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Is Throwing a Wild Pitch Criminal Behavior?

In baseball, the term "criminal" is usually only applied to bad decisions made by managers or poor hitting from a team’s highly paid superstar. The term is rarely used in its true legal sense.

Yet in the far-off baseball outpost of the Czech Republic, the concept of criminal assault is being applied to a wild pitch. Earlier this month, the Czech Baseball Association (CBA) filed a criminal complaint against an Australian pitcher throwing in the country’s top league.

The facts of the case have been explained as follows: In a playoff semifinals contest between Technika Brno and the Ostrava Arrows, a disagreement between the teams broke out. No violence occurred, but two members of the Technika club were tossed by the umpire. A half-inning later, a wild pitch during warm-ups by the Tecknika pitcher, Australian Blake Cunningham, hit the ground and then struck the umpire in the head, sending him to the hospital. (While the umpire needed surgery as a result, reports say that he will make a full recovery.)

Fearing that Cunningham would return to Australia before they had a chance to resolve the issue, the CBA requested criminal charges be filed. For his part, Cunningham has publicly professed his regret and innocence. (See here.)

I wasn’t at this contest, so I can’t speak to the nature of the wild pitch, but the idea that actions in the course of play should be criminalized in baseball seems criminal in and off itself -- short of proof of pre-meditated malicious intent. As the great jurist Benjamin Cardozo once wrote: “One who takes part in ... sport accepts the dangers that inhere in it so far as they are obvious and necessary.” Surely an umpire on a field of play should always be weary of errant pitches. Simply put, a wild pitch should have been foreseeable for the umpire.