MLB – IS RETALIATION A PROBLEM?

We’re only about a third into the 2017 MLB season and already, there have been several notable incidents of player retaliation around the league.

There’s been so much of it, that a debate has been sparked about whether or not baseball should get involved and do something about it.  The highlights so far:

Pedroia-Machado Slide/Feud

  • Fri, Apr 21, 2017– Orioles 3B Manny Machado slid “spikes up” into 2B and knocked down the Red Sox 2B Dustin Pedroia. Machado immediately apologized and claimed it was unintentional.  Pedroia was held out of the next couple games as a precaution.
  • Sat, Apr 22, 2017 – In the 8th inning, Red Sox pitcher Matt Barnes threw a high fastball at Machado’s head. It missed, but Barnes was ejected.  On the sidelines, Machado & Pedroia exchanged words.  Pedroia claimed he had nothing to do with this newest incident. He later apologized to the Orioles; Barnes was suspended 4 games.
  • Mon, May 1, 2017 – Orioles pitcher Dylan Bundy hit Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts in the front hip in the bottom of the 6th inning with a 94.5mph fastball.
  • Tues, May 2, 2017 – Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale’s first pitch to Manny Machado in the 1st inning was a 97mph thrown just behind him. Machado went on an expletive-laced rant after the game urging the Red Sox to just hit him and get it over with, or have MLB intervene.
  • Wed, May 3, 2017 – Orioles starter Kevin Gausman hit Red Sox SS Xander Bogaerts with a 77mph curveball in the hip to open the bottom of the 2nd. Gausman was immediately ejected.  Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph argued vehemently that it was simply a mistake.

Bautista-Atlanta Braves

  • Wed, May 17, 2017 – Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista hit a solo home run in the 8th inning and then flipped his bat as he stared down Atlanta pitcher Eric O’Flaherty. Some Braves players had words with Bautista as he rounded the bases and others waited for him at home plate.  The benches cleared, but no fight occurred.
  • Thurs, May 18, 2017 – In the 1st inning on the 2nd pitch, Bautista was hit in the hip by pitcher Julio Teheran with a 95.6 mph pitch. Both managers were warned.  Bautista just took his base and said nothing.

Marlins-Dodgers Benches Clear

  • May 20, 2017 – In the bottom of the 8th inning, rising Dodger Cody Bellinger launched a 2-run home run off of Marlins pitcher J. Ramos giving LA a 7-0 lead over Miami. No words were exchanged, no bats flipped.
  • The next Dodger batter up was Brett Eibner and he was drilled in the ribs by Ramos out of frustration. Eibner was not happy, but the game went on.
  • In the 9th inning, Dodgers relief pitcher Ross Stripling threw right behind the Marlins Giancarlo Stanton, just missing him by inches. Stanton angrily stormed the mound.  Both benches cleared and there was pushing, shoving and screaming taking place which included Marlins manager Don Mattingly.

Harper-Strickland Brawl (Nationals-Giants)

  • Oct 3, 2014 – NLDS, Game 1. Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper hit a 97-mph fastball off of starting pitcher for the Giants Hunter Strickland to the upper deck.
  • Oct 6, 2014 – NLDS, Game 4. Harper hit another 97-mph fastball off Strickland into McCovey Cove to tie the game.
    • In his homerun trot, Harper seems to look at Strickland before rounding 2B.
    • The 2 did not meet again for 2.5 years. 
  • May 29, 2017– Strickland hit Harper with a 98-mph fastball in the hip. Harper charged the mound and they engaged in a bench-clearing brawl.  Both players had to be peeled off one another.  They both suspended after the game.

Is retaliation stupid?

First, we must remind ourselves that the concepts of respect and revenge are very entrenched in the culture of our 100+-year-old American Pastime.

Fellow players stand up for one another, look after each other, and individuals protect their own game.

And, sometimes if teammates have been crossed, or a player thinks that he’s been disrespected, the result is the desire to even the score, especially since players have the ability to police themselves.  This is at the heart of the debate over retaliation.

Players want to be respected and if they feel they haven’t been, some will seek revenge.

For those of us on the outside looking in, this doesn’t always make sense and quite frankly, seems pretty silly.

Sometimes I don’t get why players seek atonement for those who scorned their peers or bean others for celebrating their triumph with a bat flip or other joyous celebration.

But, I think of what ESPN Senior Writer Tim Kurkjian wrote in an Apr 15, 2013 article:

“Baseball players are the most macho, remorseless, vengeful people I’ve ever met. If you mess with their game, if you mess with them, if you mess with a teammate, they are going to get revenge, no matter how long it takes, even if it’s three years, even if the guy is your new teammate.”

It is a really ugly side of the game, but it is also, on some strange level, an admirable side.  It’s all about protecting a teammate, it’s all about the team.”

So, if the need for taking an eye for an eye is firmly anchored in the history of the game and modern players continue to embrace it, who are we to argue?

It’s true that it doesn’t set the best example for kids and/or it could be dangerous if players are slinging around heaters at defenseless others who don’t see them coming.

Still, if the players want to continue to play this way, why should MLB intervene?

Is there a solution?

If MLB wishes to change the culture of retaliation in baseball now, it’s going to be very difficult and will take time.  But, it can be done.

It would first start with the players and their philosophies towards revenge and the unwritten rules.  A majority would have to accept the idea that they could no longer police themselves and seek to retaliate when they have felt wronged.

Likely, this is not something players will acquiesce to easily, especially since they are not willing to make other changes to the game to increase pace or add more action which could actually help the overall health of the sport for future generations.

So, it seems rational that MLB could intervene by setting down laws.  They’d have to make bat flips and other celebrations formally legal and warn players about retaliating for their disgruntled teammates.

The issue with this is that policing retaliation would be very difficult.  How would an umpire logically discern when a hitter gets hit by a pitch by accident versus on purpose?

Red Sox pitcher Matt Barnes claims that he didn’t mean to throw towards Manny Machado’s head on Apr 22, the day after Machado slid into Dustin Pedroia (who by the way said it was unintentional).  But, Barnes was ejected immediately.

Also, what if a young pitcher with control issues is trying to pitch inside and he lets one go by accident and it hits a batter towards his head.  Would it matter if there was an incident earlier in the game between the teams?

No, I can’t see it ever working for MLB to step in and try to levy penalties for retaliation in the current game.

Again, it’s got to start with the players and their point of view as a whole.  That is where we should be targeting control of this issue in MLB, if it really is an issue.

In the end, for me, personally, I don’t think it is a problem and I don’t see a need to do anything about it at this time.

Yeah, it doesn’t always make sense to me, but I’m not out there day after day playing with a group of people I consider family.  I’m not the one on the field facing the different personalities and trying to play as a team in the midst of bitter rivalries.

I think the solution that makes the most sense is to just let it lie for now and consider the possibility of encouraging coaches to preach quicker reconciliation so that some of these incidents don’t get out of control, while also discouraging overly aggressive players from going overboard.

 

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