In a rare occurrence in the wake of a controversial incident, things have pretty much been handled great all the way around.
On Wednesday night, Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar reacted angrily to a quick pitch from Atlanta reliever Jason Motte, sparking a brief incident in which benches cleared, though calm was quickly restored. The incident was fully on Pillar, who shouted a homophobic slur at the pitcher.
Pillar knew it, and after the game called his actions “immature … stupid … uncalled for,” all apt descriptions. He said he would reach out to Motte to apologize and that he was mainly frustrated with his own poor performance.
— Laura Armstrong (@lauraarmy) May 18, 2017
That was all fine, but did not amount to the necessary apology for what was actually said. So, on Thursday afternoon, Pillar tweeted a screenshot of a fully written apology that was exactly what needed to be said:
“Last night, following my at-bat in the 7th inning, I used inappropriate language towards Braves pitcher Jason Motte. By doing so I had just helped extend the use of a word that has no place in baseball, in sports or anywhere in society. I’m completely and utterly embarrassed and feel horrible to have put the fans, my teammates and the Blue Jays organization in this position. I have apologized personally to Jason Motte, but also need to apologize to the Braves organization and their fans, and most importantly, to the LGBTQ community for the lack of respect I displayed last night. This is not who I am and (I) will use this as an opportunity to better myself.”
That’s as good of an apology as you’ll see from an athlete – or just about anyone, really – for something like this. Even so, the Blue Jays were totally right to suspend Pillar for two games, showing that such actions really are unacceptable.
All sorted, then, right? Well, not quite. What about the thing that turned Pillar from a merely frustrated ballplayer into an exploding ball of rage so intense that he got himself suspended for two games?
The quick pitch.
Baseball’s rulebook has multiple mentions of the tactic used by some pitchers to mess with the timing of hitters by not going through their full motion to deliver a pitch.
Rule 8.05 (e) has a comment that puts it simply, “The quick pitch is dangerous and should not be permitted.”
Rule 5.07 (a)(2) has more detail in its comment: “If … in the umpire’s judgment, a pitcher delivers the ball in a deliberate effort to catch the batter off guard, this delivery shall be deemed a quick pitch.”
And, in the comment for Rule 6.02 (a)(5): “A quick pitch is an illegal pitch. Umpires will judge a quick pitch as one delivered before the batter is reasonably set in the batter’s box. With runners on base, the penalty is a balk; with no runners on base, it is a ball. The quick pitch is dangerous and should not be permitted.”
Those are the only times in baseball’s rulebook that the phrase “is dangerous” comes up. So you can understand why, in addition to getting embarrassed, hitters get testy about the quick pitch. It is dangerous, because a pitcher throwing from something other than his normal motion carries a significant amount of risk for control. Just ask Jeurys Familia about the most notable failure of a quick pitch baseball has seen – the ball he left right down the middle for Alex Gordon to hit a tying home run in the ninth inning of Game 1 of the 2015 World Series.
The purpose of the quick pitch is always to catch the batter off guard, which is how the rule defines it. Even when the batter is fully set he expects the pitcher to throw as normal, not to short-arm the ball and fire it in with the savings of a few split seconds in an enterprise that’s all about split seconds.
The rule, however, is not enforced that way, so pitchers persist. There’s definitely an ethical gray area for pitchers in utilizing it, but not one that is going to stop anyone so long as the rule isn’t called in accordance with a stricter interpretation of the rulebook. It’s cheap, but as any baseball player will tell you, the columns in the standings for wins and losses do not include an evaluation of how the record was achieved.
It’s up to baseball, then, to close the loophole, just as it did with the old fake-to-third, throw-to-first pickoff move where the entire intent was to deceive baserunners. That tactic was in full use for years. The quick pitch is rarely used, but often controversial – witness the 2015 dustup between the Mets and Phillies over Hansel Robles’ usage – and always risky. Then, occasionally, you get a moment like Pillar’s emotions boiling over to a point where he gets himself suspended and baseball looks bad for having such an incident.
It’s smart for pitchers who can execute the quick pitch well to do it. It would also be smart for Major League Baseball to do more to eradicate the only play the rulebook deems “is dangerous” from the game.