Debunking Baseball Myths

By | May 26, 2006

In an article on today, Tim Kurkjian wrote this:

Rick Sutcliffe was a great teammate for many reasons, none more important than for this: On days Sutcliffe pitched, when one of his guys was intentionally hit by a pitch, he would go to that player and ask, “Who do you want?” Then Sutcliffe would drill that hitter.

I consider it my personal crusade in life to debunk baseball myths. It all started on April 10 of this year, when Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle wrote this in an article about Barry Bonds and steroids:

During one World Series, [Frank] Robinson’s elbow was so sore he couldn’t swing the bat. Could he still have an impact? Yes. He bunted for hits.

Here’s the email I sent to Justice in response:

Now, when I read that, I thought it was amazing. Then, because I am a cynical jerk, my very next thought was, “That sounds like an urban legend.” I didn’t believe that you would be spreading urban legends, so I set out to prove you right.

Well, in 92 career World Series at-bats, Frank Robinson had a grand total of — wait for it, wait for it — ZERO bunt hits. I have no doubt that you REMEMBER him getting these bunt hits; I’m just saying that it didn’t actually happen.

In Game 3 of the 1969 ALCS, top of the sixth inning, Robinson DID have an infield single to the third baseman. I don’t know if it was a bunt or not, but it very well could have been. But that was his only career postseason infield hit, and it came the game after hitting two doubles, with a homer the game before that.

Justice wrote back with this:

Thanks for straightening me out. He did bunt for hints [sic] while he was hurt. It may be September.

Did he update his column? Of course not! That would take away the impact. I haven’t yet taken the time to see how many bunt singles Robinson had in September, but I may do that sometime.

So let’s get back to Tim Kurkjian and his Rick Sutcliffe story. I’m sure Sutcliffe, Timmy K’s ESPN colleague, told him that story, and it’s probably a lot of fun for Sutcliffe to tell. But let’s look at the facts:

In Sutcliffe’s career (including postseason), he hit 47 batters with pitches. How many of those came after one of his teammates was hit by the opposing pitcher? Five. Let’s look at them:

  • May 4, 1981: Davey Lopes got hit leading off the game. With two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the first inning, Sutcliffe hit Andre Dawson. There’s nothing I can find to indicate that Lopes was hit intentionally — he hadn’t hit any homers earlier in the series, and while he did steal two bases the previous day, the Dodgers won that game with five runs in the top of the tenth, long after Lopes’ stolen bases, so it’s not like they were upset about running up the score or anything. So Lopes probably got hit accidentally by his pitch. Was Sutcliffe hitting Dawson an accident too? Even if it wasn’t, since Lopes getting hit WAS an accident, this doesn’t fit the scenario.
  • September 25, 1989: With one out in the top of the fifth inning, Expos pitcher Bryn Smith hit Domingo Ramos with a pitch. With one out in the bottom of the sixth, Sutcliffe hit Hubie Brooks with a pitch. Between those two hit batters, Sutcliffe pitched to six Expos — including Bryn Smith! But he chose to hit the seventh batter he faced, Hubie Brooks, who just happened to be 2-for-2 with two doubles so far in the game. I guess it’s possible that Ramos told Sutcliffe that he would rather have him hit Brooks than Smith, but it doesn’t seem likely.
  • September 4, 1992: With a runner on first and two outs in the top of the seventh, Chris Hoiles and Joe Orsulak were hit back-to-back by two different Angels pitchers. Chad Curtis led off the bottom of the seventh for the Angels, and Sutcliffe plunked him. Intentional? Probably. But still, just your run of the mill, hit-the-first-guy-up sort of retaliation.
  • September 22, 1992: With a runner on second and two outs in the bottom of the first, Blue Jays pitcher Todd Stottlemyre hit Glenn Davis with a pitch. In the top of the second, Candy Maldonado led off for the Blue Jays and took one for the team. Again, if it was intentional, it was a lot more traditional than Sutcliffe letting Davis choose who got hit.
  • July 30, 1993: After giving up three runs in the first inning, White Sox pitcher Jason Bere started the top of the second inning by walking David Segui and then hitting Tim Hulett. Sutcliffe then pitched to fourteen White Sox batters without incident, until he hit Joey Cora with one out and a runner on second in the bottom of the fourth. Cora was obviously NOT chosen by Hulett, for two reasons: 1) Hulett was obviously hit by a pitcher who was struggling with his control, not by a pitcher who was throwing at him; and 2) Cora was hit in his SECOND at-bat after Hulett was hit — and his first one came with no one on base, immediately after a Tim Raines home run, which would have been a much better time to hit him.

So here’s the bottom line: Rick Sutcliffe most likely NEVER watched one of his teammates get hit and then let that teammate choose the victim of retaliation. But it will be a fun story to tell his grandkids.

2 thoughts on “Debunking Baseball Myths

  1. Richie

    You probably read Rob Neyer If not, you should. He’s usually pretty good at doing the same sort of analysis to perpetuate FACTS instead of these kinds of urban legends.

  2. Jeff J. Snider Post author

    Yeah, I read everything Rob writes. He is my favorite baseball writer, mostly because he and I feel the same way about stats. He’s even read and given me feedback on some things I have written on this site. I recommend Neyer to every baseball fan. He’s worth the price of an Insider membership all by himself.

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