Baseball Danger: An Instant Conversation

Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals gestures toward the pitcher after being hit by a pitch in a game against the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park on Aug. 6 in Washington, D.C. i i

Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals gestures toward the pitcher after being hit by a pitch in a game against the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park on Aug. 6 in Washington, D.C. Greg Fiume/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Greg Fiume/Getty Images
Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals gestures toward the pitcher after being hit by a pitch in a game against the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park on Aug. 6 in Washington, D.C.

Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals gestures toward the pitcher after being hit by a pitch in a game against the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park on Aug. 6 in Washington, D.C.

Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Starter: You know, with all the talk in recent years of "bounty hits" — tackles designed to knock opposing players out of professional football games — among players in the NFL, it may be easy to forget that professional baseball players have a similar system that, in a way, could be even more dangerous: It's called retaliation.

Explainer: Here's how it works: The pitcher from one team will intentionally throw the ball at a batter from the other team. Showing off after a home run or stealing a base when the game is in hand are possible reasons that the opposing team's pitcher may retaliate.

Impressive Depth: Baseball historians, like Tim Kurkjian of ESPN, tell stories of pitchers like Rick Sutcliffe and Roger Clemens who were well-known retaliators. Stan Williams, who pitched throughout the 1960s, kept a list of names written in his cap of batters to punish for one thing or another. Many baseball players and aficionados treat retaliation like it's just part of the game. And it's true that only one man in MLB history has died from being hit by a pitch. But a number of players like Kirby Puckett and Tony Conigliaro were severely injured by pitches to the head.

Quotes You Can Quote: Jason Turbow, author of The Baseball Codes — a book and blog about the unwritten rules of the game — draws a distinction. He tells NPR that most devastating blows to the head in football "are rotational in nature — sidelong hits that affect a greater surface area of the brain — partly because helmet manufacturers haven't yet figured out how to truly disperse that kind of energy before it reaches the skull."

Straight-ahead blows like those caused by a pitched baseball, Turbow says, "are much easier to corral. Not at all saying they're inconsequential, but it's part of the reason why concussions aren't nearly as big a part of baseball as they are in the NFL."

Closer: At least not yet. That could change in a split second with a few errant split-finger fastballs.

What is The Protojournalist? New-school storytelling, old-school reporting. @NPRtpj

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