Sonny Fulks
Sonny Fulks
Managing Editor

Sonny Fulks is a graduate of Ohio State University where he pitched four varsity seasons for the Buckeyes from 1971 through 1974. He furthered his baseball experience as a minor league umpire for seven seasons, working for the Florida State League (A), the Southern League (AA), and the American Association (AAA). He has written for numerous websites, and for the past fourteen years has served as columnist and photo editor for The Gettysburg Magazine, published by the University of Nebraska Press, in Lincoln Nebraska. His interests include history, support for amateur baseball, the outdoors, and he has a music degree from Ohio State University.

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In an age where safety and “respect the game” is demanded, we’ve lost appreciation altogether in baseball for competitive fairness.

I fully expect to hear from someone, or a lot of someones for that matter, over my disdain for the lack of respect with which baseball is played in this modern day.

I was reminded again on Sunday afternoon as I watched the Kentucky Wildcats pummel the University of Dayton, 15-2, banging out eight home runs and five of ‘em in the eighth inning of a game long since decided.

Admittedly, Kentucky was the better team, stocked with athletes that attracted scouts in just the third game of their season from no fewer than five major league organizations to watch them play.

Admittedly, Dayton was at a decided disadvantage for lack of pitching, recycling arms after a rugged first two days of the weekend, losses to Stony Brook and South Carolina Upstate.

But it was the manner in which the Kentucky hitters did their business that as an old pitcher I found offensive.

They stood on top of home plate, giving pitchers no room in the strike zone to execute their craft.

They hung out over the plate, elbows literally “in” the zone, as if daring pitchers to throw strikes .

Baseball has changed in the past 40 years, since my days pitching for Jim Hardman at Piqua High School and Marty Karow during my four years at Ohio State. Back then if hitters took too many liberties we were told to remind them…half of that plate belonged to the pitcher. Be on your toes in that batter’s box.

One of the things I had to learn in my transition to college baseball was to take care “of business”. It was the way the game was played then; there was a code. If a hitter got a base hit on consecutive at bats, he knew he would loosened up in his next at bat…KNOCKED DOWN!

“We don’t play that way any more,” said UD Director of Baseball Operations, Fred Worth, on Sunday, after the carnage. “We can’t. We’re not allowed to,” his voice tinged with sadness.

Nothing wrong with one high and tight, which reminds hitters that crowding home plate comes with consequences...or should.

Nothing wrong with one high and tight, which reminds hitters that crowding home plate comes with consequences…or should.

What baseball has lost in the past generation of adult manifestos over safety and sporting correctness is this. Hitters at every level of the game now have no respect for pitchers! That’s it, plain and simple. And if they did you wouldn’t see five home runs in an inning by college baseball teams who posture, and preen, flip bats, and click helmets together to celebrate a home run like they just beat the ’27 Yankees.

I can feel the red rising in a lot of necks as you read this, but it starts with hitters standing on top of home plate because they know there’s no fear in getting knocked down, or brushed back off the plate. They stand where they can reach every inch of the strike zone without recourse from the pitcher. It’s decidedly one way. The hitter has every advantage.

You can make the argument that the pitcher should be better, but how many high school and college pitchers are good enough to command at 97 miles per hour? Little Johnny doesn’t have that kind of arm, and and neither does anyone with the UD Flyers.

Understand, I’m not advocating anyone trying to hurt someone. Just level the playing field. I’m advocating that pitchers protect themselves by taking back a portion of the plate. The hitter has to give something back for fear of getting hit with the baseball…or at least driven back.

Helmets_inset0222I shake my head at the adults now who lobby for pitchers to wear protective head gear, but these are do-gooders who never pitched. Helmets and masks would only be distracting and add cost to a game that too many kids can’t afford to play as it is.

No, the simple way to protect pitchers is allow them to protect themselves…without worry of being ejected and suspended for two games if they teach a disrespectful hitter that for every course of action there’s a recourse, as well.

Safety, we yell, but how safe is it for pitchers to be subjected to line drives at 115 miles per hour…when you’re standing 53 feet away and you have a milli-second to react? Safety works both ways.

Of course generational guys like me have a problem with flipping bats, hotdogging, and clicking helmets at home plate. The late Paul Brown used to say “act like you been there before” when you score. But no one demands individual restraint in this day. No, the thought is if it’s good enough for Jose Battista to call attention to himself…it’s OK for me, too. Uh, maybe not!

Sonny_thumb0216You’re going to write and tell me that the kids should be allow to have fun, that flipping a bat in the “ice cream” league is as close as they’ll ever come to feeling like a big-leaguer.

Fine, but you can’t talk from both sides of your mouth demanding sportsmanship and “respect the game”. You start by respecting an opponent and his own advantage to compete.

The way it used to be, pitchers had the right and obligation to put that thought in a hitter’s mind.

Respect goes both ways, you know. Baseball, and baseball men, have forgotten that.  If you think I’m kookoo, think about the last time you saw a team hit eight home runs in a game…and five in one inning!

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