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Changes Come to a Head

Baseball: Umpires will be able to immediately eject pitchers who bean batters if they feel that was the intent.

March 01, 2001|ROSS NEWHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PEORIA, Ariz. — A consistent calling of the rule-book strike zone is not the only difficult assignment confronting umpires.

The commissioner's office has reminded them that they have authority under the rules to eject a pitcher who throws in the direction of a hitter's head. If in the umpire's opinion it was intentional, they do not have to give warning first, as has been the practice.

"They've always had that authority," discipline czar Frank Robinson said. "We just wanted to reinforce it. We wanted to make clear they would have our backing if they took that action."

In a Feb. 12 memorandum sent to umpires, Sandy Alderson, executive vice president of baseball operations, wrote that "umpires should be mindful that, given the skill level of most major league pitchers, a pitch thrown at the head of a hitter more likely than not was thrown intentionally."

Umpires have concluded that an automatic ejection for the pitcher, and possibly his manager, is what baseball wants. A pitch thrown deliberately at any other part of the hitter's body may still draw a warning first.

The umpires have always had to read game situations, using discretion in sorting out intent. Was it deliberate or did a pitch simply get away?

It will be a little tougher now, knowing a quick ejection could touch off a firestorm of protest.

Veteran umpire Bruce Froemming agreed but said, "Major league baseball doesn't want any head hunting and I have no problem enforcing it. I think we know the difference between a guy pitching inside and throwing at a hitter intentionally. Part of our job is to protect the players' safety."

Said Angel Manager Mike Scioscia, "I think the umpires will use common sense as they have in the past. The underlying message is that throwing at a hitter's head is not part of baseball, and I agree with that. Part of pitching inside is moving a batter off the plate to get access to the outside corner, but throwing at his head is irresponsible."

Umpires may also have to carry a tape measure this year. In another move that may help pitching, batters will be allowed to wear only 10 inches of padding around the elbow and none on their forearm or upper arm--unless they bring a note from the doctor. In that case, said Ralph Nelson, baseball's vice president in charge of umpires, "We'd make a short-term exception."

In a recent development, hitters have wrapped their lead arm in padding and leaned over the plate with impunity, taking away the outside half and "some of the pitcher's initiative, giving the hitter another advantage," said Alderson. "There needed to be some compromise where legitimate health or safety concerns are involved but we didn't want a guy with a sore finger wrapped to his shoulder in Kevlar."

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