It’s fine to send a message in baseball. Just don’t go bragging about it.
Two nights ago, Phillies left-handed pitcher Cole Hamels hit Washington Nationals’ rookie phenom Bryce Harper with the first pitch of the at-bat. It was Hamel’s “welcome to the big leagues” message for the young Harper, whose baseball prowess and swagger has been chronicled since the age of 15.
As soon as Harper was hit, the purposefullness was clear. And that’s ok. It’s important for pitchers to establish their presence on the mound and brushing back or hitting a rookie (especially one with the hype of Bryce Harper) is acceptable in baseball. Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling did it. Roger Clemens did it with balls (and bats). It’s just part of the game.
But then Hamels opened his mouth in a post-game interview. He told reporters “I was trying to hit him…I’m trying to continue the old baseball.” Hamels was promptly suspended for five games and fined an undisclosed amount of money.
That’s great, Cole. Congratulations on boasting about hitting a 19-year old kid in the back. That’s old school? Old school would have been a wry smile after the pitch or a long stare-down as Bryce made his way to first base. Not a cocky remark in the safety of one’s own locker room.
Along with the suspension, Hamels should be forced to put on the Philly Fanatic costume and dance around Citizen Bank Park during his time off.
Harper’s response? Did he charge the mound? No. Did he respond angrily to Hamels’ post-game comments? No. Later that inning, Harper got Hamels back the old-fashioned way. The left fielder hustled from first to third on a Jayson Werth single. He then did something incredibly gutsy for a rookie (or any MLB player for that matter). Something that would make Jackie Robinson, Rickey Henderson and Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez very proud. He stole home. Something that hadn’t been done by a first-year player since 1966.
The 19-year-old out-old schooled the 28-year-old with some hard-nosed, close-mouthed play. Cole Hamels could learn a thing or two from the young Bryce Harper. Maybe he can give it some thought during his five-game break.