Skip to content

Deep thoughts: what the heck is “Old School Baseball” anyway?

May 8, 2012, 3:06 PM EDT

Old Hoss Radbourn

When Cole Hamels hit Bryce Harper, he defended himself by saying it was just a case of “old school” baseball.  Others said that by Harper taking his base and then stealing home, it was “old school baseball.”  Some others — most notably Cal Ripken, earlier today — said that they were unaware of any tenet of old school baseball that involved throwing at guys. Of course, any number of Don Drysdale or Bob Gibson fans would beg to differ.

The point is that I don’t think there is any agreed upon definition of Old School Baseball.  Rather, I think it’s just a slogan people use to justify whatever the hell it is they want to justify, with the claim — well-intentioned or otherwise — that it conforms to some tradition or another.

I understand the impulse, of course.  Indeed, in this it’s one of the most basebally things imaginable, because baseball as we know it would practically cease to exist if we were to pretend that what goes on now is unconnected to what happened in the past. The ballparks, the uniforms, the strategies and the language of the game would be totally different if they were devised new today. It’s a game whose very essence requires a historical connection.

But that reference to history becomes meaningless if we rely on it too much.  If, instead of justifying his actions, a player or his fan or media surrogates simply say “hey, old school baseball.”  Or, less flippantly, “that’s the way it’s always been done,” they’re saying nothing. They’re saying “we don’t have to think about what just occurred, or defend it.  It’s fine because it’s always been that way.”

We don’t accept that in most walks of life. When it comes to on-field strategy, we are accepting it less and less these days. But we seem oh so willing to accept it when it comes to deportment or the unwritten rules or any of the culture surrounding the game.

I wish we’d be as critical about that as we are with just about everything else in life.

  1. illcomm - May 8, 2012 at 3:14 PM

    Craig. you should give some grammer lessons to Kurt klein. he really needs them. Good article. Agree with you 99.99%. The other .01 misses old school baseball.

  2. bsbiz - May 8, 2012 at 3:15 PM

    Old School Trolling:

    You never played the game, so you don’t know what you’re talking about.

  3. dowhatifeellike - May 8, 2012 at 3:16 PM

    “Old School Baseball” = excuse for being a d*ck.

    • baseballisboring - May 8, 2012 at 5:27 PM

      OSB is definiitely an amorphous term, but “excuse for being a dick” really isn’t too far off. But beyond that, it’s just bravado. Brawn over brains. Throwing a 287 pitch complete game, violent collisions at home and 2nd base, beaning guys for no reason…I think Craig had it right, just a way to justify whatever the hell you want.

  4. darthicarus - May 8, 2012 at 3:16 PM

    Reader – “Dammit Craig, who do you think you are writing about stuff like this?”

    Craig – “Old School Blogging dear friend, Old School Blogging”

  5. easports82 - May 8, 2012 at 3:16 PM

    Drysdale or Gibson wouldn’t say they were trying to hit the batter; just intimidate and control the inner half. They may have buzzed Harper to get his attention, but they’d come back and strike the kid out instead of putting him on base. But pitching inside is becoming a lost art anyways.

  6. jesso12 - May 8, 2012 at 3:16 PM

    Dear God, are you still going on about this?

    • Craig Calcaterra - May 8, 2012 at 3:18 PM

      Yes. Yes, I am. As the headline should have informed you.

      • bsbiz - May 8, 2012 at 3:29 PM

        Old School Commenting, Craig. Old School Commenting.

      • Jonny 5 - May 8, 2012 at 4:26 PM

        There can only be one answer to this question. And here it is. Please take note to Stanton being jammed in the trunk of their car. Pure ole’ school.

    • jjschiller - May 8, 2012 at 3:30 PM

      You are obviously too busy to read anymore about this!

      You’d better click on it, read it, log in, and complain about it in the comments.

  7. thefalcon123 - May 8, 2012 at 3:17 PM

    “…any number of Don Drysdale or Bob Gibson fans would beg to differ.”

    Church pointed this out yesterday, but it bears repeating. Bob Gibson is 46th all time in innings pitched…and 76th all time in hit batsmen. He ranks behind those noted headhunters Scott Erickson, Vicente Padilla, Darryl Kile, Al Leiter, Dave Steib, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, etc, etc, etc. Drysdale his *far* more batters than Gibson…yet Gibson is known as a headhunter. Why?!?

