The 98-mph fastball Hunter Strickland threw at Bryce Harper’s midsection was fueled by a grudge 31 months in the making. It was retribution for two home runs in the 2014 National League Division Series and the way they were admired. If you believe Strickland was only aiming at the inside corner, you’ll love the tale about Madison Bumgarner dating a female Madison Bumgarner back in high school. Also, please check your email for an important message from a deposed Nigerian prince.
Harper, understandably irate, charged the mound and punches were thrown. The involvement of one baseball’s biggest stars in on-field fisticuffs is a major story carrying major implications. Perhaps the most compelling thing about the incident, which has been played over and over again on even the most baseball-adverse sports shows over the past 16 hours, is the way Giants catcher Buster Posey reacted.
As Harper charged –with helmet in hand– Posey stood stoic near home plate. He didn’t race after the batter bearing down as his pitcher. He didn’t try to step in front of Harper to de-escalate the situation before it came to a head. Instead, he stood idly by, an observer to history.
His inaction was a deliberate action.
One could say he’s a bad teammate, that he should have jumped to restrain and protect. One could say there’s no room for principles in a foxhole, no honor in self-preservation in the heat of battle.
But Posey knew. He knew Strickland was way out of line. Baseball’s unwritten rules are nebulous although clear on one thing: a pitcher can’t simply plunk a batter because he’s angry about past failure. Harper’s grand transgression was, apparently, turning around fastballs for playoff home runs. He didn’t spike a middle infielder or show up a pitcher or chirp from the dugout or do one of the myriad offenses that would warrant a physical reminder from the opposing hurler.
Posey also knew that Strickland’s vengeance more than likely will eventually lead to a Giants hitter, perhaps Posey himself, getting hit as retribution. Baseball and the adjudication of honor is, after all, a zero sum game.
Consider the actions of the Giants bench. They were more focused on removing Strickland from the field than engaging with the Nationals. It took three men to drag the furious reliever off of the field. More than one Giant got it in the face by their own teammate.
They knew what Posey knew. Strickland has stepped outside the unwritten rules to pen his own statement. At a certain point, being a good soldier stops being prudent.
There has been much consternation over the silliness of a yet another base-brawl. This reductive concern obscures the fact that baseball justice was served appropriately, fists and all. Harper was well within his rights to charge the mound as Strickland’s punishment was extrajudicial. Posey stood up for what’s “right” by not blindly protecting his teammate.
The push to eradicate beanballs entirely is understandable, but perhaps naive. Players must have a way to police the game internally. And just as it should be pointed out when the folly of these age-old ways rears its head, those players must be lauded for handling things appropriately, as happened on Monday.
They must be given the leash to keep order — and sometimes that order comes in the form of a guy charging the mound. It may sound barbaric, but look no further than frozen Posey for proof.