But even as a pitcher knows he holds a fearsome weapon, he also knows there are limits. Gibson says, "I hit a few guys in the head, but not on purpose. If I hit somebody on purpose, my target was the body, where nobody really gets hurt." - Dave Kindred
Palmer: "In Cal Ripken's first year, in '82, we'd had some guys get hit and Cal said, 'When is somebody going to protect somebody around here?' I didn't like Carlton Fisk anyway, because he hit me so well. So one game I just drilled him. It wasn't a very sensible thing to do, and why I was listening to a rookie, I don't know. Maybe I knew that Cal was going to end up in the Hall of Fame one day."
Blyleven: "I don't care if it's my No. 1 hitter or my No. 9 hitter, you know when the other pitcher is doing something on purpose. I remember one time in Kansas City, I had a 5-0 shutout going into the ninth inning, and Juan Beniquez was our center fielder [with Texas]. He hit a three-run homer that day, and in his final at-bat they threw a ball at his head and it went back to the backstop.
"Our whole team was yelling, and I knew what I needed to do. Sid Hudson, the pitching coach, came over and said, 'Don't do anything. Get the shutout, and we'll get them another time.' Frank Lucchesi, our manager, said the same thing.
"I didn't say anything. I went out there and took my eight warm-up tosses, and then I drilled Darrell Porter right in the ribs with my first pitch. To me, there's a time when you have to protect your teammates. If I didn't do that, I would have lost face with my ballclub. If I don't protect Juan Beniquez right there, I'm the biggest sissy out there. And I'm not a sissy."
Gossage: "We were playing Baltimore one year in Fort Lauderdale early in spring training. Graig Nettles comes up and Mike Flanagan drills him in the wrist with the first pitch. OK, fine. Then somebody takes out Willie Randolph at second base and they almost kill him. OK, fine. Nothing was said. Nobody got upset. That was the way the game was played at the time. But we knew when we had a chance, we'd take care of it.
"Later in spring training I was on the mound and Al Bumbry, their leadoff hitter, came to the plate. I hit him on the point of the hip as hard as I could throw. He fell down in the box and he was going around like a top. He was break dancing in the batter's box. I'm telling you, I had never seen anything like it. I came in the dugout after that inning was over and everybody was like, 'Hey Goose, way to go. Thanks, man.' They all knew what it was for. It wasn't that big a deal. But there's a time and a place to take care of business, and we took care of business." -- Jerry Crasnick
The location of the pitch, not the intention of it, sent Mariners first baseman Richie Sexson "into a rage" Thursday night, and ended up with him throwing his helmet and then pile-driving the pitcher into the ground.
"I understood the situation, but there is a right way and a wrong way to play the game," Sexson said after the Mariners' 5-0 loss to the Rangers at Safeco Field. "If you hit me below the shoulders, I am fine with that. But get up near the face, [and] I am not going to deal with that." ...
"I know throwing a helmet is the wrong thing to do," Sexson said. "I know in the end that wasn't the right thing to do, but I lost it. You start thinking about a lot of things there. The whole time I was going to the plate, I said, 'I don't mind getting hit, but keep it down.'
"I knew the situation. Everybody in the ballpark knew what was going on there. Hit me, and I take first base, but don't throw at my head. I'm 6-foot-8. How difficult is it to hit me in the middle of the back or my thigh?
"If he hits me in the face, what are we talking about here? At the time, you are so angry you don't even know what happens for the next five minutes. It's a rage at that point. I wouldn't have been angry if he had kept the ball down."
"If we were trying to hit him, we would have hit him," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "If you go look at the replays, Gabbard didn't even come close. Sexson was just frustrated, and things got out of control. You look at the replay -- that ball was over the middle of the plate. He overreacted." - MLB.com
The knockdown pitch is as ingrained in the tradition of baseball as the glove or the bat, but actual deployment carries certain responsibilities. When Cleveland's Jaret Wright whipped a fastball near the head of second baseman Luis Sojo in an exhibition game on March 2, none of the Yankees contested the pitcher's right -- his duty, to some -- to retaliate for earlier pitches that had hit his teammates.
But they were angry at what they perceived as Wright's inability to throw his brushback pitch appropriately. In the eyes of many Yankees, Wright violated a code by throwing so high. Sojo threw up his left hand to protect himself, and Wright's fastball broke a bone in Sojo's third finger, an injury that will sideline him until late April.
The manner in which a knockdown pitch should be thrown is open to interpretation. Girardi says below the waist. Willie Banks says ''ribs and down.'' Nelson said: ''I don't ever try to hit them in the head. I just try to hit them.''
Nelson's belief is that not enough pitchers know when or how to retaliate, and if they did, there would be few incidents and the code would be better understood by all.
''I don't think there are very many guys on this team who know that when somebody gets hit, they should go out and hit the next guy,'' Nelson said. ''I don't think they're afraid, but I don't think they know to hit a guy. I'd like to see that change, if it takes the manager to go up to them and say to do it.''
Banks said that if pitchers don't protect their own hitters, their teammates won't respect them. ''I've seen that so many times where guys I've played with come back to the dugout and say to the pitcher, 'Listen, deal with that guy.' I always feel when I'm on the mound that it's an eye for an eye.'' - Buster Olney