Bob Gibson did it. Don Drysdale did it. And Angels ace Jered Weaver did it on Sunday afternoon in Detroit against the Tigers. Throwing at a batter on purpose is derided by the bandwagon moralists who see baseball as a metaphor for life being reduced to junior high school civics classes. Add to that the cautionary tale of August 16, 1920 with Ray Chapman dying on a baseball field after a HBP. The moralists will never point out that Carl Mays led the league with 27 wins for the Yankees the year after his pitch took the life of a Cleveland Indian.
Pitching inside is the policing of a game and Carl Mays was able to live with his actions. The role of the pitcher is the role of the policeman who will bust down the door and yell "break it up." Throwing at a batter is the rare time that the cop pulls out the billy club. There is almost always a distinct reason it is happening that is easily acknowledged by both sides.
When Jered Weaver threw at Alex Avila's head, the purpose pitch missed by a long shot. Even though Weaver could have hit him, his job is to precisely locate the ball and he did so here - far from doing any damage. But you never know. And that is the terror of the billy club. And you don't find out about that terror if you stay within the lines of playing the game in a respectful manner. It was a chilling reminder to all that the pitcher is a force of nature on the mound. He literally can kill you.
This power over life and death keeps the game and the players in line. The fact that a man can throw the ball at your head or the head of your teammate is the reason why you do not showboat. The terror of death arriving is why you do your job and take your base or return to the dugout to fight another day. The moralists will be out in force editorializing and pontificating and Weaver is certain to get suspended. They will appear on the pregame shows and the talking head shows.
And then they will cut to a word from their sponsors. And the commercial, aimed at the audience for sports, will talk about "extreme this" or "ultimate that" or "doing battle" or any one of a dozen other catch phrases that substitute for "kill that which opposes you." No matter how you moralize it, sports is a substitute for the human impulse to do battle. And for those on the field, the battle is real.
Maybe you went to the concert and the cops broke things up and you got smacked with a billy club. One of your teammates probably acted up and you now suffer. The necessary evil of arbitrary police enforcement is the best antidote to anarchy that society has arrived at. And the looming threat of an inside pitch is the only thing maintaining the focus on playing baseball first and foremost. Without the high heat, players like Carlos Guillen could put on clown makeup as they approached the batter's box, blow Bryce Harper kisses to the man on the mound and ruin your afternoon with amateurish dancing on the base paths.
Jered Weaver probably cost himself the Cy Young award on Sunday. But he established a certain authority that only comes with the terror of using force. And without his ultimatum, you may as well buy a ticket to the circus, because that is what baseball would be without headhunting.