Spring training's pretty boring, generally. Thanks heavens for Pedro Martínez ...
Pedro just admitted that 90 percent of the guys he hit were on purpose. But not Karim Garcua. "Hit the bat," he said. "Lucky bastard."— Pete Abraham (@PeteAbe) February 18, 2013
For the uninitiated, Karim Garcua is actually Karim García, who played for half the teams in the majors, finished with a .274 career on-base percentage, and could hit a baseball a long ways on those rare occasions when he connected. In the 2003 American League Championship Series, Red Sox vs. Yankees, Martínez threw at García's head but missed. A bit later, Roger Clemens threw at Manny Ramírez's head but missed. The benches cleared with that one, and Martínez threw 72-year-old Don Zimmer to the ground. Yeah. Good times, good times...
Anyway, Martínez's admission that the great majority of his plunkings were intentional isn't exactly a revelation. In 2000, Martínez walked only 32 batters ... and hit 14. In 2002, he walked only 40 batters ... and hit 15. It had to be enormously frustrating to get nailed by Pedro Martínez, especially during his prime years, because you just couldn't figure the pitch "got away from him." The great majority of the time, umpires had good cause to eject Martínez from the game when he hit somebody, and maybe they should have.
Now it's all just colorful history, but Pedro Martínez really could have hurt someone, and he should probably be grateful that he didn't. He had tremendous control, but nobody's control is that good; while throwing a purpose pitch, he might have missed by a few inches and broken someone's jaw. Or worse. It's true that nobody's been killed since the introduction of batting helmets, but a lot of guys have been hurt real bad, and a few careers have been destroyed (cf. Tony Conigliaro and Dickie Thon, et cetera).
There's some good news on this front, though: Beginning this season, almost every player in the major leagues will be wearing a batting helmet that, theoretically anyway, will greatly reduce the risk of concussion. Here's Ken Belson (via the Times):
About 200 players, including stars like Carlos Beltran, Matt Kemp and Buster Posey, wore the S100 Pro Comp at some point last season. But starting this spring training, all major league players must wear the helmet, a decision included in the collective bargaining agreement signed in 2011. The only exceptions are for the handful of players who wear helmets with earflaps on both sides.
The S100 Pro Comp’s biggest innovation is that its hardened shell is designed to provide protection against balls thrown at up to 100 miles per hour, compared to 68 m.p.h. for older helmets. It is also more streamlined than an earlier, outsize version of the helmet that was worn sporadically since 2009 by David Wright and others who had been beaned.
"No helmet is concussion proof," said Art Chou, senior vice president of product development at Rawlings Sporting Goods. But the new helmet "is going to decrease the amount of energy that your head will feel, and the less energy transmitted to your head, the better."
The new helmets cost five times more to produce than the old ones, but that seems a small price to pay for a sport that's awash in revenues. Professionally, at least. I wonder what's going to happen to small college and high-school programs, already dealing with serious funding problems. But that's not Major League Baseball's problem; the owners and the players should do whatever they reasonably can do to limit injuries, and especially concussions.
I do want to close with a mild defense of Pedro Martínez. He was a short, skinny pitcher going up against, for most of his career, against a bunch of huge sluggers loaded up with steroids. In the same spot, we might have been sort of pissed off, too.