Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
2003-03-12 07:41
by Alex Belth


Former teammates Omar Vizquel and Jose Mesa have a nasty little feud going. It started with comments Vizquel made about Mesa in his book, "Omar! My Life On and Off the Field," and apparently didn't end when the two faced each other last year.

"I thought he already took care of business," Vizquel said Tuesday. "He already hit me once. He hit me twice actually, because he hit me once in Seattle. I don't know why he hit me then. I hadn't done anything to him then."

The Indians faced the Phillies in a spring training game yesterday, but the two did not face each other.

Still, Mesa is still heated:

"I will not forgive him. Even my little boy (Jose Jr.) told me to get him. If I face him 10 more times, I'll hit him 10 times. I want to kill him."

Which bring to mind a scene from "The Honeymooners:"

Alice Kramden: They call me Killer, cause you slay me.

Ralph Kramden: And I'm calling Bellvue cause yer nuts!


Inspired by Vladi Guererro's short fuse, I peeked into my baseball library and checked out Frank Robinson's autobiography, "Extra Innings" (written with Berry Stainback).

Here is what the Hall of Famer had to say about beanballs:

I was as aggressive at the plate as I was on the base paths and in the outfield. I stood as close to the plate as I could and stuck my head out over it so that I could get the best possible view of the ball when it left the pitcher's hand and so that I could protect the outside corner. If pitchers jammed me, my wrists were quick enough to get around on the pitch. And I dove into the ball as I strode to start my swing, but my reflexes were so sharp and my wrists were so strong that I could stop my stroke before I turned over my wrists for a called strike.

...But pitchers were not happy to see me come up to the plate with my head hanging over it in what was known as "concussion alley." Many liked to throw fastballs inside and drive me off the plate. George Powles [a legendary American Legion coach from Oakland who also taught Joe Morgan, Curt Flood and Vada Pinson as kids] had schooled me well in how to get out of the way of inside pitches. Tuck your head into your shoulder and spin left. Quickly. If the pitch was too far inside, you spun and fell hard away from it. So a pitcher would knock me down, and I'd get right back up and hang over the plate again. At times, of course, I couldn't get out of the way of 90-mph fastballs that were well inside. In my rookie year, I was hit by pitches 20 times, which easily led the league. I led the league in being hit by pitches in each of my ten National League seasons.

In Robinson's second season (1957) he was beaned in the head by Ruben Gomez, and the following spring he was hit in the head again, this time by Camilo Pascual in an exhibition game against the Washington Senators. The second incident seriously effected Robbie, as his 1958 show. But the dip didn't last long, and Robinson rebounded to win the NL MVP award by 1961.

The baseball played in those days was a lot tougher than it is today for one simple reason---the brushback pitch. Every team had a pitcher or two who moved guys off the plate and occasionally hit batters in the ribs, in the buttocks, in the elbow, or in the head. No team had more pitchers who threw dusters than the Dodgers...

We didn't have many pitchers who regularly dusted opponents, and that bothered me when my teammates and I were being knocked down. If opposing pitchers were going to try and intimidate me to keep from doing my job, I though it was up to the pitchers on my club to help me and help themselves by retailiating with dusters. Most pitchers that you knocked down a couple of times got the message.

...We always knew when were being thrown at. When a pitcher with good control started throwing behind hitters, that was a clue. And when one of my teammates was hit such a pitcher, I'd tell ours, "Hey, let's stop this thing before it gets out of hand. He hit one our our guys; let's hit one of theirs and end it."

The umpires usually controlled the beanball battles pretty well. Typical was a game against Don Drysdale. The first pitch he threw to second baseman Don Blasingame was behind his head. After getting Blazer out, Drysdale threw three pitches in a row at Pinson's ankles, making him skip. Then Drysdale jammed Vada, but he dinked the pitch off his thumbs over third and ran it into a double. Drysdale was so furious that his face was flushed when I stepped in. His first pitch was at my head, the second at my ribs. While I spat out some dust, home plate umpire Dusty Boggess stepped toward Drysdale and said, "That's enough of that. You do it one more time; you're out of there."

The next pitch smacked me in the forearm. Drysdale was ejected from the game, fined $50, and suspended for three days. Of course, suspending a starting pitcher for three days was meaningless, because he only started every four days anyway.

What? Robbie didn't charge the mound? My how times have changed.

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