What Would Sandy Koufax Have Done? An Opposing Viewpoint to Kershaw's Retaliation Pitch

On Monday the Dodger sites and blogs were alive with perspectives on the Dodgers-Cardinals game on Sunday. Actually it was as if the perspectives were all written with the same pen or keyboard. The commentaries were not about Matt Kemp or Andre Ethier’s RBI singles, Clayton Kershaw alertly stealing a base or AJ Ellis picking Mark Ellis off second base. They were about Matt Holliday being hit on the backside by a Kershaw fastball.

Clayton Kershaw's fastball hit Matt Holliday "on the wallet" as Vin Scully would say. (Video capture courtesy of ESPN)

Clayton Kershaw’s 95 MPH fastball hit Matt Holliday “on the wallet,” as Vin Scully would say.
(Video capture courtesy of ESPN)

Holliday was hit in retaliation for an earlier HBP on Hanley Ramirez by Cardinal starter Carlos Martinez. Dodgers fans celebrated the retribution. I expect I may be one of the few that questioned the revenge hit. From a baseball perspective it was poorly timed. The Dodgers had but a two run lead and the first Cardinal hitter in the inning was given a free pass just as if he had been walked. We all hate a lead off walk so a deliberate HBP is in essence an intentional walk. A home run by the next hitter would have tied the game. I expect we were comfortable that Clayton would not give up a two run homer but he demonstrated in the sixth inning that it is always a possibility when light hitting Peter Bourjos did just that, thus snapping Kershaw’s consecutive win streak at eight.

My second thought was that Clayton had better strike out the next hitter or make him hit the ball in the air. A ground ball would put either Dee Gordon or Hanley Ramirez in jeopardy with a ticked off 250 lb Holliday barreling into second base. That is exactly what happened on a ground ball and only a quick feed by Gordon and an athletic play by Ramirez avoided a full tilt collision with Holliday and the possibility of long term injury for Hanley.

It seems that Dodger fans have almost an irrational dislike of the Cardinals. I must admit my perspective is also clouded because I do not live with an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth mentality. I believe it is inherently wrong to deliberately hurt another human being either on or off the field. The Dodgers acknowledged that the HBP by Martinez was in their opinion not deliberate. Dodgers fans further railed when Trevor Rosenthal hit Hanley Ramirez again, in the ninth inning, as if by design. Rosenthal was one strike away from closing out the inning with a 0-2 count on Ramirez and a tied game. One wonders why the right-handed Rosenthal would deliberately hit the right-handed Ramirez with one strike to go to get to the left-handed hitting Adrian Gonzalez.

Hanley Ramirez has been hit by a pitch five times this season. Unfortunately, two of them were in Sunday night's game by the same team that took him out of the 2013 NLCS when he was hit by a Joe Kelly pitch that broke a rib. (Photo credit -  Jeff Curry)

Hanley Ramirez had to exit Sunday night’s game after being hit on the left hand by a Trevor Rosenthal 99 MPH fastball in the 8th. Ramirez was also hit earlier in the game on his left shoulder (near his head) by a Carlos Martinez 98 MPH fastball. (Photo credit – Jeff Curry)

In Monday night’s game Dodger catcher AJ Ellis was hit on the helmet by Pirate pitcher Edinson Volquez. There was no protest, no retaliation. I expect it is because it was the Pirates, not the Cardinals. Hence the Dodger fans obsession with the Cardinals.

Monday’s blog post by Ron Cervenka here on ThinkBlueLA was titled Don Drysdale is Smiling Down on Clayton Kershaw. He may well be smiling. However, my third thought regarding the incident was not what Don Drysdale would think of the retaliation, which will indeed lead to further incidents, but what would Sandy Koufax have done. Now we don’t know for sure what Sandy would have done any more than we know what Don Drysdale was doing. However, we can speculate how Sandy would have handled the situation just as we can speculate how Don would view it.

Sandy Koufax faced 9497 hitters during his twelve career with the Dodgers. He walked 817 hitters, had 87 wild pitches and hit but 18 batters, an average of two in 162 games. In 1966 in 323 innings pitched Koufax didn’t hit any batters. Now we can claim he had impeccable control and therefore simply didn’t hit hitters. However, in 1966 he walked 77 batters and he had seven wild pitches so his control was not exactly perfect.

Sandy Koufax hit one batter deliberately in his career, not in retaliation for a hit on a Dodger player, but out of annoyance and frustration. In May 1965 he hit Lou Brock who was running wild on him, bunting and stealing bases. Brock was injured when hit by Koufax and missed some time.

