Catchers Protect Pitchers, Retaliation

Hats Off To (Bryce) Harper: Ill-Considered HBP Spawns Ill-Considered Response to Ill-Considered Mound Charge


Harper charges

The guy to watch is Buster Posey.

In the wake of yesterday’s headline-grabbing free-for-all between Bryce Harper and Hunter Strickland, one can learn volumes by watching the Giants catcher.

Sure, Strickland drilled Harper in the hip with as intentional a fastball as can be thrown by a grudge-carrying pitcher.

Sure, his reason—Harper did some staring and some yelling after homering off of Strickland for the second time during the 2014 playoffs—was thin.

Sure, Harper acted like a punk in his own right, throwing his helmet at the pitcher before charging the mound, a decision made all the worse by his wild inaccuracy.

Sure, the fight was intense, at least by baseball standards, with Harper and Strickland getting in at least one shot each, even as Giants Michael Morse and Jeff Samardzija cinematically tackled each other while going after Harper.

It all provided some darn good theater on a lazy Memorial Day afternoon. But the person to watch was Posey.

In situations like yesterday’s, a catcher’s primary role is fight-preventer, his duty being to bear-hug an angry batter from behind before damage can be done to the pitcher. Not Posey. Not yesterday.

Harper took four-and-a-half angry steps before deciding to charge the mound. He took five more, plus a whole bunch of pitter-pats, once he started to run. Also, he threw his helmet.

Yet it wasn’t until Harper and Strickland began trading punches that Posey thought to approach the fracas, far too late to stop anything, or to even slow it down. That’s him, mask on, on the outside of the scrum looking in.

Why didn’t Buster do anything from the outset? Probably because he was nearly as annoyed at Strickland as Harper was. Because Strickland was redressing an issue from three seasons ago, in which the only injury was to Strickland’s ego, during a series the Giants won. (“I don’t even think [Strickland] should be thinking about what happened in the first round [of the playoffs],” Harper said after yesterday’s game. “He should be thinking about wearing that ring home every single night.”)

Posey may have been upset because Strickland decided that the time to do something was in the eighth inning of a game in which the Giants trailed by only two runs. (Given Strickland’s short-relief role, he doubtless felt that he had to seize any available opportunity. Harper’s postseason homers off him in 2014 represented the first two times the players ever met. Monday’s was the third.)

Sure, two were out and the bases were empty, but following Harper in the batting order were Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon—not exactly the cast you want to face out of the stretch. Sure enough, singles by Zimmerman and Murphy brought home pinch-runner Brian Goodwin to extend the Nats’ lead.

It was foreseeable. Posey foresaw it. And he knew that if the Nationals are to respond at some point during the series, he will likely be the one wearing the target. And he wasn’t pleased. So he stood there.

“Those are some big guys tumbling around on the ground …” Posey explained after the game in a San Jose Mercury News report. “It’ll be a little dangerous to get in there sometimes.” Uh huh.

Posey had every right to be angry with Strickland. Drilling Harper was a stupid decision at a stupid time. Still, it comes down to this: players are obligated to protect their teammates, no matter how much they may disagree with said teammates’ actions. They can offer chastisement in private, of course (one can only hope that Posey took such a tack with Strickland), but over the course of a season, any decision that frays a ballclub’s brotherhood is markedly unhelpful. When it comes to fights, the prevailing notion is: Protect your guys and sort out the details later. 

To that end, Posey failed. He failed not only Strickland, but every other Giants pitcher who might one day wonder whether Buster might have his back when things get weird.

The thing is, Posey wasn’t even alone. Look at Brandon Crawford trotting in from shortstop in the above clip, as if trying to delay his arrival. Maybe Crawford’s just not a fighter. Or maybe it’s a collective anti-Strickland sentiment, almost as if the guy had been making clubhouse pronouncements about his intention to get Harper, even in the face of veteran teammates advising him against it.

Which, given Strickland’s reputation, wouldn’t be surprising.  It all jumbles together in one inane stew that, no matter which angle one chooses, doesn’t look good for the Giants.

Posey watches

Update (5/30): Fox’s Ken Rosenthal suggests that Posey and Strickland may have had an understanding wherein Posey intentionally lay back to let things play out. This would explain a lot of things. Still, it doesn’t account for Posey’s complete lack of movement (were he prepared to act engaged while not actually engaging, one would expect that he’d try to sell it at least a little), nor the fact that Harper’s charge was decidedly unlikely in the first place.


6 thoughts on “Hats Off To (Bryce) Harper: Ill-Considered HBP Spawns Ill-Considered Response to Ill-Considered Mound Charge

  1. Has there ever been a fight where the teams just sat on the bench and let two guys go at it, hockey style? I mean, if the Giants thought this was all on Strickland, they could have just stood by and let Harper pummel him, right? I guess the question is, would the Nats have done similarly? (I suspect not, since their guy had to stand there and take the first shot.)

  2. I’ve never heard of such a thing happening. Even when Reggie Smith went into the stands in Candlestick in ’81 a couple Dodgers raced up after him. Leaving teammates to handle matters on their own is simply not an option.

    People have suggested that the best way to curb baseball fights is to ban teammates from getting involved, a la hockey, and I think they’re right. For the most part, baseball players don’t really want to fight. They know that they can go out there, make a statement and be separated from their opponent before more than one punch can be thrown. If left to their own devices, very few guys would seize a chance to go mano-a-mano with a pitcher, undisturbed.

    1. On the flip side, would a third man in rule that reduced mound-charging result in more intentional HBPs, since there’d be no other way to really express displeasure at being drilled in the first place? I mean, if Harper knew his teammates weren’t allowed to join the fight and he’d be taking on Strickland one-on-one, and chose not to do it, that wouldn’t stop him from being pissed and wanting some kind of revenge. (Actually, in Harper’s case, he might have done it anyway.)

      But I wonder if the prerequisite for banning players from leaving the bench or their positions is going to be a serious injury in a brawl? (The, “We won’t install a traffic light at that intersection until someone dies” excuse.) I know there have been some close calls, but I can’t think of anyone’s career or even season ending as a result of such a fight.

  3. In a world where only two players were allowed to fight, I imagine that pitchers would end up more accountable within their own clubhouses on account of teammates getting drilled on behalf of guys who were unable/unwilling to charge the mound.

    That said, it’s not like mound-charging or fights (the real kind, like yesterday’s) are such an epidemic that the rules need alteration. And lord knows we don’t need to see any more intentional HBPs than is utterly necessary.

  4. It occurred to me also that perhaps Posey and Strickland had a prior conversion. “If he charges the mound, just let him come.” That would explain Posey vague answer. Or it could be as you said, Posey was not pleased.
    I’m glad you pointed out that Harper did some pointing and yelling after the 2nd home run. Most of the comments/articles leave that part out, but I think that was a big part of Strickland’s grudge.

    1. Both the scenarios that make the most sense to me involve prior conversation between Strickland and Posey (and maybe others). If that’s the case, the primary question has to do with whether the rest of the Giants approved. My guess: they did not approve.

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