Rarely enforced MLB rule ‘hits’ Pirates as a surprise
ST. LOUIS – Pirates manager Clint Hurdle can’t remember ever being on the wrong side of the rule that states a batter must make an attempt to avoid getting hit by a pitch.
It is a rule rarely enforced. Very rarely.
What seemed to give the Pirates’ Russell Martin away and made it “ball three” instead of “take your base” during an at-bat in St. Louis earlier this week was the elbow he raised in defense that put protective gear in the path of a wayward delivery. The thinking was that Martin might be in pursuit of an easy trip to first base with very little or no pain involved.
Umpire Alan Porter invoked Major League Baseball Rule 6.08 (b) and kept Martin at the plate with a full count in the first inning Monday against Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright instead of loading bases. Martin flied out to end the inning and the Pirates were shut out 2-0.
“That’s the first one I’ve encountered,” Hurdle said. “The first time you ever have it called on you it feels like you’ve been violated.”
The Cardinals applauded the call. If the rule is used more often, manager Mike Matheny said, it might serve to dissuade players tempted to offer up a body part for an easy trip to first base.
“We do need to see effort in getting out of the way of the ball,” Matheny of the call that helped Wainwright escape early trouble against an NL Central rival. “These are conversations we have with the umpires. Everybody’s going to complain when it happens, but they’ve got their eyes open for it.”
At the time, it was a definite head scratcher. Hurdle’s protest was brief and Martin calmly took his medicine.
“He said to him it looked like I threw my elbow out there and that’s why I had to stay,” Martin said. “I wasn’t going to argue. I tried to turn with it and my elbow did come out. He said if you didn’t move your elbow out, it wasn’t going to hit you.”
Hurdle’s argument at the time was that Martin had two strikes and was protecting the plate. After the team reviewed video, the manager conceded “it looked funny.”
“Where was the elbow in relation to the plate? I got some reports back it might not have been as flagrant a call as I thought it was from my seat in the dugout,” Hurdle said. “That there might have been some substance to it.”
Players have cadged their way onto base throughout baseball history. One of Matheny’s former teammates, Fernando Vina, was adept at offering a thigh, bicep or buttock – anything to get the rally going. In 2000, Vina got hit a major league-high 28 times.
Craig Biggio, Don Baylor and Ron Hunt all fearlessly crowded the plate and were routinely hit 20-plus times per season. Turn of the century Hall of Famer Hughie Jennings holds the career record at 287, two more than Biggio accumulated.
How many times intent was involved in any of it is impossible to quantify.
Matheny, a former four-time Gold Glove catcher, said he recalled many occasions when he gave umpires a heads-up about opponents with suspicious motives.
Hurdle vaguely recalled that Rule 6.08 (b) helped Don Drysdale keep his then-record 58 2-3-inning scoreless streak rolling. Drysdale hit Dick Dietz with the bases loaded, which would have ended the run at 44 innings, but umpire Harry Wendelstedt ruled that Dietz made no effort to get out of the way and Dietz flied out.
Matheny never had a hard time bailing out in times of trouble. In 13 seasons, he was hit a total of 45 times. When Matheny was at Michigan, he remembered Illinois going “public” with a goal of leading the nation in hit batsmen, and that he wasn’t happy about it.
“They really wanted to stay in on the baseballs and they were getting highly rewarded from the coaching staff every time they did,” Matheny said. “They were leaning into everything. So sooner or later, someone has to step in and do the right thing.”
Which is to say, inform the authorities. Or really drilling a few offenders.
Martin didn’t seem to feel singled out. After all, he still had a chance to deliver with the bat.
“As a hitter, you want to hit, so whatever,” Martin said. “It didn’t hurt, because I was wearing the protective sleeve. It’s not a big deal.”