Also in 1965 Sandy Koufax was involved in the Juan Marichal-John Roseboro incident. “Knowing that it wasn’t Koufax’s style to bean a batter intentionally, Roseboro decided to do the dirty work. When throwing the ball back to Koufax, he intentionally buzzed Marichal’s tower.” Marichal had previously buzzed Ron Fairly and Maury Wills.

When asked to intentionally hit a Giants batter on xxxx, Dodgers Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax refused. Dodgers catcher Johnny Roseboro handled the matter and was subsequently hit on the head with a baseball bat by Giants pitcher Juan Marichal.  (Photo credit - Robert H. Houston)

When asked to intentionally hit a Giants batter on August 22, 1965, Dodgers Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax refused. Dodgers catcher Johnny Roseboro handled the matter himself and was promptly hit on the head with a baseball bat by Giants pitcher Juan Marichal.
(Photo credit – Robert H. Houston)

Pitchers who retaliate by hitting opposing batters are hailed as great teammates. The question is, was Sandy Koufax less than a great teammate because he would not throw at hitters? Did he not respect the game because he didn’t get involved in the unwritten rules about retaliation? I submit that Sandy was a great teammate and showed the game the utmost respect by giving his best every time out, every pitch, even when his arm was literally falling off.

I am out on a limb pretty much by myself among Dodger fans regarding deliberately throwing at opposing players. I find that to be the highest degree of disrespect for opponents and disrespect for the game. Not much good ever comes from it. However, if I’m going to be on a limb on this one I like the company.


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15 Responses to “What Would Sandy Koufax Have Done? An Opposing Viewpoint to Kershaw's Retaliation Pitch

  1. Ron Cervenka says:

    I couldn’t disagree more with your position, Harold. Thinking that beaning a batter isn’t a part of baseball is like saying that fighting isn’t a part of hockey. If it wasn’t then why is there a ‘five for fighting’ penalty? It’s like saying that there shouldn’t be boxing or karate or mixed martial arts competitions which are actual Olympic events. Even goodhearted Christians went to the Coliseum in Rome to watch the gladiators compete, with the loser often being given the thumbs down.

    Perhaps in a ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone’ world your idealistic ‘no bean balls’ might float, but not in the real world of professional baseball; not in 2014 and not even in 1845 when the first baseball game on record was played.

    I agree 100% with Clayton Kershaw on this one – if you, as a pitcher, cannot throw a 95-100 MPH pitch up and in without hitting a batter in or near the head, then you do not belong on a major league mound. And until you can, stay away from throwing up and in. This is the message that Clayton Kershaw was sending to the Cardinals, who have made hitting (and seriously injuring) Dodger batters a strategy.

    If pitchers like Sandy Koufax choose not to intentionally hit batters for whatever their personal reasons that’s fine, but to expect every pitcher not to do so is simply naïve.

    Retaliation or message pitches are a part of the game – always have been, always will be; and there is a right way and a wrong way to do them. Why else would Vin Scully even have come up with his popular “hit him in the wallet” phrase? Hitting a guy ‘in the wallet’ (as Kershaw did) is the accepted way to do it. Hitting a guy in the nose or in the head (as Ian Kennedy did) is crossing the line and must, absolutely must be addressed.

    And by all means, if a pitcher and both managers are issued a warning by the home plate umpire and then the warning is completely ignored when another batter is hit, the warnings are completely useless and the beanings will continue.

    You cite “In Monday night’s game Dodger catcher AJ Ellis was hit on the helmet by Pirate pitcher Edinson Volquez. There was no protest, no retaliation. I expect it is because it was the Pirates, not the Cardinals. Hence the Dodger fans obsession with the Cardinals.” Obsession is a bit harsh, wouldn’t you say? We’re talking apples and oranges here – A.J. was hit by an obvious unintentional pitch, a 78 MPH knuckle curveball that simply got away from Edinson Volquez, after which Volquez immediately apologized to A.J. about as A.J. was taking his base. There were no apologies from Joe Kelly or Carlos Martinez. Does that not raise an eyebrow for you?

    You also say that “It seems that Dodger fans have almost an irrational dislike of the Cardinals.” Here again, isn’t the phrase irrational dislike a bit harsh? And even at that, why shouldn’t Dodger fans have an ‘irrational dislike of the Cardinals’ when guys like Joe Kelly, Carlos Martinez and others continue to injury guys like Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig to the point where they must be removed from the game?

    While I certainly respect your opposing viewpoint and opinion on this topic, I see it as being idealistic and unrealistic.

    • Bluenose Dodger says:

      Now that’s a response, eh.

      A couple of points Ron. First, I have never ever said that I expected pitchers or base runners not to retaliate. You are saying that for me as an expectation. Your suggestion that I have indicated that and thus demonstrated a naivety is simply wrong. I know they will. It is not my expectation that they stop doing so as you suggest but my position that throwing at hitters is simply wrong. It would be my hope it would stop, not my expectation. I take Sandy Koufax as my role model in this regard while others take Don Drysdale, Bob Gibson, Sal Maglie, etc.

