Beanball wars erupt again; Surprising Twins lead AL West race

When Pascual Perez of the Braves hit second baseman Alan Wiggins of the San Diego Padres with his first pitch of the game last weekend in Atlanta, it eventually resulted in 16 players being ejected by the umpires.

Tempers flared first because the Padres felt Perez had thrown at Wiggins on purpose; later they erupted into two bench-clearing brawls when San Diego pitchers retaliated with head-hunter throws of their own.

This isn't the first time baseball has had to deal with the problem of beanballs, nor will it be the last.

But if National League President Chub Feeney wants to put a stop to this, a few multiple-day suspensions aren't the answer. The solution is something like months-long vacations without pay for the instigators, even if that punishment comes at a crucial point in the pennant race.

The beanball by whatever nickname it's called (the knockdown, chin music, etc.) just should not be tolerated, no matter what the provocation.

Basically three kinds of pitches are used to move players off the plate. The first is the brushback pitch, preferably thrown well below shoulder level. Such attempts to keep batters from digging in are acceptable to most hitters as part of the game. They do not consider this maneuver dangerous, since they usually have time to take evasive action. What they object to are the other two types - balls thrown either directly at their heads or, even worse, behind them, where the hitter has a natural tendency to back into the pitch.

Baseball's macho mentality is such that if a hitter feels he has had his head thrown at deliberately, he expects his pitcher to ''protect him'' by retaliating against the opposing pitcher the next time he comes to the plate.

This still happens in the National League, but not in the American, where pitchers don't bat because of the designated hitter. So somebody else becomes the target.

Anger and frustration on the part of a pitcher who is getting hit hard can also lead to trouble. One of the first things a rookie learns after coming into the big leagues, for example, is to be ready to duck if the two previous hitters in the lineup have both connected for home runs.

There's never any justification, though, for throwing at a batter's head, and it's long past time when baseball's establishment demonstrated by tough disciplinary action that it just won't stand for such actions anymore. AL West has tightest division race

From the standpoint of closeness, baseball's best division race to date has been in the American League West. Seldom since the season reached July have California, Minnesota, and Chicago been separated by more than three games in the standings, while Kansas City has lurked close enough to still be a factor.

Minnesota is the current leader, and whether the surprising Twins finish first, second, or third, it says here that the Billy Gardner deserves to be named AL Manager of the Year. After his first 116 games last season, Minnesota was 47-69. During that same period this time, the Twins went 61-55. What makes Gardner look especially good is that he has been performing his magic with a team that includes eight third-year players, eight second-year players, and four rookies.

Although California has logged the most days in first place, the Angels are the only team among the contenders to have a losing record at home. However, the reverse is true on the road. The fact that California plays its final seven games this season in foreign ballparks (three at Kansas City, four at Texas) is considered a cause for rejoicing by manager John McNamara.

The mystery team in the AL West, of course, has been Chicago, which won that division last year by an incredible 20 games. Part of the team's '84 slump can be traced to an inconsistent pitching staff. Injuries to key players have also been a factor. Even a late-season trade with the Yankees for veteran infielder Roy Smalley hasn't improved the situation so far. Firing of Robinson was expected

The firing of Hall of Famer Frank Robinson as Manager of the San Francisco Giants was not unexpected, despite reports to the contrary. Robinson would have been replaced earlier, but got a break when owner Bob Lurie didn't want to do anything that might detract from the Giants hosting this year's All-star game.

Robinson, whose first managerial job was a three-year stint at Cleveland in the 1970s, had been at the Giants' helm since 1981. He led the team to a surprising third place finish in 1982, keeping it in the race until the last few days against apparently superior Atlanta and Los Angeles clubs, but his team has not been in contention since then and is currently in last place in the NL West.

Third base coach and former Philadelphia manager Danny Ozark has taken over Robinson's post for the rest of the season, after which the situation will be reviewed.

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