Not that either team needed it, but tensions were raised a notch as the final 2015 regular season series between the Cardinals and Cubs got under way in Chicago. The first of two linked events occurred in the top of the fifth inning, when Cubs starter Dan Haren hit pinch hitter Matt Holliday in the head. Holliday appeared to be OK but left the game immediately, for precautionary reasons. The second happened with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, when the game was all but over. Cardinals reliever, Matt Belisle threw behind Anthony Rizzo, just clipping his uniform behind the knee. Belisle was immediately ejected.
Reading some social media comments both during and following the game have led me to an observation that I will call Bob’s Razor, in homage to the common interpretation of the famous Occam’s Razor.
With all other things being equal, a sports fan will look at any given play and see what they want to see.
Applying this to these two game events, Cardinals fans are convinced that Dan Haren intentionally threw at Holliday and Cubs fans are outraged at Matt Belisle’s retaliation. It doesn’t really end there as Joe Maddon referred to the Cardinals as vigilantes with Tony Soprano calling the shots in the dugout. Following the game, he offered this comment, “But you don’t do that under those circumstances. We don’t start stuff, but we will finish stuff.”
Anthony Rizzo piles on with this postgame gem, “at that moment, I want to kill someone because I know it was intentional.”
OK, let us all take a step back and take a deep breath. Try to watch the two plays with as much detachment as you can muster and tell me what you see. It is a fact that we don’t know what either pitcher was trying to do, on their own or following orders from the dugout. All we have are our eyes and hopefully some common sense.
It is easy to overlook the previous batter that Dan Haren faced before hitting Matt Holliday. An 0-1 pitch sailed high and inside to Tony Cruz, causing him to spin out of the way and step out of the batter’s box.
With that image fresh in your mind, what is the most likely scenario that led to Dan Haren hitting Matt Holliday – that it was intentional, hitting a player that has not had an at bat in a game since late July or that the pitch just got away from him, like the one thrown to Cruz ? Unless Haren has taken acting lessons in the off season, his reaction to the pitch should tell us all that we need to know.
Sorry Cardinals fans, the most likely scenario here is that it was not intentional. It was a careless pitch that probably should not have been thrown. Oh, it is fine to be outraged over lack of control, but that is a different situation that needs a bit less venom.
Now let’s look in on Matt Belisle in the seventh inning.
Again, what is the mostly likely scenario here ? Yeah, that one was intentional. But sorry Cubs fans, it is exactly the type of “retaliation” that you should have expected and not the type of thing to get your undies all in a bunch. If you look very carefully at the next few frames of the video above, you will see that the ball does clip Rizzo in a part of his uniform behind his knee. The lack of deflection of the ball’s trajectory tells you that Rizzo was just grazed, if anything.
Was it poor sportsmanship on the part of Matt Belisle ? If Bob’s Razor was not in play here, no, it is not. The same can be said of the Chris Coughlan slide a few days earlier that ended the season of Jang Ho Kang of the Pirates.
We often talk about old school retaliation and much of what is discussed is more folklore than actual history. Pitchers like Bob Gibson and Tom Seaver had such pinpoint control, they could knock a mosquito off the uniform of an opposing batter. When they wanted to send a message, it would be behind a player or at least heading towards the lower part of the hitter’s body. Sandy Koufax refused to throw at hitters, causing his catcher, Johnny Roseboro to buzz Juan Marichal in the famous incident in August 1965. When these guys hit a batter, it was almost always to regain control of the inner part of the plate, not some vigilante act of revenge.
The problem today is that most pitchers don’t have the control of a Gibson, Drysdale, Koufax, Seaver, Feller or even Bob Veale (who did have a bit of a mean streak). Most have no business throwing inside even though the opposing batters are wearing more armor than the Knights of the Round Table. When they do and hit a player, as happened to Matt Holliday 17 times last season, a bit of careful retaliation might prevent number 18 and perhaps a career impacting in jury.
As for Maddon and Rizzo’s comments, it all just