Tuesday night’s fight between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks was the kind of brawl hardasses across North America live for. Punches were thrown and punches connected. Players and coaches were thrown on the ground and pinned against guardrails.
It was a great show. But at its heart, it was one of the lamest displays of sports at its worst: machismo for the sake of machismo, with no regard for the safety or wellness of the players on the field. The brawl began, let’s not forget, with a fastball at Zack Greinke’s head. All the dignity Establishment Baseball pretends to care so much for goes straight out the window.
Eight uniformed personnel were suspended. Ian Kennedy got 10 games for the instigating fastball. It sounds intimidating, but means he’ll start two games in 12 days instead of three games in 15 days thanks to appeals. Then there’s the field players and relievers: five inexplicable games for Eric Hinske for getting punched out by Yasiel Puig (no suspension); two games for J.P. Howell for tackling Diamondbacks coach Turner Ward; two games for Skip Schumaker for nothing obvious; one game for Ronald Belisario for throwing a punch.
Is this Major League Baseball pretending they want the brawls and the headhunting to stop? Because if so, the bullshit is exposed by the suspensions to the coaches involved: one game for Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson because his pitcher intentionally threw at another player; one game for Dodgers Don Mattingly for the same reason; two games for Mark McGwire for basically raging around the entire field.”
Where do you think the culture of beanballs and brawls comes from? This is Gibson’s second one-game suspension for what MLB deemed a pitcher’s “intentional actions,” the first coming when Esmerling Vasquez went after the Nationals’ Danny Epsinosa in a 2011 game after Jason Marquis plunked Justin Upton. Two is hardly a trend, but if you need proof Gibson lives this culture of retaliation, check this wire report from 1998:
“The swing that made Kirk Gibson a hero in baseball also got the former major leaguer suspended from an amateur hockey league.
Gibson was banned for three games for smacking another player in the back with his hockey stick. The blow broke Gibson’s stick and left Mike Albrecht brusied and sore, the Detroit Free Press reported Saturday.
Albrecht, a 32-year-old stockbroker, said he was the victim of an unprovoked attack. Gibson said he was giving “tit-for-tat” after being chopped in the back of his legs.
It happened in late December in an over-30, no-checking league game at the Grosse Pointe Community Rink in suburban Detroit.”
If you want one image to define the brawl, my money’s on this one:
McGwire was barely restrained by Diamondbacks coach Matt Williams. Kirk Gibson and Don Mattingly jawed and chirped. We always think of the players as the ones with manhood at stake in these beanball wars. Look at the picture, and then watch Kennedy’s offending fastball again. Gibson’s insecurities, his innate need prove his manhood, are practically dripping off the baseball.
Ian Kennedy — and every other pitcher who throws at a hitter — is not excused. Chain-of-command is not a legitimate reason to injure another person during what’s nothing more than a game, and I doubt there was much conflict in Kennedy’s head as he took the mound with the intention to hit Zack Greinke.
But let’s not pretend we don’t know where this all stems from. If Major League Baseball wants pitchers to stop throwing at heads and benches to stop clearing, it will stop treating the manager as a figurehead. One game means nothing to Kirk Gibson and Don Mattingly; two games means nothing to Mark McGwire.
Maybe the player suspensions need to be ramped up. Ten games almost certainly isn’t enough for Ian Kennedy. Two games probably isn’t enough for J.P. Howell. But one game is not going to stop managers like Kirk Gibson from projecting their compulsion for retaliation onto their pitchers — and, potentially, onto an opponent’s head.
This is the culture Kirk Gibson and most major league managers have lived their whole lives. They live eye-for-an-eye, “tit-for-tat.” They’ll break a hockey stick over your back if they feel slighted.
If Major League Baseball wants this to stop, here’s where to start. I don’t have a number. 10 games? 20 games? Just something where it will be felt as more than a ripple. Call out and punish these managers, and maybe, just maybe, the culture will start to change.