Thursday, January 22, 2009

presidential plunks

With the book closed on the Bush administration, it sounds like it's about time to take stock of the historical significance of his presidency, and of course around here we judge things not by approval ratings, or scandals, or foreign policy failures, but by HBPs. And by THAT measure, George W. Bush had the most successful term in office of any president.

During the 8 baseball seasons of the Bush administration, 14,376 batters were hit by pitches in major league games. That is the most HBPs ever during the term in office of a single President of the United States. Clinton's 8 year term spanned 10,886 HBPs, so the Bush administration expanded that total by 32%. Some of that improvement was due to expansion of the league, since Bush had 30 MLB teams during his entire 8 years in office, but there was also a 21% increase in HBPs per plate appearance during the Bush administration over the rate of plunks during the Clinton years. Batters were hit about once every 104 plate appearances during Bush's years, which is the highest frequency of plunkings since the McKinley administration. I would think it's safe to say that the presidents had something to do with this, under the widely used media theory that everything that ever happens can be attributed, positively or negatively, to either the President or the quarterback, depending on what we're talking about. One could argue that due to the Bush administrations foreign policy, a pitcher might assume that he could get away with hitting a few more batters, because the batter's reaction to being hit by a pitch would be to follow the administration's example and charge the third baseman. Especially if the third baseman is kind of jerk and might deserve it. This doesn't explain things very accurately because the rate of HBPs peaked, and set a post 1900 record, in the 2001 season, most of which occurred before the nation was thrown the savage bean ball on 9/11, and the subsequent charging of third base by the US military, which was easier to find than that elusive pitcher. But this kind of thinking could certainly have helped the high plunk rates since 2002, even if they haven't quite matched that 2001 season.

Jason Kendall gets the title of the most plunked player during the Bush years, with 127 HBPs, but David Eckstein was close behind him with 125. Jason Giambi was third with 122, and Craig Biggio was fourth with 116 HBPs, even though he retired a season before Bush's term ended. Kendall's 127 plunks is well short of the record for most HBPs during one presidency - Ron Hunt had 165 while Nixon was in office, and Biggio had 151 during the Clinton years. Also ahead of the Kendall/Bush team are Don Baylor's 149 plunks under Reagan, Minnie Minoso's 132 during Eisenhower's term, and Hughie Jennings total during the McKinley administration, which was somewhere between 131 and 145 depending on how many of Jennings 12 HBPs in 1901 occurred before September 14th when McKinley was assassinated. Probably by Yankees fans.

Speaking of the Yankees, they were hit by 600 pitches during the Bush presidency (despite his sense of patriotism). That was second only to the Pittsburgh Pirates who got hit 613 times. The Milwaukee Brewers were third with 566, and the Indians got hit 556. Toronto got hit 546 times, but since they're Canadian, that might not be relevant here. The Houston Astros, whose games were often attended by Bush's parents, got hit 542 times during the W. presidency.

On the pitching side of things, the pitchers for the Boston Red Sox threw the most pitches at opposing batters during Bush's term, with a total of 632. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays hit 593, and the Texas Rangers hit 551 batters (possibly feeling they could get away with it more while their former owner was in the White House). Tim Wakefield was the leading plunk thrower under the Bush administration, with 93, but Wakefield's knuckleballs echoed the Senior President Bush's call for a kinder, gentler HBP. Vicente Padilla hit 90 batters during the term of the 43rd US president, and Jeff Weaver hit 86. Randy Johnson hit 81 batters.

So, despite it's many other flaws, which can be picked apart by bloggers and historians for years, one thing is clear - during the presidency of George W. Bush, more major league batters were hit by pitches than ever before, and at rates not seen since the golden age of HBPs at the end of the 19th century. The art of getting hit by pitches has taken a big step forward in the past 8 years. Perhaps the Obama administration can do even better, inspiring a new generation of players to ask not what a home run swing can do for them, but what refusing to get out of the way of an inside fastball can do for their team.

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