You may have heard that there was a bit of a disagreement that took place in Thursday's game between the Detroit Tigers and the New York Yankees. Following up on the fracas, Major League Baseball handed down suspensions for the overly enthusiastic participants.
Receiving the most severe punishment was primary instigator Miguel Cabrera, with a seven-game suspension. That in itself is quite unsurprising. What is surprising and perplexing is how the rest of the sentences were handed out, particularly those given to the Yankees. Compared to the punishment given to Tigers players and managers, it seems rather light-handed at best, and biased by their former manager Joe Torre at worst. Furthermore, it sets a bad precedent for how to adjudicate future skirmishes and seems to utterly fail to discourage further incidents.
Let me first say I am not just some upset Tigers fan whining about how the Tigers shouldn't have been punished this harshly. I am completely fine with Cabrera getting seven games for his actions. He was the first to lay hands on another player and he threw the first punch at Austin Romine. He clearly was the biggest contributor to starting the skirmish that followed. As such, MLB was completely correct to give him the largest suspension. And seven games is on par with the sentence commuted to Rougned Odor for his punch to the face of Jose Bautista last year. Fighting and plunking of players is an ugly part of the great game of baseball and if MLB wants to take steps to discourage this kind of retaliation, this is a good start. Unfortunately, that is where it also ended.
Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez, who is seen on video delivering multiple cheap shots at players pinned on the ground, like the one below, got just four games.
Sanchez is gonna get the biggest suspension, look at this cheap shot pic.twitter.com/lqvSiQndZF— #Sapnu puas (@NJD107) August 24, 2017
Worse still, it seems that part of the reasoning for only a four-game suspension was largely because he did not instigate the fight, but was merely a participant.
Gary Sanchez's suspension was four games because of precedent. For MLB, cheap-shotting a prone player is half as bad as starting the fight.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) August 25, 2017
If this is indeed the case, shame on MLB. Bad behavior should not be excused simply because it was not the first bad action that took place. This is like saying that shoplifting is not as bad if someone is already robbing the store. Sanchez chose to run in and start swinging in an utterly cowardly and deplorable way, twice! He should have been given a suspension equal to that given to Cabrera, or at the least a game or two less. The leniency the league has shown towards Sanchez sets a precedent that they care mostly about who started a fight, and judge what follows as more inconsequential.
Even if the argument that his actions would not have happened if not for Cabrera's actions held some weight, I'd be much more willing to say this applies to Austin Romine instead. He received only a two-game ban for his inclusion in the fight, despite landing multiple punches to Cabrera after he charged him to the ground. He was definitely not innocent in the matter, even before Cabrera shoved. The two were already jawing when Cabrera stepped to the plate, and Romine proceeded to take his mask off and get right in Cabrera's face. Clearly he was looking for a fight, and he got one. A two-game suspension seems awfully light in comparison to Cabrera’s seven. Four games would have been more reasonable. Yet, in all this, the clemency shown to Sanchez and Romine pales in comparison to the complete lack of punishment given to Dellin Betances.
After things had appeared to settle down, on his second pitch of the night, Betances uncorked a 98.2 mph heater right at the helmet of Tigers catcher James McCann, reigniting the tempers and clearing both benches again. The umpires conferred and rightly ejected Betances.
Following the brawl, Dellin Betances drills James McCann with a 98 mph heater to the dome. pic.twitter.com/7rXrQknPDV— Sports Update (@SportsUpdateIG) August 24, 2017
Predictably, Betances pleaded that the pitch was unintentional. Shockingly, MLB believed him and chose to not suspend him or even asses any fines. This is troublesome on many levels. For starters, if MLB believed it was unintentional, why did their umpires eject him? The people charged with enforcing the rules of the game on the diamond felt that his actions warranted ejection, so why did MLB decide to give him no punishment whatsoever? If they feel the umpires are at fault, they ought to remove the crew from their assignments for training and clarification of these rules. But it doesn't take an umpire to see that there's a strong argument for the pitch being intentional.
As Jeff Passan pointed out, Betances has thrown 1,396 fastballs in his career to right-handed batters. Prior to this incident he had hit only one of those batters, two years ago, 20 pitches into an outing. The pitch that hit McCann came right after he took the mound, and and could have ended a player's career, or worse. I'm willing to believe that he didn't intend to hit McCann in the head, but it would be quite a coincidence.
This doesn't sit well at all with me or many other fans. Especially when Alex Wilson received a four-game suspension and a fine for admitting his intent when he drilled Todd Frazier in the leg. According to Passan, Wilson’s suspension was not only because he admitted his intent in a refreshing moment of honesty, but because it also reignited the fight and caused the benches to clear for the third time.
Alex Wilson got four games not just for admitting his intention to hit Todd Frazier but reigniting what most figured was finished by then.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) August 25, 2017
It would be a very cruel twist of irony if the person who admitted his guilt and was honest received punishment, while one who hid behind lies came away without a scratch. But it cannot be proven. It is all speculation and conjecture. Some pretty convincing speculation that doesn't take a detective to figure out probable cause, but for now we must live with the decisions of MLB.
And they're not sitting well with the Tigers or their fans. Sadly, what should have been punishment meant to deter further incidents like this may serve to only fuel the fire over the off-season, until these two teams meet again. As worked up as some Tigers players seem about the light punishment given to the Yankees despite equally grievous actions, there could very well be more “purpose pitches” coming in 2018.
If there is, MLB should be right in the center of the argument of why it happened. They had a golden opportunity to lay down the law and really send a message. But the message they sent is one-sided and will do nothing to stop the ugly tit for tat retaliation that exists in baseball.