Kansas City Royals pitcher Edinson Volquez threw a wild sucker punch at the back of Chicago White Sox pitcher Jeff Samardzija’s head on Thursday night. On Sunday, he was on the mound as the Royals starting pitcher against those same White Sox.
Volquez was eligible to play after being given a five-game suspension by the commissioner’s office, because he appealed his suspension. He has now dropped the appeal and will be back in time to make his next start on May 2. The appeal had little or nothing to do with the merits of his challenge, and everything to do with minimizing the impact of the penalty.
The trouble started on Opening Day, when Samardzija hit Kansas City outfielder Lorenzo Cain with a pitch following a Kansas City home run. On Thursday, Chicago pitcher Chris Sale hit Mike Moustakas with a pitch, and Royals' Yordano Ventura hit Chicago slugger Jose Abreu. Sale reportedly approached the Kansas City clubhouse even after he had been ejected from the game. Sale and Samardzija were also each given a five-game suspension.
The fracas broke out in Chicago, after Royals' Yordano Ventura quick-pitched at Adam Eaton. The two players began shouting at each other after Eaton was thrown out at first base and the benches cleared. Samardzija came charging off the bench and into the fray, determined to get at Cain.
The net result for the Chicago pitchers is that, if their suspensions are upheld, or if they drop their appeals just after their next start, their following starts will be pushed back one day, and then they’re right back on schedule. Since starting pitchers generally participate in every fifth game for their teams, a five-game suspension won’t even cause them to miss one game. This is hardly a deterrent for players who charge off the bench or storm their opponents' clubhouse looking for a fight.
Ventura received the heaviest suspension at seven games. He may have his suspension reduced, but if it's upheld his club can manipulate his time off to minimize the impact on the team. Eaton, who was arguably the instigator when he supposedly began chirping, was not suspended or fined at all. Such is baseball's version of Anger Management.
Royals relief pitcher Kelvim Herrera was earlier suspended for beaning Oakland A’s infielder Brett Lawrie, throwing a 100 mph fastball at the shortstop’s head. As a relief pitcher, Herrera’s five-game suspension would have a greater impact, as he might participate more frequently than every fifth game. But he's also appealed his suspension, and he now has another two-game suspension added as a result of his involvement on Thursday.
Royals manager Ned Yost was not bothered by the suspensions:
"It could have been a lot worse. Honestly, it's better than I expected."
Ten days have passed since Herrera's first beaning incident against Oakland, and his appeal has yet to be heard, so he continues to play. Yost admitted that Herrera's appeal would help the team to minimize the penalty.
"It does buy us some time," Yost said in reference to closer Greg Holland, who is on the disabled list. "It gives us a little more time to get Greg going."
Some fans might be entertained by a brawl on the field. It certainly draws plenty of coverage in the national media. But is that the kind of entertainment Major League Baseball wants to present? Judging by the penalties given to players for their participation, they’re not doing much to discourage it.
As with every agreement between a union and its employers, there is a grievance procedure in place to deal with disciplinary matters. There has to be an appeals process before players are penalized for their actions on the job. We all get that. But there is no reason for doling out penalties of such short duration, allowing teams and players to manipulate the process to the point where they pay almost no penalty at all for throwing a ball or a punch at another player’s head.
If baseball was serious about preventing these incidents, a minimum of 10-15 game suspensions would be in order, with stiffer penalties for repeated violations. Baseball’s new commissioner, Rob Manfred, is in a perfect position to set some guidelines to deter brawls and beaning of players on the field, but he is letting it go. Manfred told The Sporting News:
"I’m not sure that what we have seen is so materially different that we would rethink the way those situations are handled," Manfred said. "They’ve been handled that way for decades."
It is not unusual for players, in comments after a beaning incident, to make a comment such as "it’s part of the game," but that is exactly the point. It is part of the game, because MLB allows it to be part of the game. In that case, please spare us the charade of handing out penalties that are easily circumvented, and don't deter players from repeating their actions under the pretense that this type of conduct is discouraged.