By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 1, 2007
If you had called Roger Clemens a "Yankee" to his face back when he was a firebrand Texas high school star, he might have stuck a 98-mph fastball in your ear hole. Though born in Dayton, Ohio, Clemens moved to Texas with his family at the age of 15 and soon enough embraced his southernness, from his cowboy boots to his pickup truck to his unique brand of Texas cussedness.
Now, thanks to a fascinating academic study showing the link between the geographical backgrounds of pitchers and their relative tendencies to hit batters in certain situations, we can see why this bit of biographical trivia matters: It turns out there is a reason why Clemens and his southern brethren seem to hit batters more frequently than other pitchers.
The study, by Thomas Timmerman, a professor of business management at Tennessee Tech, began as a look at how race influenced pitcher-batter matchups in baseball. Although he found no link between race and the number of times batters were hit by pitches, he did find an interesting geographical link.
"I found that pitchers from the South are not more likely in general to hit batters," Timmerman said in a telephone interview, "but they are much more likely to hit batters after giving up a home run, or after a teammate has gotten hit the previous half-inning."
But why? In Timmerman's paper, published earlier this year in the Journal of Applied Psychology, he theorized it went back to old theories about the "culture of honor" that pervades in the South.
"What it comes down to is people in the South are taught that when someone insults you or threatens your honor or your family's honor, it's okay to hurt them physically," Timmerman said. "Wherever it comes from, it gets passed down and passed down."
Put another way, by Washington Nationals reliever Ray King (born in Chicago, raised in Tennessee): "With a southerner, you think of a guy that's laid-back, that's nonchalant, but if you cross them, well, 'Let's go out back and take care of it.' Versus a northerner, it's, 'Let's go talk about it.' "
In Timmerman's study, giving up a homer or seeing a teammate hit by a pitch in the previous half-inning equates to an assault on the pitcher's honor, and the resulting hit batsman is an attempt to regain that honor.
"I would agree with him wholeheartedly," said New York Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte, a Texas native. "I've seen it with some of the people I've played with. I don't know if it's the country boy in them, or what. But some guys would just as soon go after you than talk to you if you went after their teammate or something."
Timmerman specifically looked at three scenarios: A pitcher facing a batter after a) he has given up a homer to the previous batter; b) he gave up a homer to the same batter earlier in the game; or c) he has seen a teammate hit by a pitch in the previous half-inning.
He found that all pitchers increased their rate of hitting batters in these situations (in general, a hit batsman occurs roughly once every 200 plate appearances), but that among the southerners the rate of increase was much higher -- 39 percent, 84.6 percent and 56.7 percent higher, respectively.
In all, southern pitchers were 12.9 percent, 25.7 percent and 17.3 percent more likely, respectively, to hit batters in those three scenarios. And when the numbers were adjusted for batter ability and pitcher ability, the numbers increased to 33.4 percent, 40.7 percent and 50.6 percent. (Unfortunately, because Timmerman's study began as a look at race, all these numbers reflect only white southern pitchers versus white non-southern pitchers. Also, pitchers such as Clemens and King didn't qualify as southerners because they weren't born in the south.)
Baltimore Orioles reliever Jamie Walker, a Tennessee native, at first was skeptical of the study, but then acknowledged southerners might be more protective of teammates. "I think it has to do with your raisin'," he said.
In Walker's locker, a sign bore out his words -- and perhaps validated Timmerman's study: "You [mess] with me, you [mess] with the whole trailer park."
Staff writer Barry Svrluga contributed to this report.