"Beanball" is a colloquial sports term for a ball thrown at an opposing player with the intention of striking him such as to cause harm, often connoting a throw at the player's head (or "bean" in old-fashioned slang). The term may be applied to any sport in which a player on one team regularly attempts to throw a ball toward the general vicinity of a player of the opposite team, but is typically expected not to hit that player with the ball. Primary examples are baseball and cricket (where it is usually known as a beamer). A pitcher who throws beanballs often is known as a headhunter.
In baseball, a beanball is a pitch, similar to a brushback pitch but actually intended to hit the batter it is thrown at, often in the head. It is rarely used as a strategic weapon, and mostly used to vent anger and frustration; however, batters facing known headhunters are given a reason to fear a beanball and may alter their approach to hitting in the interests of self-protection, perhaps giving some strategic advantage to the pitcher. Some pitchers have been known to throw beanballs in response to giving up home runs. Teams with rivalries often find several beanballs exchanged a season. Beanballs can sometimes lead to fights, charging the mound, and bench-clearing brawls. Because of the hazards of the pitch and the possibility of fights, umpires will often warn teams, after beanballs or fights have occurred, that any pitcher who throws at a batter will be ejected from the game with a mandatory one day suspension for the pitcher's manager. Throwing at batters can sometimes lead to suspension for a number of games as well. Managers may also be ejected, if in the umpire's judgement, they ordered their pitcher to throw a beanball.
The number of hazardous beanballs thrown during and previous to the 1950s caused Major League Baseball to require that all batters wear batting helmets, starting in 1956. The helmet with an earflap has been required since 1983, the one with earflaps covering both ears for Minor leaguers. A pitcher who is known for a habit of purposefully throwing at opposing batters' heads is called a headhunter. Some purported headhunters (whose reputations as such are not always correlated with fact, as shown by statistics) include Don Drysdale, Bob Gibson, Sal Maglie, Hugh Casey, Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, and Pedro Martínez.
There is only one player who died after being hit in the head. Indians shortstop Ray Chapman, hit by a pitch on August 16, 1920 at the Polo Grounds in New York and died twelve hours later, is noted as the only player in the history of major league baseball to be killed in a game. It is important to note that Chapman's death occurred many years before the wearing of batting helmets was a common practice.
Some controversy has occurred when a pitcher is ejected for hitting a batsmen even though it might not have been intentional. One instance was with the Cubs in 2007, was a day after the beaning of Alfonso Soriano of the Cubs, when, in the middle of the at-bat, the opponents batter was hit and the pitcher was ejected. Due to the fact that most beanings occur in the first pitch of an at-bat, many people believed it was unintentional.
- An Unofficial History of the Beanball - An in depth look at use of the beanball throughout 20th and 21st century baseball, including lists of headhunters and those they hunted.