      Secondly, I don’t want to live in a world in which we still can’t have idealism. If others are uncomfortable with idealism that is fine but even in this world as it is idealism still exists. In my ideal baseball world hitting a batter would be accidental and not intentional. To his credit Clayton did hit Holliday in the backside which was a pretty good target.

  2. ebbetsfld says:

    Sorry, Harold, but I’ve got to disagree with you here. Ramirez has been hit three times by the Cardinals and has lost valuable playing time, and now Puig, too, is out. Right or wrong, if the Dodgers hadn’t responded they’d have lost face, and Kershaw (like Billz a few years ago) would have lost the respect of his teammates. It seems very unlikely to me that the Cardinals’ pitchers were “wild high” on all three pitches, and when Ramirez got hit the second time, even if it was by accident, I fault the umps for not taking control and ejecting both Rosenthal AND Matheny to give the previous warning teeth.
    As far as AJ getting plunked last night, we have no recent history of hit batsmen with the Pirates and there was no reason to think that it was anything but a pitch that got away.

    • Bluenose Dodger says:

      So because Sandy Koufax wouldn’t throw at hitters he lost the respect of his teammates? That would seem to follow if Bills did and Clayton would have if he had not hit Holliday or some other Cardinal.

      I understand the whole thing. My article began with the timing which I think was of significance. I knew immediately that Clayton’s winning streak would be gone and the Dodgers would be fortunate to ultimately win the game. Fortunately they did win and I expect as a result of Rosenthal hitting the right-handed Ramirez and then having to face lefty Adrian.

      • KSparkuhl says:

        BTW, Harold… just a thought; didn’t Christ forcefully cast out the money changers from the Temple? I suppose that story is all about perspective and context for holy places… and in baseball, you would never throw at a batter for a competitive advantage or to get ahead in the game. The “balancing of the ledger” has a context; your team mates are more important than the score or outcome of one game. And because we live in an imperfect world, the balance of justice and mercy favors a spanked backside in this context.

        Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s; we were just giving them the ball back, right?

  3. KSparkuhl says:

    Harold, good for you in sticking up for your beliefs. I understand where you are coming from in your opinion, but I also have to disagree with you on this one. It was a simple “balancing of the ledger” and only served to send a message to the Cardinals.

    But one of the least talked about aspects of Kershaw’s retaliation pitch is the fact that it also served to bring the team closer together. That “saving face” thing which Dick talked about? It’s very real and I’m certain this could be used to springboard the team through the second half.

    Great read, Harold. Thank you.

  4. OldBrooklynFan says:

    A very nice article Harold. I really don’t know how I feel about retaliation. First of all I have to feel that a batter was intentionally hit and I find that hard to tell. I can’t remember ever thinking that a batter was hit on purpose. The only thing I can say is that I’m always hoping that both teams are satisfied and the whole incident is over with.

  5. MFGRREP says:

    Harold, I respect your idealism and fully understand your opinion of what best serves the game. But, I too have to disagree. Before all the money and all the media hype baseball was a game played by boys and men who carried that team spirit and commitment to their graves. A true Dodger will never be a Giant and to disrespect the Dodgers was and still is fighting words. Now in these days and times its big business, big money and the hype is instantly posted on social media and taken far beyond the point of what happens on the field stays on the field. My concerns are not of the players or even the game itself, but with the crazies that take it beyond the game and into the parking lots. It’s because of that type of behavior that I would conclude that maybe today the game would be better off without the eye for an eye response. But to the Dodgers defense, they waited until another beaning of Hanley before they finally said enough is enough. The “Cheek” beaning of Holliday was appropriate and called for. The second beaning of Hanley was again unfortunate and in my opinion the Cards should have been ejected, if for no other reason then for the good of the game !!

    Keep the dream alive Harold, For the Love of the Game !!

    Now if we can just get them to shake hands after a series finally !!!

  6. lindav says:

    I seriously doubt there will be any handshakes – at least this season. I was not able to see the game but from what I read, the ump did not eject anyone after the 2nd beaning. Why wasn’t Mattingly out there yelling his head off. Don’t care if he got ejected for it but the pitcher and Matheny should have been OUTTA THERE.

    Harold, I think Kershaw did the right thing hitting him on the “wallet” – and if intentional hits are in the cards (pun intended), they should all be in the wallet. Any hit that causes a player actual harm, keeps them out of future games, causes Xrays to be taken should be suspended for some number of games and fined – BIG FINE – one that hurts the wallet.

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