The Broken Logic Behind the Beanball

Tensions are running high in the American League East these days. The once fiery Blue Jays-Orioles rivalry has taken a backseat to a newly ignited Orioles-Red Sox feud, a spat that has seen many players thrown at, slid into, ejected, and in Manny Machado’s case, sound off.

Not to be outdone, the Blue Jays and Rays have begun to stoke the fires on a rivalry of their own. Chris Archer threw behind Jose Bautista last week, likely as a response to Joe Biagini unintentionally hitting Stephen Souza the day before. Then on Friday night, Kevin Kiermaier was upset when he was hit on the hand by a Francisco Liriano fastball.

The justification for retaliatory action is rooted in long-standing baseball traditions – traditions about playing the game the right way and sticking up for your teammates. Many current players accept that it’s always been part of the game; and it feels like it won’t change anytime soon.

Aside from the unnecessary danger that on-field retaliation causes, the arguments and justifications for beanball culture are wrought with logical inconsistencies, also known as fallacies. Fallacies are logical errors we make when constructing arguments. Last season, I took a look at some of the most common logical errors we make when we talk about baseball. This time I’m going to look at some of the logical errors we make when we talk about retaliatory beanings in baseball and hopefully illustrate why they make less sense than we might think.

Slippery Slope

“If we don’t retaliate and protect our hitters, than we will be defenseless and pitchers will keep throwing at us. We can’t let that happen.”

Last week, Gideon Turk wrote a piece on Blue Jay player’s reactions to the Orioles-Red Sox feud where Marco Estrada echoed a variation of this argument: “If the other team is out there throwing at us left and right…We can’t just let pitchers drill our guys and let it be, or move on.”

This kind of position is known as a slippery slope. A slippery slope is a logical fallacy where a person argues a series of events will take place that end with certain consequences, despite a lack of evidence these consequences will likely occur.

In this argument, the retaliating pitcher is suggesting that if they don’t return the favor and bean an opposing player, opposing pitchers will just continue to repeatedly hit players on their own team. This argument is a slippery slope, because in reality, there is no evidence to support this type of continual aggression actually happening – if Chris Archer throws behind Jose Bautista and no pitcher on the Blue Jays responds, the Rays will not continue to throw at Blue Jay hitters. And if they did, the Jays would likely take the base runners at this point.

Appeals to Consequence

“If we don’t retaliate when someone throws at one of our guys, they won’t be punished. We don’t want them to get away with that, so we’ve got to throw at one of their guys.”

An appeal to consequence is when we assume that our argument is correct just because the consequences of it being incorrect are not desirable. If we believe in Santa Claus because not believing in Santa means no presents at Christmas, that doesn’t prove Santa exists.

In this retaliatory beaning example, if someone on our team is hit intentionally, we assume it’s true that we need to throw at an opposing team’s player. If not, they won’t be punished, which is an undesirable outcome. But this type of thinking involves a crucial error in reasoning.

There is no justification for why you actually need to retaliate and hit an opposing batter in this argument. Wanting to correct a wrong doesn’t make you right logically.

Another flaw in this logic is that it assumes that the response suggested is the best response without considering other options. In the retaliatory beaning example, one alternate response is for major league baseball to intervene and aggressively suspend/fine the player intentionally throwing at someone so it stops happening. Appeals to consequence fail to consider alternatives like these.

Appeal to Tradition

“We don’t need to get involved when players get beaned. This type of thing has been happening for a long time and the players have always worked things out on the field themselves.”

Appeals to tradition are when you assume an argument or idea is right solely because it has been believed to be true in the past. Just because something has been accepted as true in the past is not a good reason to accept it as true in the present.

We know more than we used to and in that process we have (hopefully) developed better ideas about how to handle escalating tensions between players on the field than we did in the past. The fact that players used to police these things themselves isn’t a reason why they should continue to do so in 2017.

One of the most common examples used to explain why appeals to tradition are not logically sound is the case of slavery – no one would suggest that because we lived in a society with slavery in the past that it would be a valid reason for slavery to exist in the present.

Tu Quoque (Appeal to Hypocrisy)

“Manny Machado thinks it’s inappropriate and dangerous for Chris Sale to throw behind him. We don’t see him getting upset when pitchers on his team throw behind Jose Bautista so he shouldn’t criticize when the Red Sox do it.”

Tu quoque is a type of ad hominem fallacy. Ad hominem fallacies involve attacking the person making the argument rather than the content of the argument itself.

It may very well be true that Machado hasn’t said anything about his own pitchers throwing at opposing players, but that doesn’t mean he is incorrect in saying that it should not happen. The truth of his statement is unrelated to whether or not Machado follows his own advice. Tu quoque arguments are often used to distract people instead of addressing the argument at hand. Someone can act in contradictory manner without being wrong about his or her arguments and ideas. If I say pizza is unhealthy and then someone sees me eating pizza, it doesn’t mean that pizza is any less unhealthy.

It’s painfully obvious (both literally and figuratively) why retaliatory beanball culture in baseball is not good: it puts players unnecessarily in harms way.  Most of the arguments in defense of beanballs are also riddled with logical errors- errors that should make it easier to dismiss the irrational thinking that is still pervasive in professional baseball. You don’t need a degree in philosophy to know that baseball is better when its star athletes are on the field and not on the disabled list.

Lead Photo: © Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

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