May 8, 2012
On Sunday evening, Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels plunked 19-year-old rookie Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals during his first at-bat of the evening. Hamels later acknowledged that he deliberately hit Harper with the pitch; it was no accident.
“I was trying to hit him,” Hamels said later. “I’m not going to deny it. That’s just — you know what, it’s something that I grew up watching, that’s what happened, so I’m just trying to continue the old baseball. I think some people kind of get away from it. I remember when I was a rookie, the strike zone was really really small and you didn’t say anything just because that’s the way baseball is. Sometimes the league is protecting certain players and making it not that old-school, prestigious way of baseball.”
“Old school:” most baseball fans took him to mean the pitch was a “welcome to the big leagues, rookie” gesture. Hamels made it clear he was not trying to hurt Harper. Harper would later score by stealing home, and still later, the Nationals pitcher would plunk Hamels. For his old school gesture, Hamels was suspended five games and fined.
Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo said after the game, “Cole Hamels says he’s old school? He’s the polar opposite of old school.” “He’s fake tough. He thinks he’s going it intimidate us after hitting our 19-year rookie eight games into the big leagues? He doesn’t know who he’s dealing with.” Rizzo added “Harper’s old school. Hitting him on the back, that ain’t old school. That’s [bleeping] chicken [bleep].”
IMHO, the plunking was definitely old school. What was not old school was Hamels’s publicly admitting he did it deliberately — as if he needed to. Certainly no player was puzzled about the act before Hamels’s admission.
The expression “old school” is at least as old as the mid-19th century. Urban Dictionary says the phrase is “used to denote something that is considered to be out of date with current trends/ideas and thinking.” An early use appears in Dicken’s Bleak House, in a description of Mr. Tulkinghorn: “He is of what is called the old school—a phrase generally meaning any school that seems never to have been young”.
Postscript: Major League Baseball also fined Rizzo an undisclosed amount for his candid, scatological remarks about Hamels. No comment from either Hamels or Rizzo about whether that fine was “old school.”