A lot has been written in the last week about pitchers hitting batters, (see post below) and 1984 Cy Young winner Rick Sutcliffe has some things to say on the subject. His column can be seen in its entirety at ESPN.com. He said it's often hard to get pitchers to fess up or even address the issue for fear of being fined but his take on it explains a lot about why it's always had its place in the game and why it's not likely to change.
"It's never really something you particularly enjoy, but often hitting your opponent is necessary to send a message to both your opponent and teammates alike. In my days with the Cubs, I wasn't trying to be "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" or anything, but I knew that if Ryne Sandberg and Andre Dawson were constantly getting knocked down by opposing pitchers they weren't going to be able to get to that outside corner of the plate and do the damage that they were capable of doing. But that was just part of it. I also wanted those guys knowing that if somebody threw at them intentionally, that I would take care of it.
He goes on to tell an interesting anticdote involving Cy Young winner and future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux, when he was at the beginning of his career:
The one incident that I remember most is from 1987, when Pirates pitcher Eric Show hit Dawson in the face. I wasn't pitching that day, actually a young Greg Maddux was, but I'd had a feeling that the Pirates might be out to get Hawk. I even said something to him about it, telling him I didn't have a good feeling. He had hit two home runs the night before and another in his first at-bat of the game. Then, in the third inning, Show drilled him in the eye with a fastball. People may remember that I charged the mound from the dugout when that happened.
Before the game, management had told Maddux that if he didn't get the win he'd be sent down. Knowing that, as I was getting ejected for fighting, I told him to go out and get through the fifth inning to get that win he needed before thinking about retaliating. He wasn't hearing any of that. I reminded him that he needed to get that win or else he was going back to the minors. He told me he didn't care if he got another win in his whole career. And the very next inning with the lead and two out and no one on base Maddux got payback by hitting Benito Santiago in the back as hard as he could. That tells you what kind of teammate Maddux was even starting out. He got sent down the next day, but his teammates knew what kind of guy he was. People might not expect it from a mild-mannered guy like him, but he would protect his hitters as much as any pitcher I ever played with.
To his credit, Sutcliffe makes the point that this practice has no place in baseball at anywhere but the professional level. Hearing it condoned and endorsed by a well-known former pitcher should not be seen by young people as a necessary skill to acquire until they're at the professional level. However, if you've ever been to a little-league game and seen parents act out, you know his words will not always be heeded.