With the news that Delmon Young has been suspended indefinitely for throwing a bat at an umpire, I suppose it’s a good time to take a look back at the most famous bat-throwing incident in Oakland A’s history.
It happened in game two of the 1972 ALCS, when A’s shortstop Bert Campaneris threw his bat at Detroit Tiger pitcher Lerrin LaGrow. Bruce Markusen has a
great diary entry of the incident on his Baseball Guru website.
In the bottom of the seventh, A’s leadoff man Campy Campaneris faced Tiger reliever Lerrin LaGrow, who had entered the game in the sixth inning. Campaneris had done considerable damage in his first three at-bats: three hits, two runs scored, and a pair of stolen bases. Throughout the game, Tiger pitchers had thrown fastballs in the general direction of Campy’s legs, in an attempt to brush him back off the plate, or perhaps even injure the Oakland catalyst. Predictably, LaGrow threw his first pitcha fastballdown and in on Campaneris, hitting the Oakland shortstop in the ankle.
Most of the Oakland players knew that one of the A’s’ batters, given the Tiger struggles in the early part of the series, would eventually become the victim of a deliberate brushback pitch. “I was in the on-deck circle,” Joe Rudi told a reporter, “and I feel the Detroit pitcher threw at him. Campy had run the Tigers ragged in the first two games, and when [Billy] Martin gets his ears pinned down, he’s going to do something about it.”
A recent history of ill feeling between the Tigers and A’s may have also contributed to today’s ugliness. During the regular season, Tiger relief pitcher Bill Slayback had thrown at Campaneris and Angel Mangual back-to-back, prompting Mangual to charge the mound. During the ensuing melee, Mangual punched Slayback, Billy Martin ran after Mangual, Willie Horton decked Mike Epstein, and Duke Sims and Oakland coach Jerry Adair brawled. Another Oakland coach, Irv Noren, found himself injured by Tiger relief pitcher Tom Timmerman. The 15-minute incident, which included fights and pileups, left simmering feelings of hatred between the two teams.
Today’s incident, however, makes the earlier-season tensions seem far more tame. When LaGrow’s fastball struck the bone of Campaneris’ ankle, the A’s’ shortstop staggered for a moment, glared at the Tiger pitcher, and then, in an unusually violent reaction, flung the bat toward LaGrow. Spiraling about six feet off the ground, the bat helicoptered toward the pitching mound. The six-foot, five-inch LaGrow ducked down, barely avoiding contact with the bat, which ended up a few feet behind the mound.
Campaneris was suspended for the rest of the ALCS (but not the World Series), the first week of the following regular season, and was fined $500.
Throwing a bat is never excusable, but you can at least understand that Campy was reacting with a sort of eye-for-an-eye self-defense mentality; LaGrow was deliberately trying to injure his legs, and his legs were what Campy’s whole game was about.
So even though LaGrow was much more likely to be severely injured than the umpire, who at least had some protective padding on, Young’s suspension will almost certainly be much longer. Throwing a bat at an umpire because you didn’t like his call is a whole ‘nuther level of inappropriateness. It doesn’t just put the umpire at risk for injury, it threatens the integrity of the game itself.
Umpires need be able to act in a fair and impartial manner; if they are subject to physical intimidation, they cannot be trusted and expected to act fairly. There are sins that harm the participants in a system, and there are sins that harm the system itself. The latter sort get the harshest punishments.
Steroid use, another system-harming sin, now results in a 50-day suspension for a first-time offense. I expect Young to receive at least that much time off, if not more.