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Baseball must act to defuse beanball wars

THE lethal element in baseball is the ball itself, the most fragile part of the player is his head. When a ball is thrown at over 90 m.p.h. from the short distance of the mound to the plate, the batter has scant time to avoid being hit by the pitch, especially if he is trying to hang in against it. Also the batter may lose sight of the ball for a flash because of shadows or reflections. Baseball is very fortunate that only one player, Ray Chapman, back in 1920, has been killed by a pitched ball. But many other players have sustained injuries that either ended their careers or reduced their effectiveness dramatically. Mickey Cochrane's career was finished after he was hit in the head in 1937. Joe Medwick was never a tiger batting again after he was beaned in 1940. This has happened too many times. Players have been made gun-shy.

We have had some ugly incidents lately. Andre Dawson of the Cubs was hit in the face. Batters have hit the dirt, then stormed toward the mound after the pitcher, provoking player riot scenes of serious proportions.

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We have a new commissioner of baseball. Each major league has a new president. I hope these new men will realize that rowdy tactics and extremely dangerous tactics must somehow be brought under control.

I don't care what the baseball big shots and the manufacturers of the balls say, the balls are livelier. We now have most parks with artificial grass, which makes the balls react faster than they do on natural grass. Pitchers have to make a living. They have their professional pride. Today the main concern of pitchers is to keep the ball in the park.

Bats have become thin-handled so they can be swung as though they were golf clubs. The philosophy of batting is to go for the long ball. Every batter is a threat to hit one out.

I would think that first of all the ball itself must be made less lively. Only strong batters should be able to hit homers.

Perhaps the width of home plate should be widened an inch or two. Pitchers need help. Then on the other side of the coin, I would think helmets that protect the face should be made for batters.

Should a pitcher hit a batter's head he should be automatically suspended without pay for a certain time, and also his manager be fined. Another change I would think worthwhile would be giving a hit batter second base, not just first. This would certainly discourage pitchers from working too close.

After all, the basic idea is for the pitcher to pitch in the strike area and the batter to hit. There is now too much fear in the game. And certainly, players should be prevented from leaving their dugouts and getting into brawls on the field. Should two players get into a fight, certainly four umpires should be able to handle it.

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