The New York Mets are closing in on the purplish record of being hit the most times by pitches in major league history, at least going back to 1900. Before that, hitters were brained during pepper games for sport, and besides, nobody was obsessively counting anything about the games except gamblers.
Michael Baumann of FanGraphs points out that the Mets are not being targeted maliciously, but his exhaustive examination reminds us that, per Bobby Nightingale of the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Reds, who held the record for being hit set last year, just broke the major league record for hitting batters with 99, and for equally non-malicious reasons surrounding their young and erratic pitching staff. And the good news for both teams is that we still have two more weeks of hitting and being hit before the regular season ends in two more Wednesdays.
You see where logic takes you with this, right? Revenge-powered marketing opportunities.
The Mets and Reds don’t play again this year, but in the six games they did play, 10 Mets were hit by Reds pitchers. With baseball in Year 25 of its existential crisis, it seems only prudent that the Mets and Reds play a larger part of next season against each other. Or, since the 2023 schedule has already been released, 2024. Let’s just see how much bruise-based and measurable malice we can actually generate over 20, 30, or even 40 games. I mean, the Mets will want to get back some of their own next year, right, and who better to feel the sting than the profligate Reds?
Baumann points out that hit-by totals have been rising across baseball in the last five years; Nightingale points out that the Reds pitchers include Nick Lodolo, who not only leads baseball this year with 18 HBPs, but has the most by a Reds pitcher since 1912, an era in which hitting batters could often be a tip that a game was fixed. All the Reds really need to do now is trade for San Diego’s Austin Adams, who had 24 a year ago, and they can become the head-huntin’est team ever, intent or no. After all, go big or go back to the dugout.
So imagine a season in which the team that hits the most batters and the team with the most batters being hit get together for a hyperextended series of performative collisions, just to see if the game needs more ball-on-body violence. After all, if football is king (and if that is so, then royalty is shit), and football is about violence (and it very definitely is), there’s an ipso meeting a facto here. Not to see how many players can be hit with pitches, necessarily, but to see if younger audiences can be grown with that as a more plentiful part of the game. One can imagine Rob Manfred spitballing the idea on a conference call with the owners:
“Look, all I’m saying is we give it a try in the minor leagues for a year … we still have minor-league teams, right? Maybe guys hitting baseballs is passé. Maybe we’ve got it backward, and the balls should hit the players for a while just to see if it catches on. Besides, nobody’s hitting any of us, right?”
Now this could all go bad the first time Pete Alonso decides to object to a wayward heater by Hunter Greene and does so with his bat, thus closing the equipment circle. Maybe Americans won’t glom onto such theater when they see how it crumples their fantasy teams. Maybe it means that Shohei Ohtani would make $100 million a year since he could be proficient at both skills.
And maybe this is as bad an idea in conception as it would be in realization. But when it’s baseball, no idea is bad until it is tried. At this point, having told players where they can stand and how they can run, the keepers of the game can become one powered not by skill or guile but by nastiness and revenge—all in keeping with our politics, economic principles, and social behaviors.