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Cook: Baseball etiquette should be pitched

Wednesday, May 30, 2001

Latest word from the Arizona Diamondbacks' clubhouse is pitcher Curt Schilling plans no retaliation against San Diego Padres catcher Ben Davis when they face each other again Friday night. Schilling has promised not to hit Davis with a pitch -- at least not intentionally -- even though Davis had the nerve to break up Schilling's perfect-game bid Saturday night with an eighth-inning bunt single.

How special of Schilling.

Davis hasn't revealed his plans. Wouldn't it be nice if he smacked Schilling's first pitch back through the box? Better yet, wouldn't it be great if he took Schilling deep and led the Padres to a victory?

Schilling and the Diamondbacks deserve as much.

If you missed the Davis-Schilling controversy, you missed one of the most bizarre and ridiculous stories of the baseball season. Schilling had retired 22 consecutive batters and was leading, 2-0, when Davis bunted for a single. It was a good play by Davis, getting on base any way he could against a guy who had been unhittable, bringing the tying run to the plate. But to the Diamondbacks, it was an egregious breach of baseball etiquette.

You know baseball etiquette, don't you?

How, for instance, you aren't supposed to steal a base late in a game with a five-run lead, even though any team -- including the Pirates -- can score seven runs in an inning from time to time in this era of homer-friendly ballparks.

Or, in the case of Davis and Schilling, how you aren't supposed to deny a guy's bid for immortality with a cheap hit; how you're supposed to swing the bat and beat the guy fair and square.

The Diamondbacks felt so strongly about it they cursed Davis from their dugout as he stood on first base.

Shame on them.

After the game, a 3-1 win for Arizona, Diamondbacks Manager Bob Brenly called Davis' bunt "chickenbleep ...

"Ben Davis is young and has a lot to learn. That was just uncalled for."

Brenly went on to talk about "old-school" baseball, about respecting "your opponent," especially when that opponent is doing something "extraordinary."

That etiquette thing again.

What a crock.

What about respect for trying to win the game? Like the Diamondbacks, the Padres are fighting for first place in the National League West. As terrific as Schilling was Saturday night, the Padres still had a chance to win in the eighth inning. But they needed baserunners. Give Davis credit for getting on, for rattling Schilling enough that he walked the next hitter. The Padres might have picked up an important win if Dave Magadan or Mike Darr had followed with a big hit instead of making outs.

And what about respect for baseball's historical feats? There have been only 203 no-hitters since 1900, including just 14 perfect games. They are tough to get. Shouldn't Schilling -- any pitcher, really -- have to earn one? Would Schilling have been happier if Davis and the next four Padres hitters had looked at three fastballs down the middle?

You're right, that's a stupid question.

It's human nature to want something we don't deserve.

Certainly, this isn't the first time it's happened in baseball.

We saw it here during a game in 1979. Pirates pitcher Bruce Kison lost a no-hitter in the eighth inning when the Padres' Barry Evans hit a shot down the third-base line that ticked off third baseman Phil Garner's glove and went for a double. It was clearly a hit -- the only one Kison allowed -- but he was angry at the official scorer, Pittsburgh Press sports writer Dan Donovan, for not charging Garner with an error. Said Padres third-base coach Doug Rader afterward, "Kison wants a cheap no-hitter."

The same sort of thing happened on a larger scale in 1978. After Cincinnati Reds star Pete Rose's remarkable 44-game hitting streak ended in Atlanta, he complained that Braves rookie starter Larry McWilliams hadn't challenged him with fastballs. It didn't matter to him that McWilliams couldn't throw anything but junk.

Like Donovan and McWilliams, Davis did nothing wrong.

It's not impossible for Davis to hit a home run off Schilling Friday night. Kevin Polcovich hit one off him once, didn't he? But it is unlikely. Schilling is a horse. He's 8-1. He has struck out more than any pitcher in baseball except for teammate Randy Johnson and the Boston Red Sox's Pedro Martinez.

That's OK.

There's something even better Davis could do in his first at-bat.

Bunt for another single.


Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com.

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