    Gibson did rank in the top 10 in hit batsmen 8 times…but he also ranked in the top in batters faced 8 times.

    Gibson plunked 1 out of every 157 batters who stepped up to the plate. By comparison, pitchers hit 1 out of every 155 batters in 1968 (the only year I checked FYI)! Gibson’s hit batter rates where basically exactly the league average!

    • thefalcon123 - May 8, 2012 at 3:20 PM

      I meant to mention, Drysdale beaned one out of every 91.5 batters in his career.

    • paperlions - May 8, 2012 at 3:32 PM

      Yeah, with Gibson…people were so intimidated by his demeanor that they thought he might throw at them….and hey, if a few inside FBs that really did get away were mistaken for intimidation…no reason to correct the mis-understanding.

      • umrguy42 - May 8, 2012 at 4:39 PM

        Paper, I’ve been wondering about that every time falcon (or whoever) brings up Gibby’s HBP rate – it’s not necessarily how many he hit, but as mentioned above, the idea of pitching inside to basically intimidate the batter.

        Also, I’ve been thinking of this quote from Field of Dreams:

        Shoeless Joe Jackson: The first two were high and tight, so where do you think the next one’s gonna be?
        Archie Graham: Well, either low and away, or in my ear.
        Shoeless Joe Jackson: He’s not gonna wanna load the bases, so look low and away.
        Archie Graham: Right.
        Shoeless Joe Jackson: But watch out for in your ear.

      • chumthumper - May 9, 2012 at 8:28 AM

        One of the beauties of baseball is it’s not necessairly what will happen, but what MIGHT happen. It’s the anticipation. And it’s not just about pitching.

    • mybrunoblog - May 8, 2012 at 4:27 PM

      Well said, well spoken.

  8. lazlosother - May 8, 2012 at 3:23 PM

    Sitting fans along the edge of the outfield on folding was old school too. In the 1890’s the base coaches (especially for the Orioles) would run up and down the foul territory side of the baselines and scream obscenities at the pitcher during his delivery to distract him. That was old timey for sure. I haven’t noticed either of these things lately.

    Walter Johnson hated hitting batters and wouldn’t throw at one, so I guess he wasn’t old school enough. Too bad Cole wasn’t around to give him some tips.

    • lazlosother - May 8, 2012 at 3:24 PM

      folding chairs. *&%#@*&*&% edit function (or lack thereof).

      • darthicarus - May 8, 2012 at 3:27 PM

        Old School Commenting brought to you by the fine folks at NBC Sports

  9. WhenMattStairsIsKing - May 8, 2012 at 3:38 PM

    I thought you hired Jack Handey for this article.

    • ltzep75 - May 8, 2012 at 5:06 PM

      “One time, my grandfather told me to get in the car and we would go to a baseball game. I was very excited and barely said a word the ride there. The drive seemed like forever. We arrived at a burned out warehouse. When I asked my grandfather what happened, he told me the stadium burned down and the rest of teh season was cancelled. Years later, when I asked him why he said that, he just stated ‘I was being old school. That’s just how we did it in my day.’ He was such a kidder.”

  10. aclassyguyfromaclassytown - May 8, 2012 at 3:40 PM

    Although I am completely unaware of what old school baseball is, I am fully aware of old school Hollywood baseball. It’s where Jack Girardi is 10 feet tall and Tony Danza cuts in line.

    • vivabear - May 8, 2012 at 4:56 PM

      ….washed up Hollywood

      • aclassyguyfromaclassytown - May 8, 2012 at 10:31 PM

        Glad someone got the reference.

  11. illcomm - May 8, 2012 at 3:41 PM

    When I played high school ball, I was told by a coach on a few occasions to brush a player off or throw one behind their back if they were crowding the plate. Cole just did a typical HBP. People should stop whining so much.

    • The Common Man - May 8, 2012 at 3:56 PM

      And for a high school baseball game, your coach had you risk the health and well-being of other teens. Shame on him. And you should have known better too, dammit.

    • baseballisboring - May 8, 2012 at 5:31 PM

      Brushing a player off that’s crowding the plate is fine. Throwing a ball in the middle of someone’s back cause you don’t like them isn’t. It’s not a “typical HBP”, he admitted after the game he was trying to hit him in the name of “old school baseball”, for christ’s sake. Where have you been?

  12. jdillydawg - May 8, 2012 at 3:45 PM

    Can I get some Old School ticket prices while we’re at it mixed in with some Old School beer prices?

