As we all know, baseball is a game obsessed with its own tradition. There are unwritten rules that players must follow to help ensure that they don’t disrespect the integrity of the game. In fact, players often police themselves to make sure one another fall in line. If only there was some consistency with how players demonstrated their respect for the sanctity of the game. One area where this “respect” is severely lacking is when batters get hit by the pitch.
According to baseball rule 5.05 (b), a batter gains a free pass to first base when they are touched by a pitch outside the strike zone and they attempt to avoid it or had no opportunity to avoid it. There are two parts to the equation, but the second part has been largely ignored for years and no one in baseball seems to care. For a sport that’s obsessed with tradition, showing “respect,” and doing things “the right way,” baseball doesn’t seem to care all that much about following this particular rule. It’s time for that to change.
Let’s be honest, baseball players everywhere have stopped making an effort to get out of the way of pitches. Unless the ball is heading for their head, most hitters don’t move an inch. Strategically, it’s the smart move. Getting hit by the pitch is an easy way to get on base. But simply standing there waiting to get hit without making an honest effort to avoid the ball is technically against the rules. One could also argue that it’s against the spirit of the game.
The problem of players getting hit without moving has gotten out of control. Batters now wear massive amounts of padding, often dubbed as “body armor” while at the plate because they know they’re not going to do anything to get out of the way of an errant pitch. Even on pitches that are just a tad inside, batters will stand still and allow themselves to get hit. It’s no wonder pitchers are afraid to throw inside anymore; if they’re just a little off, they’ll hit the batter and give away a free pass. In fact, many scouts now see getting hit as a repeatable skill that can boost a player’s profile.
This problem has gotten so bad that things are getting worse, not better. More and more players are attempting to purposely lean into pitches in order to gain a free pass to first base. This trend indicates that baseball players no longer fear the second half of rule 5.05 (b) being enforced. Things have long gotten out of control, and it’s time to turn the tide.
“It’s not like running a red light. Stuff you can do out on the field, whether you can get away with it, it’s not being immoral. We allow people to steal second base. Anything you can get away with is fine. To me, that’s above board. It’s not like he’s loading his bat.”
Joe Torre, 2010
To be fair to the players, it’s on the umpires to enforce the rule, and it’s on Major League Baseball’s higher ups, like Commissioner Rob Manfred, to demand that umpires enforce it. It may be the pedantic approach, but if baseball is going to go out of its way to enforce unwritten rules, it should at least have the integrity to enforce written rules, especially the second half of rule 5.05 (b).
Even if umpires have stopped enforcing the rule that forces batters to make an effort to get out of the way on a hit-by-pitch, that doesn’t mean players should continue to take advantage of that fact. If the integrity and the history of the game truly matter to them, players will step up to the plate (literally) and start diving and ducking to avoid getting hit by pitches. It’s the right thing to do and it’s the way baseball is meant to be played. Isn’t that supposed to mean something?