WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 06: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals celebrates with manager Davey Johnson after stealing home plate in the first inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Nationals Park on May 6, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
While Bryce Haper played the Cole Hamels incident cool, the Phillies pitcher earned a five-game suspension for breaking the fourth wall.
I was trying to hit him. I'm not going to deny it. That's just - you know what, it's something that I grew up watching, that's what happened, so I'm just trying to continue the old baseball - I think some people kind of get away from it. I remember when I was a rookie the strike zone was really, really small and you didn't say anything just because that's the way baseball is. Sometimes the league is protecting certain players and making it not that old-school, prestigious way of baseball.
If Hamels really wanted to be honest with himself, the media, and the fans, here's what he should have said.
Bet your ass I hit him on purpose, and I'd do it again. Why? Because I could, and because I thought it would be fun. Seriously, you hear the way people talk about this kid? Been in the big leagues a week and his manager's already comparing him to Mantle. F--- that s---.
If that makes Hamels seem like a high-functioning sociopath, well, you're not wrong. If you haven't figured out by this point in your sports-watching life that most great athletes, and, in particular, great baseball players have a little of that in them, then I really don't know what to tell you.
The problem with both the real and fictional Hamels quotes above (and what ultimately earned him a five-game suspension from Park Avenue) is that they broke the fourth wall in the great kabuki drama that is the unwritten rules of baseball. Now, just about everything in life has unwritten rules. They're called etiquette. But no walk of life has as many unwritten rules so strenuously enforced as baseball.
Hamels was enthusiastically joined in his walk outside the lines by Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, who called him both "chicken[bleep]" and "gutless." The full outburst may or may not have earned Rizzo a private reprimand from MLB, but it's hard to blame him. Just as it's hard to blame Hamels for wanting to send a message to a 19-year-old who's OPS-ing .924 against big-league pitching and whose team had taken the first two of three in a series that was increasingly looking like a passing of the torch in the National League East, Rizzo's horrified reaction at the sight of his prize position player prospect taking one in the kidneys is perfectly understandable
The young man at the center of all this, Mr. Harper, played his part with admirable coolness, saying:
"He's a great guy, great pitcher and knows how to pitch. He's an All-Star. It's all good."
Harper knows that there are other forces at work here. This as as much about a GM who has been under pressure to shake a moribund baseball town awake and a staff ace who had watched his team's grave get danced on for the previous two days as anything else.
The question of whether this will force some sort of larger action on Major League Baseball's part is hardly worth considering. This is certainly not the first time a pitcher has hit a batter deliberately, and it definitely won't be the last. Anyone who quickly flipped the schedule calender over to see when Hamels might pitch against Washington next (by our reckoning, he'll take the mound again on May 23 at Citizens Bank Park), or has even participated in the communal "OOOOO" followed by the rising, inarticulate sound of anticipation knows that this sort of thing captures the imagination of fans almost as much as a perfect game or game-winning home run.
No, it doesn't make perfect sense. But if you haven't figured out by now that very little about baseball makes perfect sense, then you've got a lot of catching up to do.