Every parent knows that two of the most common excuses for fighting and misbehavior among children are "he started it!" and "I didn't do it on purpose!" Children are masters of these excuses because they allow room for ambiguity. Parents can't immediately accuse their children of mischief because it's possible that "he" really did start it, or the child really "didn't do it on purpose."
Baseball players and managers have picked up on the trend. Only these baseball "fights" stem from pitchers throwing balls at batters' heads. Just last week, Yankees pitcher A.J. Burnett threw in the area of Texas Ranger Nelson Cruz's head. Burnett played the "I didn't do it on purpose card," albeit halfheartedly. "I pitch in all the time, pitches get away," he said. Of course, the pitch from Burnett came an inning after Rangers pitcher Vicente Padilla hit Yankees star Mark Teixeira for the second time that night.
Earlier this season, Boston Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett was suspended for six games for throwing near the head of Los Angeles Angels' player Bobby Abreu. The incident was spurred when Beckett was angered that Abreu took a timeout as Beckett was about to deliver a pitch. While Beckett vehemently disagreed, Major League Baseball determined that Beckett was retaliating for Abreu's disrespect. In addition to Beckett's own disbelief at his suspension, because after all Abreu started it, Red Sox manager Terry Francona said, "I did not think he was the aggressor. I'm sure we'll have our say at some point. It's obvious he's going to appeal. I'm disappointed we're even going through this."
It seems like every week in professional baseball there is a media swarm around an incident at a game in which a pitcher threw at an opposing batter and faces a possible suspension from the powers that be. Almost always, the accused pitcher will swear that he "didn't mean to do it." His manager will immediately act as an ally and swear that "so-and-so just didn't seem to have control last night and that pitch just got away from him." If the pitcher does admit to a "purpose pitch," it's only when he can stick out his lower lip and defiantly declare the other team "started it."
Retaliation is a part of every sport, and it probably should be. To protect his teammates, a pitcher must show that he'll go after the opposition if they take liberties against his amigos. In hockey, it's just as simple, if you hit our star player, you can bet we'll send our goon to pound you into a pulp. In basketball, players exchange harder and harder fouls at either end of the court. And in football, violent hits and cheap shots are exchanged in the same manner.
But in no sport are the public excuses and childish explanations as prevalent as in baseball. In baseball, the umpires and league officials are the parents who struggle to discipline their misbehaving children, the managers and players. The umpires and league officials certainly have the authority to issue punishments, but the problem is that there is often no way to tell if a pitcher threw at a batter's head on purpose. Retaliation is just the same.
Parents are much less likely to punish their children if they feel that their precious offspring were unfairly provoked. In baseball, Bud Selig must protect his entertainers, his millionaire babies. Fans want to see their favorite players on a daily basis. So if Bud feels his children were unfairly goaded into a fight, he acts just the same as a real parent. The "parents" of baseball can't be blamed for sometimes buying the excuses and fabricated explanations of their children. Like real parents, Selig and the other MLB officials don't want to have to punish their kids. Kids are every parent's pride and joy, after all. It hurts the parents just as much as it hurts the kids to enforce punishment.
In baseball, the only difference is that the kids are attached to dollar signs. But isn't it ironic that the same children who idolize these athletes and follow their example have now witnessed reinforcement for their favorite excuses? The athletes have observed their younger followers and seen that getting out of trouble isn't hard at all. They've learned to follow the example of these same young fans to avoid punishment. The kids then see their heroes making their favorite excuses and feel justified to use them even more. It's a parent's nightmare, but hey, the athletes didn't do this on purpose.