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Intentional hit-by-pitches create a vicious cycle

An eye for an eye shouldn't be the new normal.

When did it become expected to hit someone after he hits you?
When did it become expected to hit someone after he hits you?
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Sorkin, in the various iterations of his subconscious, has asked many, many times about the virtue of the proportional response. How do we expect the skirmish, the battle, the war to end if we only fight back with an equivalent effort? I have a different question: When did baseball players decide that violence is the best retaliation?

Buster Olney called it the unwritten rule: If your pitcher hits my guy in the top of the inning, my pitcher's going to hit your guy in the bottom of the inning. It's biblical and base to the simplest of roots. It's an eye for an eye. But didn't we all learn in kindergarten that that's not how it's supposed to go?

In May 2012, Terry Collins pulled David Wright and Daniel Murphy out of the game half an inning after Mets pitcher D.J. Carrasco was ejected for hitting Milwaukee Brewer Ryan Braun. Collins's reasoning? He didn't want to risk his stars' being part of a retaliation.

Last September, Bartolo Colon was ejected after hitting two Washington Nationals. And again, there was another article about how the Nationals probably wouldn't retaliate.

Going as far back as spring training 2003, Mike Piazza took it a step farther: After Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Guillermo Mota hit Piazza in the left shoulder, Piazza charged the mound and had to be restrained. After the game, he went searching for Mota in the Dodgers' clubhouse. Dodgers general manager Dan Evans said he didn't imagine any retaliation because the two teams would next face each other during an exhibition series in Mexico City and a fight could cause an international incident. That's right, an international incident. In spring training. How does it ever go that far?

On Tuesday, Tom Koehler hit Yoenis Cespedes on the side with a pitch (Koehler said it got away from him). Cespedes glared, walked a few steps, glared again, and then trotted down to first base. Six innings later, Erik Goeddel threw behind the Marlins' pitcher, leading to warnings to both benches. In his postgame press conference, Collins hinted at revenge.

"I think Cespedes being hit bothered us a little bit," he said. "We'll answer it in our due time."

At that point, there were 17 games left this season and the Mets, for the first time in a long time, are in the middle of a pennant race. When do you plan to answer?

I know not every hit-by-pitch is intentional. Most of them probably aren't. The difficulty lies in determining which is which, and that puts a lot more power in the hands of the umpires. If a catcher is lined up outside and the ball runs in on the hitter, that was probably a mistake. If it's raining or snowing or 105 degrees outside, extra moisture probably made the ball slip. Everything else is open to discussion, whether that becomes the role of the home plate ump, the crew chief, or the replay room in New York.

As it stands, umpires typically give warnings to the benches, then hand out ejections after that. MLB determines suspensions and fines if things come to blows. But with starting pitchers, these suspensions rarely affect anything: a three-day suspension has said pitcher right back on the mound for his next start. A suspension between starts doesn't do anything to curb this vigilante justice. Because that's what it is, isn't it? In this grand world of baseball, umpires are the policemen. Let them do their job.

It comes down to the pitchers. Instead of hitting your opponent in the back, strike him out. Instead of taking retribution, beat him with a high fastball. Don't give the other team a free baserunner. Get the next guy out, and the one after that, and the one after that. Get better. Don't get even.