[photo from Huffington Post]
Last night, the Diamondbacks and Dodgers got into one hell of a fracas during a game in Los Angeles. Like many bench-clearing fights, this one was provoked by a several hit batters (on both sides), and like many of these fights, we have had to endure a series of commentaries on the “unwritten rules” of baseball.
Look, I get it. These are men who want to prove that they’re the toughest, baddest, scariest around. “You hit one of our guys, we’re going to hit one of yours.” Or, Sean Connery from The Untouchables: “He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue.” But it’s not just a question of “men being men.” These are athletes whose trade is in their ability to perform physically, to ensure that their bodies are in top condition. When athletes push against each other, there will be conflict.
So Yasiel Puig, the Dodger’s hot young phenom, gets hit with a pitch that glances off his nose. (Puig’s meteoric ascent has been remarkable, but we should beware such hot starts. Comparison’s to Mike Jacobs don’t usually evoke confidence in a player’s long-term success.) Zack Greinke (remember him?) comes out the next inning and puts a pitch into the back of D-backs catcher Miguel Montero. Retribution. Everything’s cool now, right? Not for Ian Kennedy. Bottom of the seventh, Kennedy sends a pitch at Greinke’s head, hitting him in the shoulder. He’s immediately ejected, but the fight is on. Dugouts empty, bullpens empty. Punches are thrown and the fight almost spills into the stands.
There will be plenty of suspensions from MLB tomorrow. Managers Kirk Gibson and Don Mattingly both figure to miss a game or two, as do coaches Mark McGwire, Matt Williams, Alan Trammel, and others. (Incidentally, what a list of former hitters coaching in this game!) But what will be most interesting will be to see how the league handles the pitchers. It would not surprise me to see Greinke get a 5-game suspension (to miss one start), since he pretty clearly threw at Montero deliberately.
So what to do about Kennedy? More than anyone, he precipitated this fight, throwing at the opposing pitcher after there had been a “retribution” bean and warnings issued to both teams. Moreover, he didn’t target Greinke’s back or backside (as is customary with retribution plunks), but rather he threw at Greinke’s head. Kennedy violated a number of rules, written and unwritten.
It’s time for the league to start to crack down on this. After the incident between Greinke and Quentin, Greinke missed a month with a collarbone fracture; Quentin, who singlehandedly caused the incident, was suspended eight games. I understand that there are precedents, and the MLBPA will fight suspensions that exceed those precedents (as they should). But if the league is serious about preventing these incidents, and the injuries that accompany them, it is time for them to get serious about the penalties for provoking such incidents. Work with the Players’ Association to move towards stiffer penalties for instigating a brawl. Impose longer suspensions, even if they are reduced on appeal; it will set the tone for the league’s general policing of fights.
And, ultimately, let’s get rid of the “unwritten rules.” Pitchers who intentionally hit a batter should be suspended. A player who tries to cause injury to another outside any legitimate baseball action should be suspended for a long time. And the players should be on board with this. They want to purge the game of PEDs—an admirable goal—to make baseball a fair place for everyone. It’s also in their best interest to eliminate these stupid macho fights that serve no purpose other than to injure players and generate animosity between teams and fans. It’s time for the players and the league to step up and play by the written rules.by