Even after Dodgers-Diamondbacks punishments, MLB must do more to curb beanball incidents
Three days after the beanball-driven brawl between the Diamondbacks and Dodgers, Major League Baseball finally announced suspensions for five players, both managers and one coach, as well as fines for those eight individuals and four additional ones. As expected, the most severe penalty was handed down to Ian Kennedy, the Arizona pitcher who appeared to intentionally drill his counterpart, Los Angeles’ Zack Greinke, with a pitch near his head, setting off a melee after tensions had already escalated. Kennedy was suspended for 10 games, the longest ban for an in-game incident since 2005. That is a length of time that should become standardized if the league wants to avoid similar incidents.
According to MLB’s release, Kennedy’s 10-game suspension was for “intentionally throwing a pitch in the head area of Zack Greinke of the Dodgers in the bottom of the seventh inning, after a warning had already been issued to both Clubs earlier in the game.” In the sixth inning, Kennedy had hit Yasiel Puig in the face, apparently without intent, and Geinke retaliated by hitting Miguel Montero in the back in the bottom of the sixth, after which benches cleared and a warning was issued to both teams by home plate umpire Clint Fagan.
When Greinke came to bat in the seventh, he was hit in the left shoulder; had he not gotten out of the way, the ball likely would have hit him in the head. Kennedy began walking off the mound as soon as he hit Greinke, and didn’t protest his ejection. ESPN Los Angeles’ Mark Saxon said via Twitter amid the fray, “I clearly saw Ian Kennedy look at Arizona’s bench before delivering that pitch to Greinke.” Benches cleared again, and the scrum, which involved several coaches from both sides as well, lasted for several minutes.
Also from the Diamondbacks, infielder Eric Hinske was suspended for five games “for leaving the dugout and for his aggressive actions during the incidents,” and manager Kirk Gibson was suspended for one game for “the intentional actions of Kennedy after a warning had been issued.” Those two were fined an undisclosed amount of money, as were Montero and outfielder Gerardo Parra.
On the Dodgers’ side, pitcher J.P. Howell and utilityman Skip Schumaker were each suspended for two games “for their aggressive actions during the incidents.” Hitting coach Mark McGwire was suspended two games for his conduct, which mainly appeared to involve heated words with Diamondbacks coach Matt Williams and other coaches. Pitcher Ronald Belisario received a one-game suspension for “aggressive actions,” while Mattingly was suspended one game “for the actions of his Club and for his conduct during the incident,” which included his taking down Diamondbacks coach Alan Trammell. Greinke and Puig were fined but not suspended.
Additionally, the Dodger team was fined as well because Chris Capuano and Josh Beckett, both of whom are on the disabled list, came onto the field during the brawl (Matt Kemp, wisely, did not). Neither the Dodgers nor the Diamondbacks will be allowed to have any DL’d players on their bench during their respective series’ this weekend. The two managers and McGwire will begin serving their suspensions on Friday night. The timing of the player suspensions has not been announced, as all have the right to appeal.
The last pitcher suspended for as many as 10 games due to a beanball incident was the Royals’ Runelvys Hernandez, who hit three batters in a game against the Tigers in 2005, leading to a bench-clearing brawl. In 2003, the Diamondbacks’ Miguel Batista drew a suspension for throwing a baseball at the Cardinals’ Tino Martinez as he charged the mound after being plunked; Martinez was suspended four games.
The longest suspension this year prior to Kennedy’s belonged to the Padres’ Carlos Quentin, who was suspended eight games for charging the mound after being hit by a Greinke pitch on April 11; he tackled the pitcher, who broke his collarbone and missed five weeks of action.
If MLB wants to deter the escalation of future beanball-related incidents, it should consider a 10-game suspension to be a starting point. For a starting pitcher, something along the lines of the typical six- or eight-game suspension merely amounts to being pushed back in the rotation instead of being skipped entirely. At 10 games or higher, two starts are generally effected; a cynic could argue that given Kennedy’s 5.49 ERA this year, his missing two turns doesn’t actually hurt the team at all.
Given the potential for severe injury, it seems reasonable to suspend a player even longer for actions such as Kennedy’s, which a) appeared to be intentional; b) involved a near-miss of the head; and c) transpired after both benches had been warned. Of course, judging intent isn’t always easy, but most situations offer contextual clues. You’d have to be completely oblivious to miss the meaning of Kennedy walking off the mound immediately after drilling Greinke. Similar penalties for players who charge the mound after being hit would be appropriate as well, though perhaps granting a bit of leniency given that unless it’s in retaliation for something like an egregious takeout slide, they’re generally the victims.
While bench-clearing brawls make for entertaining spectacles (how many times have you watched the above clip?), it’s time for MLB to follow the leads of the NBA and NHL and automatically suspend players who come off the bench to partake in the festivities; those other sports adopted such mechanisms even before the turn of the millennium. A mandatory two- or three-game suspension for every player coming onto the field could prevent fights from escalating into the type of steel cage match that took place on Tuesday. Given that in most instances, the pitcher is the aggressor, and he’s backed by eight teammates, while the batter may have no one else on the field on his side, similar penalties for any players already on field who enter the fray to do anything besides break things up should be considered as well. Such a drastic change in policy could run into a familiar obstacle: the players’ union, since such penalties may be subject to the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Even with old-school players from the 1960s and 1970s such as Frank Robinson, Bob Watson and Joe Torre in charge of meting out discipline in recent years, MLB has been slow to ramp up penalties for fighting. According to official MLB historian John Thorn, bench-clearing brawls are a relatively recent phenomenon. As he said during an appearance on “The Brian Kenny Show” on Friday (the entirety of which is well worth listening to):
“You used to have pitchers and batters waging battle over the inside part of the plate, and then you’d get a guy plunked and you’d have retaliation, but you wouldn’t have a complete on-field scrum the way you’ve had ever since the Bud Harrelson-Pete Rose incident in the 1973 NLCS.
“What’s happened here is that the way the umpires will call the game, the pitchers have yielded the inside part of the plate to the batters who creep in, and then when a pitcher tries to come inside with a pitch that 30 years ago would not have been a problem, would not have hit a batter, somebody gets plunked and then feelings as well as bodies get bruised.”
MLB has been slow to act despite the risk to increasingly expensive players. At this point, it’s not too difficult to imagine a star player with a $100 million contract tearing up a shoulder in a fight, significantly altering his career path. Imagine if Greinke, whom the Dodgers signed to a six-year, $147 million deal this past winter, had torn his labrum or rotator cuff instead of breaking his collarbone after Quentin tackled him. While one can say, “He hit the batter, so it’s his fault for what ensued,” that particular situation isn’t directly parallel to the Kennedy-fueled brawl in that Greinke’s intent in that case was hardly clear. As history shows, players do get seriously hurt in on-field brawls; Red Sox pitcher Bil Lee suffered torn ligaments in his shoulder in a 1976 melee with the Yankees, and in 2010, Cardinals catcher Jason LaRue’s career ended over the latest concussion incurred after being kicked by the Reds’ Johnny Cueto.
In the end, Kennedy’s penalty does at least hint that the league is willing to take such matters a bit more seriously than before. However, it remains to be seen whether there’s an actual appetite for a structural change that would keep baseball in step with other sports.