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Lawyers and Beanballs: A Harvard Reflection

There's been a lot of discussion about the ethics of beanballs and hit by pitch penalties this week in the aftermath of last week's Kevin Youkilis rushing of Detroit's Rick Porcello and three scary incidents last Saturday night. All the chatter has brought out some interesting voices, but few provide more unique or intriguing views than this piece, proffered up by Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz to the Boston Globe.

Dershowitz, who has a history of authoring up contrarian opinions (maybe he developed his knack for counter-intuitive thought while locked in a Lower East side deli in the '50s?)-- not least of which came in serving as an advisor to Johnny Cochran during the O.J. Simpson trial -- has a typically unique take on baseball's "beanball crisis". According to Dershowitz, the impact of equal suspensions for pitchers and hitters when a player charges the mound is far greater on the team of the batter than the team of the pitcher. Statistically, that argument makes sense -- the batter would conceivably have played in all five games he misses, while the pitcher likely would have started only a single game. That means MLB has to justify the equal suspensions on the grounds that the batter holds more responsibility for charging the mound than the pitcher does for hitting him (conceivably, five times as much responsibility).

While the MLB home office might try and justify that by claiming it's harder to prove intention (though, conceivably, a pitcher would never be suspended until after baseball had already deemed him responsible for a hit by pitch), Dershowitz provides a compelling case that pitchers should be held significantly more accountable, since they are the players who act with premeditation. Here's how the youngest law professor in Harvard history puts it:

Youkilis and pitcher Rick Porcello were both suspended for five days even though the decision to throw at Youkilis was premeditated and deliberate whereas Youkilis's response was unpremeditated and provoked. Death, serious injury, and the end to careers can result from being struck by a ball, particularly in the head; it is rare for anybody to be seriously hurt when a batter charges the mound with his bare hands. Accordingly, an equal penalty for these two very different offenses was outrageous.

Well said, Dr. Dershowitz. Now, our question: Do you agree with him? Or is Dershowitz taking this argument too far to make a clinical point?

By Cameron Smith  |  August 21, 2009; 3:27 PM ET
Categories:  Red Sox , Tigers  | Tags: Kevin Youkilis, Red Sox, Rick Porcello, Tigers, hit by pitch  
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