s there for them.
But what’s next? Will Milwaukee re-retaliate next time they play? Where does it all end? That’s also tricky. But on Tuesday, it ended with the Cubs winning. . .
On a Contreras home run.