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I was reading an online article when I came across this phrase (condensed to highlight the point in question) :

Context: Jack and Jill are having a heated argument...

Jill threw a hard bean ball at Jack that left him exasperated.

Did Jill actually throw a bean ball at Jack? Or is it a metaphor?

What does throwing a bean ball at someone mean? What is its etymology?

Note: I did search for bean ball and I understood that it is a baseball term. Nothing more.

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    Expression unknown in UK. We would probably use "below the belt" using a boxing metaphor instead of baseball (cricket has "bouncers", aimed at hitting a batter, but they are considered part of the sport)
    – James K
    Dec 12, 2015 at 20:40

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As both user140086's and user66974's answers suggest, the term beanball as used in U.S. baseball presents some ambiguity both with regard to the pitcher's intention in throwing the pitch and with regard to whether the pitch actually strikes the batter's head (or face or batting helmet). Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003) doesn't directly address these issues in its very brief entry for the term:

beanball n (ca. 1905) a pitch thrown at a batter's head.

This definition would seem to encompass pitches that are intentionally or accidentally thrown toward a batter's head and to pitches that strike or miss the batter's head (as long as they are in the vicinity of the player's head).

Paul Dickson, The Dickson Baseball Dictionary (1989) has a lengthy entry for beanball, which includes this discussion:

beanball/ben ball/beaner n./adj. A pitch thrown intentionally at a batter's head for the purpose of either moving the batter away from home plate or to punish him, his team or another player for something he has done. Pitchers who throw beanballs are supposed to be ejected from the game, but it is usually difficult for the umpire to determine that the act was premeditated. "Another Epidemic of Beanballs" read a New York Daily News headline, June 20, 1964.

...

1ST [ROOKIE APPEARANCE:] A very early use appears in The Athletics of 1905 by Charles Dryden: "While pitching, Mr. [Chief] Bender places much reliance on the bean ball."

EXT[ERNAL USE:] A direct shot meant to do damage, often verbal. "[Henry] Wallace Winds Up to Pitch Bean Ball at Truman Doctrine." (Headline in the San Francisco News, April 16, 1947)


'Beanball' as a pitch intentionally thrown at the batter's head

Dickson asserts that a beanball isn't a beanball unless it is intentionally thrown at a batter's head. And indeed a number of early matches for "bean ball" indicate that in the 1900s and 1910s, a bean ball was a valued pitch in the repertoire of many major league pitchers. From C.E. Van Loon, "Making Good in the Big League," in Outing: Sport, Adventure, Travel Fiction (June 1910):

Joe Corbett, once a great "jump-ball" pitcher, had a habit of throwing one ball straight at the batter's head.

"He respects me after that," Joe used to say. "He won't stand up there like a cigar-store Indian and 'sight on' my fast ball after that."

Mordecai [Three-Finger] Brown [a pitcher later elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame] uses the celebrated "bean ball," "bean" in baseball meaning the head. Mordecai sometimes has reasons for wishing to frighten ambitious young men into the belief that he is reckless and a bit wild at times.

A "beanball" in this sense is also sometimes called a "brushback pitch" (though that term is not limited to pitches thrown at head height), a "high hard one," a "knockdown pitch," or "chin music"; and throwing such a pitch may be referred to as "dusting [the batter] off," "flipping [the batter]," or "knocking [the batter] down." A later example of beanball in this sense appears in Charles Einstein, The Second Fireside Book of Baseball (1958):

Today occasional pitchers may still get away with an occasional outlawed spitter, but that dangerous pitch has all but vanished. Just about the only survival from baseball's rowdy youth is the "accidental" beanball, the close pitch that keeps a batter honest by forcing him back from the plate, that keeps him from taking a toe hold and getting set to powder the ball.

Here, the intention isn't to hit the batter, but to keep him from crowding the plate in order to have better bat coverage of pitches on the outside edge of the strike zone. (The "spitter" mentioned in this excerpt is a spitball, a pitch that the pitcher delivers after making the ball slippery by applying some banned substance—slippery elm, Vaseline, etc.—to it. The pitch is dangerous because it doesn't behave like a normal fastball as it approaches the batter and because the pitcher has less control over where it goes.)

Official acceptance of the beanball as a legitimate pitch seems to have been vanishing even before 1920, when Rex Chapman, an excellent major league player, died after being struck by a beanball thrown during a game between the New York Yankees and the Cleveland Indians.


