|Fighting for the Plate: Harper-Hamels||| Print |||Send|
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on May 11, 2012
What I do know for sure is that Hamels is one of the best pitchers currently in the Majors. That’s why his throwing at Bryce Harper and then admitting it came as a bit of a surprise.
Photo by Dirk Hansen, used under creative commons license.
Sure there is some bad blood in terms of rivalry between the teams, and certainly those who’ve actually met Bryce Harper won’t defend him as being a “nice guy.” In fact the word that leaps to mind is far less flattering. But that’s often the case with guys who’ve got insane amounts of raw talent and are hounded unceasingly by the media.
And the 19-year-old Harper has the mindset of a player likely to make it big in the Majors and a skill set that almost assures he’ll be a star. But just a few games into his career, Harper was still mostly hype. But it’s stuff that every player in baseball had heard, especially the pitchers.
What Hamels showed Harper was a little bit of respect. That’s something you do with the best hitters, and those who project to be.
There is no reason to brushback a mediocre talent or to level a rookie who is just getting his feet wet. But Harper, the talent that launched 10,000 hypes, is different. He’s already been anointed the next great hitter. Even just 8 games into his career that’s where the media had already put him. That’s the kid Hamels hit.
One of the greatest pitchers of all time, Sandy Koufax, said it best: “Pitching is the art of instilling fear.” And if that’s all Hamels was trying to do, no one would fault him for it. In recent decades the brushback pitch has fallen out of focus, pitchers who hit batters regularly, or knock them down get warned, then possibly ejected if they do it again.
But that doesn’t and hasn’t stopped plenty of the great ones of recent vintage including Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Roger Clemens and even Hamels’ own teammate Roy Halladay from instilling a little fear by owning the inside of the plate.
That’s the pantheon of modern pitching greats that Hamels wishes to join. To do that Hamels needs to create an image. And the pitcher’s image can be made as a soft tossing nibbler, by relying entirely on his stuff, or by dominating that plate. The last is the image that the great ones tend to project. They all were tough enough that no batter ever gets too comfortable at home plate when they were on the hill.
Hamels probably should have thrown an old fashioned brushback and knocked Harper down into the dirt. But the problem with a brushback is that if the hitter is so used to pitchers who don’t dare to throw at him, which is the norm, that the batter might freeze and take that pitch in his head. Harper might not be the kind of kid who’d freeze, but that’s not something you’d want to find out after the fact.
Instead Hamels made his point by drilling Harper in the lower back.
The stupidity was in admitting it. Those remarks got him a five-game suspension and further stirred the animosity of the Nationals.
Still, if that established in Harper’s mind that Hamels owns the inside of the plate, Hamels might think it as well worthwhile.