    Old School is what people say when they’re not happy with the present. I wonder why Hamel’s got his jock all in a twist about why “current” baseball is so bad. Unless maybe he’s doubting his pitching ability and believes intimidation is the way to go. How’s that workin’ out for ya, Cole?

    • dennisund - May 8, 2012 at 3:55 PM

      What would he be doubting? That his string of quality starts will last the rest of the season? You must be new here.

      • jdillydawg - May 8, 2012 at 4:22 PM

        I am new here. Oh wait, was that your version of beaning me? Good one.

        I still believe the best pitchers let their pitching do the talking. I was a bit surprised that, for as good a pitcher as Hamels is, he felt the need to bean the rookie. That’s more a sign of insecurity than a sign of confidence. Letting him steal home and then telling the world his intention was to hit him were icing on the idiot cake.

        Go ahead. Throw another…

      • dennisund - May 8, 2012 at 11:39 PM

        There’s no beaning (poor analogy, I might add), there’s just the way things are and the way you want them to be. Hamels is pitching extremely well, and that is a sign of confidence. The fact that you are rummaging for signs of insecurity is more telling of you than Hamels.

  13. pbsenerchia - May 8, 2012 at 3:54 PM

    If you have to ask …

  14. illcomm - May 8, 2012 at 4:04 PM

    lol. really. in that case, all football should be eliminated. who run into each other head first n risk concussions n what not. live a little. do u live in a bubble?

    • 18thstreet - May 8, 2012 at 4:56 PM

      Live a little. Then get a concussion.

    • hasbeen5 - May 9, 2012 at 8:35 AM

      Difference being, in football you’re both trying to hit each other, in baseball one guy is simply trying to do his job while another throws a 90 MPH projectile at him.

  15. thomas2727 - May 8, 2012 at 4:12 PM

    Love the picture of Old Hoss Radbourn. Too bad he is not around to comment on old school baseball. Oh wait, I just remembered he is on Twitter.

  16. illcomm - May 8, 2012 at 4:12 PM

    Also, I can only remember one occasion of a kid getting hit n hurt from a pitch. that happened due to the rain. since then no games below the high school level are played in the rain anymore. I do though remember on multiple occasion of pictures getting hurt by comebackers. stiches to the face n one knockout. on every level of play I hear that you should try n Fri e the ball through the pitcher. is that wrong for coaches to say? I never intentionally hit anyone. nor did I hit anyone when I was trying to brush them off. some people leaned into it and got hit, but that wasn’t my fault. they just did the typical chase utley upper arm lean in.

  17. mybrunoblog - May 8, 2012 at 4:24 PM

    Nice picture. When did the WB Mason guy become old school?

  18. delawarephilliesfan - May 8, 2012 at 4:30 PM

    I for one would love to see at least one post discussing the nature of admitting to hitting a guy – is it better to lie and claim the ball slipped, or tell the truth? It’s not an easy question to answer….and would easily gereate 200 Comments for certain Blog writers….just sayin’…..

    Also, is it just me, or has anyone else wondered if the intended audience of Hamels comments was Ruben Amaro? In other words “The Fans will love this, so pay up!” I’m not saying that will be the outcome, or that it was a wise strategy if indeed that was his motive. I am just sayign one has to ask WHY he was so forthcoming….and “annoy Washington” seems too easy an answer.

    • Jonny 5 - May 8, 2012 at 4:40 PM

      There were men hbp last night intentionally too. I’m shocked that a guy admitting it would cause soooooo much anger. Really. It’s mind boggling to me. Now I’m beginning to feel bad for Hamels as this “outrage” ( I stopped just short of saying faux outrage) is seriously unbalanced at this point. Hamels only did what happens many times over and over again without much attention, yet because he admits it he gets castrated by baseball fans and bloggers alike. UNBALANCED to say the least.

      • delawarephilliesfan - May 8, 2012 at 4:50 PM

        Exactly. And I say this to Nats fans – you do realize at some point, other players on your team willl get plunked intentionally, and the pitcher who did it will deny doing so on purpose. Will that be okay? Will that be better then Hamels?

      • jdillydawg - May 8, 2012 at 5:52 PM

        Yes, Hamels should have lied. Let’s say Harper goes down tonight stealing second and breaks a bone or something bad. This being America, he would actually have a strong case for saying Hamels beaning him caused him to be less than 100%, thus making him susceptible to injury.

