The rules of engagement are out of whack. They favor the malefactor. And Monday in San Francisco the malefactor was Giants reliever Hunter Strickland, who intentionally hit Washington Nationals slugger Bryce Harper in the hip with a 98 mph fastball. If there is anyone who saw it and doesn’t believe if was intentional, who buys Strickland’s non-credible assertion that he was just trying to come inside on Harper, I have some oceanfront property in Arizona I’ll give you a good price on.
Most sports fans know that after he was hit, with two outs in the top of the 8th inning with the Nationals leading 2-0, Harper charged the mound where he and Strickland exchanged punches before teammates could pull them apart. Most baseball dust-ups look more like dancing lessons than fights. But these two landed punches. There was real intent here.
And there was clearly intent in Strickland’s pitch, which amounted to assault and battery. If Strickland had done anything like this on a city street he would have been subject to arrest. And the purpose pitch was thrown for a really crappy reason. More than two years ago, in the first round of the 2014 playoffs, Harper batted against Strickland twice and both times hit monster home runs. Strickland was apparently still sore that Harper had taken him deep twice. So Monday, in the first time he faced Harper since giving up the two moon shots, and on his first pitch, he assaulted Harper with a baseball, which anyone familiar with the games knows has the approximate density of a rock. At high speeds it always causes pain, and sometimes serious injury. Absent the thuggish act on Strickland’s part, there’s no fight.
This afternoon Major League baseball announced Strickland will be suspended for six games for the incident, Harper for four. Both are to be fined an undisclosed amount. Both players have appealed.
It may look like Strickland, who started the business, is getting the heavier punishment. But not so. Hunter is one of the Giants many set-up men out of the bullpen, and so might be expected to pitch maybe three innings over the six games that he’s on the porch. Harper on the other hand is the Nationals three-hole hitter, who a third of the way through the season is batting .331 with 15 dingers and 41 RBIs. He’s a major part of the division-leading Nationals’ potent offense. Strickland is a bit player. Harper’s absence for four games would cost the Nationals waaaay more than Strickland’s six.
And the important question is the one Nationals manager Dusty Baker asked on Harper’s behalf after the game: “What’s a man supposed to do? He’s not a punching bag.”
Just so. What indeed was Harper supposed to do after being clearly intentionally drilled? Is he to be expected to just take his base and rub the hip and hope Strickland doesn’t decide to assault him again just because Harper has had some success against him? Beyond this case, is any palooka pitcher to be allowed to put an important hitter out of a team’s lineup by intentionally hitting them and provoking the understandable and manly response out of them?
Major League Baseball needs to ponder this question. From where I sit, 100 percent of the blame for what happened Monday is down to Strickland. Harper is blameless. If the suspension is upheld on appeal, Harper could be out of the Nationals’ lineup for four games, the team weakened, entirely because of a serious offense Strickland committed. MLB’s action in this case is way short of just.