Thursday, May 04, 2017


Prisons got built because societies could afford them. Before that, criminals were banished, executed, dismembered, enslaved, or marked. There wasn't wealth enough to hire people to watch them round-the-clock.

Baseball used to need the beanball because there was little other way to enforce protection for one's teammates. There were rules to how it might be used, but it was controlled violence.  Bats, hardballs, cleats, and running bodies could cause injuries, and without some way of setting limits, a mean and violent team could simply intimidate and roughhouse another team into submission.  A century ago and earlier, that is often what did happen. Players came into hostile places and some of them were violent. No one was likely to be arrested for on-field conduct, and no one wanted leagues or barnstorming tours where there was a fight every game.

Everything is on film now and can be reviewed. Players can be fined or suspended.  Allowing brushback and other "enforcement" pitches actually interferes with that now, as questions of who started, and who escalated a situation get more complicated. I differentiate here between the cat-and-mouse game between batter and pitcher over control of the plate and the "protecting my teammates" knockdown pitches we have been seeing between the Red Sox and Orioles recently.

It's part of the game. But it doesn't have to be.  It served a purpose when there was no other enforcement.


Grim said...

One might ask, however, whether society was really improved by the shift away from banishment/corporal punishment/etc to the prison society we've developed from wealth. Is it good for a free society to have such a large part of its population devoted to jailing another, even larger, part? Does the system we've built with that wealth leave us more free, or more likely to find that the government now has a capacity to control us in ways it previously would not have even tried to do?

If the analogy holds to beanball, it may be that a little violence turns out to be a small price to pay.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I think there's something to that. What if better regulation of baseball led to safer, fairer, baseball, which no one found to be fun to play or watch anymore?

A highly regulated society would have many good things going for it, each of which we would not lightly trade away. But when we got there we might find everyone wanted to move out of that society and take their chances on Mars.

james said...

Whether prison is the best punishment is a whole other question. (Banishment isn't very feasible anymore, of course.) I don't hear of a whole lot of penitence in the penitentiary.

I wonder if the day after day interactions keeping somebody locked up is harder on the guards' souls than a one and done punishment, even if it might be cruel?

Christopher B said...

Good illustration of how the police (umpires) protect suspected criminals (pitchers who throw a legitimately errant pitch) from mob justice.