        Hamels did more than just be honest, he technically opened himself up to liability. Yes, that sounds silly, but we’ve all seen dumber lawsuits.

        Plausible deniability. That’s all I’m sayin’.

      • cleverbob - May 8, 2012 at 6:06 PM

        Old School Commenters know what a beaning is.

      • natstowngreg - May 8, 2012 at 6:09 PM

        Jonny: Agreed. Seems Hamels was suspended 5 games for being honest at the wrong time. Still scratching my head over that. BTW, Cholly said he didn’t think it was intentional until Hamels opened his mouth, inserted foot. Watching the game in person, I wasn’t sure it was intentional, either. Most pitchers have tried to bust Harper inside.

        Delaware: No, it’s not OK, whether the pitcher admits to it or not. It’s also not OK if our pitchers throw at your hitters.

      • dowhatifeellike - May 8, 2012 at 6:17 PM

        He’s supposed to lie because that sort of thing stays between the lines. The players know the score and will resolve the issue accordingly.

        Everyone with eyes knew what was going on. Stating it to the media is like stealing Johnny’s lunch money and then bragging about it in front of the Principal.

      • Jonny 5 - May 8, 2012 at 10:03 PM

        Natsowngreg, I’m not even saying he shouldn’t have been have been suspended by mlb. He said he did it, he pays the price. I’m just shocked that everyone besides Harper is freaking the hell out about it as if it doesn’t happen nearly every single day. Rizzo (right after his own pitcher plunks Hamels) and fans everywhere are reacting unevenly simply because he was the sucker who said “yeah It was a purpose pitch”. I don’t condone the hbp on purpose, but I’m far past unleashing a shitstorm over it now when it has been a part of the game since forever. I’m a fan of the kid even if he’s got a rep that precedes him and I’m sure Hamels had no intent on maiming him, then took a plunking like a man afterwards. I don’t know I saw that a hundred times already and it wasn’t that big of a deal. Until a pitcher admitted it.

    • badmamainphilliesjamas - May 8, 2012 at 8:44 PM

      @delaware, it’s not just you. I wondered if it wasn’t “annoy Washington” AND “fire up the Phils.”
      Still stupid.

  19. thephilsabide - May 8, 2012 at 4:39 PM

    Last I checked it worked out for him pretty well that night (8IP, 1ER) And 2.45 ERA, 44K for the season. Not saying what he did was right, just saying i don’t think he’s doubting his stuff at this point.

    • jdillydawg - May 8, 2012 at 5:55 PM

      Maybe he’s just doubting his ability to keep Harper in check…

  20. umrguy42 - May 8, 2012 at 4:42 PM

    But that reference to history becomes meaningless if we rely on it too much. If, instead of justifying his actions, a player or his fan or media surrogates simply say “hey, old school baseball.” Or, less flippantly, “that’s the way it’s always been done,” they’re saying nothing. They’re saying “we don’t have to think about what just occurred, or defend it. It’s fine because it’s always been that way.”

    …Aren’t those Bud Selig’s rationalizations for why we can’t have a little more instant replay?

    • Jonny 5 - May 8, 2012 at 10:28 PM


  21. christos99 - May 8, 2012 at 4:52 PM

    When Roger Clemens hit Mike Piazza in the head, was that considered “Old School Baseball” or “Steroid Era Baseball”?

    • delawarephilliesfan - May 8, 2012 at 4:54 PM

      That was considered perfectly fine, because Clemens insisted it was an accident. Ask Jim Leyland – the key is to deny. Then it is okay

  22. bowens3181 - May 8, 2012 at 5:39 PM

    Greatest excuse ever?

    Police: “Why did you kill that man!?”

    Me: “Officer, it was just old school baseball that’s all!!”

  23. jwbiii - May 8, 2012 at 10:45 PM

    Old Schools Baseball is sliding into home with spikes at face level when an asshole is covering. Cole Hamels may not like this.

  24. chumthumper - May 9, 2012 at 8:34 AM

    Bud Selig: Did we make a buck off it? Then it’s all good.

Leave Comment

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!

Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. D. Wright (2506)
  2. D. Span (2347)
  3. G. Stanton (2282)
  4. Y. Puig (2247)
  5. J. Fernandez (2202)
  1. B. Crawford (2084)
  2. G. Springer (2023)
  3. M. Teixeira (1822)
  4. M. Sano (1816)
  5. J. Hamilton (1749)