So now we know what the legal community thinks of the unwritten rules.
In 2007, while playing for the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League, Jose Offerman charged the mound. While there, he hit used his bat to hit pitcher Matt Beech in the hand and catcher Jonathan Nathans in the head. (See photos of the incident here.) Now Offerman is on civil trial for damages borne from assault, and people on both sides of the courtroom are trying to explain in legal terms just what happened.
It started when Beech, pitching for the Bridgeport Bluefish, hit Offerman with a pitch. Beech, testifying in a deposition read on Monday, claimed that it was unintentional. “I threw him a cut fastball that hit him in the lower leg,” he said. “I did not hit him intentionally. If I had wanted to hit him, I would have aimed a fastball at his ribs, so no one else would get hurt.”
While it’s unclear how hitting Offerman in the ribs rather than the leg would keep others from getting hurt, Beech added that such information should be assumed knowledge for all ballplayers. Offerman, whose 15-year big league career included stops with seven different teams and two All-Star appearances, is counted among that group.
Nathans claims that his own aspiring baseball career was ruined, and is suing Offerman and the Ducks for $4.8 million. I’m sure the fact that he is now an attorney has nothing to do with it. (Not to mention the fact that a 28-year-old hitting .200 in the Atlantic League—who was playing with his seventh independent team since topping out at the Double-A level of the Red Sox system three years earlier—isn’t usually what one would call a lock for future big league riches.)
The Code came into play again when Joseph Klein, the Atlantic League’s executive director, stated for the record that “plunking is wrong.” Klein has a long and storied career in all levels of baseball, so his opinion is not uninformed. “Hitting players intentionally is not part of the game, as I see it,” he said, although based on the AP report of the trial he did not indicate whether he was talking about baseball in general or the Atlantic League specifically.
One thing that Klein was not prepared for, he said, was intervention by law enforcement, who arrested Offerman after the attack. “I was stupefied and dumbfounded,” the exec said. “What happens between the lines should stay between the lines.” In that, at least, the Code agrees: there are numerous ways to respond to a given grievance from within the field of play. (Then again, the unwritten rules also mandate that under no circumstances should a bat have to be entered as a piece of evidence in a potential trial, primarily because it has no business being anywhere on the field but the batter’s box or on-deck circle.)
Offerman was suspended indefinitely by the league, which has yet to rescind the ruling (mostly because Offerman hasn’t asked them to). Official charges were dropped after the player agreed to two years’ probation and rehabilitation. (It didn’t work. In 2010, while managing the Licey Tigers of the Dominican Republic Winter League, Offerman punched an umpire and was suspended for what ended up being three years.)
While it’s tragic to see a person sufficiently disturbed to go after somebody with a bat, it’s interesting to see a baseball pro discount, as Klein did, that the idea of hitting batters intentionally even exists. He did, however, discuss a time during his own playing career when such a thing happened to him:
Klein recalled that he, too, was the victim of a plunking.
“The ball hit me right here,” he said, pointing to the base of his skull, just behind his ear.
Smith asked whether Klein ever retaliated for that pitch.
Klein replied that although he didn’t charge the mound, the pitcher did get his comeuppance. Klein said he smacked a line drive back at the very same pitcher the next time he faced him 10 days later.
“Hit him right in the shin,” Klein said with a mischievous smile. “I was sort of happy about that.”
As for Offerman, I love him for the fact that, unrelated to any of this, he led the National League in errors three out of four seasons (nearly doubling up his closest competition in 1992) with the Dodgers. This led Jay Leno to joke that Offerman was so upset over his fielding that he decided to end it all and jumped in front of a bus. It went right through his legs.
If that’s not worth a few bucks whatever civil judgment is about to be rendered, I don’t know what is.