Madison Bumgarner’s big chance to prove he can play every day comes tonight, and it should be noted that this could not have happened in the good old days.
That is, the good old days when pitchers had a lot fewer qualms about throwing at a hitter’s head.
Bumgarner will bat as the ninth hitter tonight in Oakland, a town that allows managers to leave their pitchers to pitch. It is the first time a pitcher has been deliberately green-lighted to be part of the regular lineup in a game in which the designated hitter was allowed since Chicago’s Ken Brett took an oh-for against Boston as the nine-hitter in July of 1976.
In that game, Brett survived and threw a complete game shutout – well, he threw a complete game, and the White Sox were shut out. But the White Sox were a brutal team that year, all the way down to wearing shorts on Sundays as part of owner Bill Veeck’s desperate attempt to make them noticeable, if not necessarily relevant.
This, though, is different, because Bumgarner is the Giants’ best pitcher, the Giants lead the National League West, and they are playing the team that, in a more perfect world, would do anything within or outside the rules to beat them.
In fact, the A’s are doing that now by using more traditional methods – crushing pitchers and conga-lining around the bases. But we digress.
If the A’s and Giants were actual rivals as opposed to neighbors who barely speak, Bumgarner’s head, hands, back and knees would be pitchers’ targets, and he would charge the mound like the enraged bison he actually is, and the benches would empty, and players would get hurt, and the umpires would have to use zoo-issue tranquilizer darts to break up the riot.
The number of unwritten rules violated in such an event would be staggering, and it would fuel idiot hot-take pursuits across the country for weeks, thereby distracting the flower of American gasbag media for weeks.
You see, in the old days, batting your pitcher on purpose meant one of four things:
1) You were playing a game before 1972.
2) You were horrible and needed something to suck in the fans.
3) You screwed up your lineup card.
4) You were spoiling for a fight.
Indeed, the only reason Ferguson Jenkins didn’t throw at Ken Brett that day at Fenway is because the Red Sox recognized that the White Sox weren’t trying to embarrass anyone as much as they were trying to embarrass themselves slightly less than usual.
But back to now. The A’s could take Bruce Bochy’s decision to bat Bumgarner against them in a regular season game as a direct insult, a reminder that the Giants are again in the ascendant while the A’s are in one of their too-occasional-for-anyone’s-comfort fallow periods. They could see this as pre-rubbing it in. They could cite the violation of an unwritten rule and turn this into a hot police-involved mess.
But they won’t. Bob Melvin isn’t that kind of manager, Dillon Overton hasn’t pitched enough games to be so bold, and we don’t have enough quality headhunters in baseball any more.
Put another way, Madison Bumgarner, iron locomotive in human form though he might be, would be wearing a suit of armor with gun turrets out of every aperture if he was doing this for any of about 60 pitchers in the ‘70s, ‘80s or even ‘90s. Now? Meh.
But there is one problem – accidents. A fastball that runs in on his hands, for example. Happens all the time, and it’s not like Overton has pitched long enough to guarantee the location of every pitch he throws. In short, this could go very wrong, and blow the Giants’ season to smithereens at the very moment when the Dodgers are looking at an extended period without Clayton Kershaw and the Diamondbacks might be without Zack Greinke.
On the other hand, it could go just fine, the game could go on without any difficulty at all, in which case everyone dodged a flicked rubber band (as opposed to an actual bullet), and we would get nine more innings of entertainment.
In which, based on precedent, the A’s win anyway, sweep the series, and make Giant fans demand that general manager Bobby Evans trade everyone in a cocaine-fueled binge of remorse. And then nobody will remember Madison Bumgarner once tried to emulate Ken Brett.