“Barry Zito wasted little time doing the deed.
In the first inning of today’s Cactus League game against the Milwaukee Brewers, Zito hit Prince Fielder in the back with his first pitch in apparent retaliation for Fielder’s staged “bowling pin” celebration after his homer ended a Sept. 6 game in Milwaukee.” — Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle
Retaliation is a funny thing in baseball. Everybody knew what happened in that September 6 12 inning game last year. Everybody knew that the Giants would be throwing at Prince Fielder today. Then it happened, because that is the culture of baseball, and that is how the game is played. What many will perceive as Zito and the Giants retaliating on Fielder (and that is true), a much bigger reality is revealed. Every team other than the Milwaukee Brewers was hoping that Fielder would get plunked today. And I’m sure they were hoping that it would have been someone that would throw harder than Barry Zito’s 85mph fastball, but as the first pitcher, the responsibility fell into Zito’s hands to make a statement.
It was a statement on behalf of all teams in the majors that the kind of choreographed celebration that he created would not be allowed without recourse. Baseball players have such a unique set of unwritten rules than other sports when it comes to celebration. In football for example, you have players like Chad Ochocinco constantly pushing the limits and attracting attention. Baseball on the other hand has a culture where even mild celebration such as admiring a home run too long, or running to slow around the bases is construed as unsportsmanlike.
Fielder’s celebration undoubtedly fell into the category of unsportsmanlike in baseball’s culture. The next time he or any other player wants to create another massive premeditated celebration, he should think twice. Zito is not the only pitcher that would have retaliated by hitting the batter. Every single pitcher in baseball who wants to earn the respect of their teammates and fellow players would have done the same. But the next celebrator might not be so fortunate to have an 85mph thrown at him, and maybe it will be thrown at a target a little higher than their back.