Will Rhymes was hit by a pitch Wednesday, in the forearm. Although there appears to be no lasting damage, the pain was sufficient for Rhymes to remove himself from the game while standing at first base, then pass out into the arms of first-base coach George Hendrick before he could reach the dugout. (Watch it here.)
“I got to first and started getting real dizzy, nauseous,” Rhymes said. “That’s when I started walking off. And then, apparently, I didn’t get real far.”
This is obviously a fairly unique situation, but it is a perfect entre into the unwritten rule stipulating that players who have been drilled refrain from rubbing the mark. It has nothing to do with superstition and everything to do with public displays of macho. It’s the hitter telling the pitcher, you can’t hurt me.
The prototypical player for this rule was Don Baylor, who crowded the plate to such a degree that he was hit by 267 pitches over the course of his career—and, reported the Washington Post, never once rubbed. “Of course,” the article went on to say, “several of the balls had to be hospitalized.”
The notion was summed up perfectly by Hall of Fame owner Bill Veeck, in his book, Veeck as in Wreck, published in 1962:
In baseball, let me say, there is a code that says, “Big-leaguers don’t rub.” You may have noticed that after a batter is hit by a pitch he may flex his shoulder or twist his neck a little but he will never rub the spot where he has been hit. If you ask any of them about it, they will always say, “Why should I give him the satisfaction of showing he hurt me?” This may sound rather naïve, since a pitcher who has just hit a batter behind the ear with a baseball traveling 80 mph has a mighty strong suspicion that it might have stung a little. What the players really mean is that there has somehow developed a code of honor which forbids them to make a display of any physical injury caused by an opponent. There are those, I’m sure, who would call it nothing more than the code of adolescence. I’m not among them. I would even dignify it, I think, by calling it not so much a code but a tradition—for any profession worth the name develops its own traditions. Courage and honor are not such commonplace commodities, now or ever, that they should be scorned.
Pete Rose made a habit of sprinting to first base after being hit, to show the pitcher—and everyone else in the ballpark—that he could not be slowed. In a 2006 interview, former Brewers first base coach Dave Nelson talked about a moment just days earlier, when outfielder Geoff Jenkins was drilled in the elbow, hard enough so that Nelson could clearly make out the imprint of the ball on his arm: “I said, ‘Jeff, you okay?’ He said, ‘Oh man, that hurt,’ but he never rubbed it one time. Not one time. I said, ‘Boy, you’re a better man than me.’ He never even shook out his arm.”
That said, pain levels can occasionally supersede bravado.
“What if I caught you in your neck with something—you ain’t gonna rub it?” asked Rangers manager Ron Washington. “What if I caught you right in your darn elbow? In the elbow. I ain’t talking about the fat part above or below, I’m talking about in the elbow. You telling me you’re going to walk down to first base and not touch it? No, I’m going to be all over the ground. I’m giving in to that pain. Not to you. To the pain. You catch me in the thigh, in the hip—okay, I can take that. I might just run my butt on down there. But catch me somewhere where it hurts, then I’m giving in to that pain.”
Which brings us back to Rhymes, who can hardly be faulted for a reaction over which he very clearly had no control. The lack of actual severity—the second baseman sat out Thursday’s game, but is not expected to miss much time—may open him up to some ribbing from his teammates, but it’s pretty certain that none of them will hold this against him.
After all, it could happen to anybody.