How To Knock a Hitter Down


This is going to be a fun article to write because I think brushing someone back and the insight of how baseball polices itself is something that doesn’t get talked about a lot.  Now, yesterday Paul Manieri said that knocking someone down has “no place” in baseball, but I very much disagree.  And I’ll go beyond that- it has such a place that it is something that I think should be discussed with pitchers as far as how to do it, how not to do it, and why you do it because brushing someone back can be dangerous- especially if you do it wrong.  And you won’t find how to do it on any Tom Emanski films or any Baseball Bunch episodes.

The first rule is you do NOT want to do something that is going to end someone’s career or cause permanent injury.  Every baseball player shares a love of the game and they also have families that they are trying to provide for if they are a professional player, and if they are a college player, they are trying to use baseball to help pay for their education and possibly go beyond that.  So, trying to intentionally hurt another player is frowned upon, and is also something that I do not condone.  Now, that said, if a player does something to show you up or does something out of line there is a way to handle it without ruining someone’s life- more on that in a minute.

The next thing I want to talk about is how do you as Joe Fan in the stands know when someone is getting knocked down or when it is an accident.  My friends ask me this all the time when I go to a baseball game and someone gets hit- it’s almost immediate, “Hey, Todd, you think they were throwing at him?”  The first thing you should ask is what kind of pitch was thrown?   The weapon of choice for knocking a hitter down is a four seam fastball because it goes faster and therefore has more of an effect to get the message across and it’s an easier pitch to control- see rule number one.  Sometimes pitchers will over-rotate a breaking ball trying to snap off a really nasty curveball or slider and if that happens, it can veer off out of control and hit a batter.   So, usually if a batter is hit with a breaking ball, that’s what happened.  The next question you should ask as Joe Fan is how good is the pitcher’s control?   Sometimes a pitcher is simply wild.  If a pitcher is walking a bunch of guys and they are all over God’s creation out there, there’s a better than average chance that they are going to hit a batter on accident.   But that pitcher is not trying to send a message other than they can’t find the strike zone with a GPS.  So, because of that- if you want to send a message to the other team, you want to use a pitcher that has good control or the other team may not get the message because they may not tell if it’s just another wild pitch or not.

At this point, you may be wondering why do pitchers do this?  There are a number of reasons.  First is there is the never ending battle between a pitcher, a hitter, and the inside part of the plate that both want control of.  If a hitter is leaning to far in, a pitcher may throw in to knock them off the plate.  I think that was part of what happened this weekend between Kendall Graveman and Mason Katz.  Another reason is if an opponent shows up a pitcher after a home run or a hit, or maybe they steal a base with a really big lead.  And I think that may have also been why Graveman did that with Katz as well- for staring at one of his home runs, which is considered “showing up” an opponent.  Sometimes an opponent will say something to the media like “I hate Possumneck, it’s nasty, and the people smell bad”- you get the idea.  Probably most of the time, it’s because the other team threw at your guy, and a pitcher has to stick up for his teammates sometimes.  If they don’t, it can actually cause problems in the clubhouse.   And of course, there are sometimes things that happen that fans and the media don’t know about-it could be anything.

Next, I’m going to differentiate between knocking a hitter down and throwing at and hitting someone.

To me, brushing a hitter back (knocking a hitter down) is usually the most preferable thing to do.  The reason is because you are sending a message, but at the same time, you are giving the hitter a chance to get out of the way, you are NOT trying to hurt anyone or end a career, you are not putting anyone on base, and you give the hitter a fair chance to retaliate in a proper way.  You also reduce your risk of being ejected from the game and being suspended and fined by doing it this way.  Most umpires realize that this is part of the game, and they know what’s going on, and as standard protocol, they will warn the pitcher and the benches to keep order- which is what the umpire did Sunday, and I thought he handled the situation very well to his credit.  Now, to brush a hitter back, you want to aim at the hitter’s hands.  For example, Alex Rodriguez holds his hands high- so if I was to knock him him down, I would aim high.  Jeff Bagwell usually held his hands low, so if I was to knock him down, that’s where I would aim.  The reason you aim at the hands is because they are in front of a hitter- the natural human reaction when something is thrown at your head is to lean and go backwards.  So, by throwing at their hands, you give them a chance to get out of the way.

Here is a video of Pedro Sandoval of the San Francisco Giants getting brushed back.  Notice where the ball is thrown at in relation to his hands.  Also notice that the pitch is a fastball.

Next, I am going to talk about actually hitting a batter.  This should be a LAST RESORT type of thing.  As a pitcher, if you do this, you must be prepared to possibly fight and also understand that you are likely to be ejected and fined.  But, if you have to, again, you still do not want to throw at the batter’s head.  You want to throw at the hitter’s lower back or behind.  The reason is because there are no major organs and if/when you do hit the batter, you are most likely going to cause a bruise.  Even more rare, is beaning a hitter.  This is very dangerous and frowned upon.  The way you do it, or tell if someone is trying to do it- is if a pitcher throws behind a hitter’s head.   Remember the reflex I talked about?  It’s a natural reaction to go backwards when a baseball is thrown at you, so if you throw behind a hitter’s head, their reflex will take their head right into the baseball.  Again, this is very dangerous, and I do not condone it.

Here is a video from the World Baseball Classic where Mexico and Canada fight each other.  Notice where the pitcher from Mexico throws the ball.  Notice again, that he is throwing fastballs.  And also notice it takes him a couple of times to hit the batter and that the location is in the same spot.  That is another sign that a pitcher is intentionally trying to hit a batter.  Also- as an aside, I do not recommend getting into a fight with Team Canada considering that they all played ice hockey growing up.

Now, what is the hitter to do?  How does a hitter respond to being knocked down?  A great example of how to respond happened at a game I attended in St. Louis in 2011.  Albert Pujols of the Cardinals was knocked down by Louis Coleman- who ironically played for Paul Manieri.  What Pujols did was get up and then launch the next pitch like a missile into the left field bleachers for a home run.  That’s the BEST way to handle it- but that doesn’t always happen.  Sometimes a hitter will steal a base when their team is way up- especially if it’s a player that can run.  More often than not, the other team will knock down someone on the other team.  Usually, it’s either someone that plays the same position or hits in the same spot in the batting order.  In other words- you throw at our first baseman, we will throw at yours, or you throw at our clean-up hitter, we will throw at yours.  Basically, you want to knock down a comparable player.  The way NOT to handle it is to go whining to the media about it and talk about how classy you are.  That’s a sure fire way to get the opponent to laugh at you and make them feel like they won the battle.

Do NOT try any of these techniques at home and until next time, Hail State!