'Beanball' as a pitch that strikes the batter in the head, regardless of the pitcher's intention

The notion that beanball can apply to a ball that strikes a batter in the head, regardless of the whether the pitcher intended to hit the batter is evident from the results of a Google Books search for "accidental beanball." The earliest match for this phrase is from "Bill Terry's Affable Greeting Takes Newshawks By Surprise" in the Reading [Pennsylvania] Eagle (January 30, 1938):

([Clyde] Castleman was out for most of last season with a back ailment, and [Hank] Leiber was sidelined after being hit on the head by an accidental "bean-ball" thrown by Bob Feller.)

Feller's pitch is labeled a beanball because it hit Leiber in the head, but the reporter seems sincere in ascribing the incident to a lack of control over his pitch by the future Hall of Fame pitcher. Similarly, from Bob Hood, "Star of the Stadium,"in Boys' Life (August 1959):

When Mickey [Mantle] was five years old his father and grandfather went to work to develop the boy into a switch hitter. They gave him a kindergarten-sized bat and pitched to him every day in the backyard starting at four in the afternoon. When his dad, a left-hander, pitched, Mickey batted righty; when grandpop, a right-hander, took over, Mickey turned southpaw. Pitching with a tennis ball, they could throw all kinds of curves, with no danger of hurting the young batter in case of an accidental beanball.

It thus appears that beanball is sometimes used to describe any pitch that strikes a batter in the head, whether the pitcher intended to throw the ball at the batter's head, near the batter's head, or nowhere close to the batter's head.


First occurrences of 'bean ball'

Aside from the 1905 occurrence cited in Dickson (above), the earliest instance of beanball that I could find in a search of the Library of Congress's Chronicling America database of U.S. newspapers was from the [New York] World (November 13, 1905):

It's about time now for some pitcher to discover a new ball. The stop-ball, spit-ball, bean-ball, smoke-ball, float-ball, snake-ball, and fall-away ball have had their day. This season of the year is usually very productive of wonderful discoveries in pitching. What's the matter with a disappearing ball just for a change?


Conclusion

The poster's example of

Jill threw a hard bean ball at Jack that left him exasperated.

appears to use bean ball in the figurative sense of a ball thrown at Jack's head either to hit him in the head and injure him or to intimidate him and make him back off. If the wording had been

Jill hit Jack with a hard bean ball that left him exasperated.

we would not be able to infer with complete confidence that the beaning was intentional; but the author here expressly notes that Jill threw the figurative ball at Jack, which indicates that the action was intentional.

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  • Indeed there could be ambiguity that I failed to mention more specifically in my answer.
    – user140086
    Dec 13, 2015 at 5:06
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"Beanball"

  • is a colloquialism used in baseball, 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).

(Wikipedia)

  • Meaning "head" is U.S. baseball slang c. 1905 (in bean-ball "a pitch thrown at the head"); thus slang verb bean meaning "to hit on the head," attested from 1910.

(Etymonline)

In the context you are showing the expression appears to be used metaphorically, probably to mean an 'offense' or an 'unfair remark' meant to hurt him.

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There is big difference between hit by pitch (sometimes it can happen and is not against the rule) and beanball (regulated by the rule) in baseball. Beanball is sometimes called headshot as the ball is thrown directly at the batter's head.

As well explained by Josh61, beanball is pitched intentionally and usually an act of anger and frustration. Some pitchers throw it as retaliation after giving up home runs. It is also used to avenge the other team's previous beanball and it could result in bench clearing brawl. In addition, its purpose could be to scare batters so that they would fear the next ball and would not hit the ball easily.

One baseball player was killed by the beanball and some were seriously injured.

According to Major League Official Baseball Rules 6.02(c), a pitcher (or together with his manager) could be expelled if the umpire judges a beanball is intentional.

According to the Ngram Viewer, the expression seems to have started around 1905.

In the context, "to throw a hard bean ball" could mean (metaphorically):

Jill retaliated against Jack with vicious remarks to hurt him/her (his/her feeling) intentionally

or

Jill threatened Jack with harsh remarks so that Jack would fear him/her.

It will entirely depend on context. However, it is certain that Jill uttered something bad/harsh/vicious/offensive to the extent that it could be considered against the rule (as in baseball).

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