I have ideas. Some of those ideas are simple ways to eliminate (or at least drastically reduce) beanball wars and bench-clearing “brawls.” I have to put “brawls” in quotes because they’re generally more like an awkward high school party where a bunch of people from the rival high school show up and everyone says a bunch of bad words at each other but then you see your old elementary school buddy Sam Hernandez and you remember that summer when you guys were 9 and you were best friends and he used to come over to your house every day and then at the end of the summer your mom was vacuuming and pulled the couch out from the wall to vacuum behind it and found a ton of sunflower seed shells and it turns out that Sam was spitting his seeds behind your couch all summer and what a monster okay NOW IT’S ON!
Or something like that. The point is, people don’t actually throw many punches in these brawls, but they can still be dangerous. In recent years, we’ve seen players’ careers affected and even ended by these incidents. Jason LaRue‘s career ended due to a Johnny Cueto kick to the head during a 2010 incident. Michael Morse never played again after a head-to-head collision with Jeff Samardzija in a 2017 brawl sparked by Hunter Strickland‘s baffling inability to get over a couple bad pitches he threw to Bryce Harper three years earlier. Zack Greinke had his collarbone broken when a gorilla got loose from the San Diego Zoo in 2013 — oh, correction, we’re getting word that it was actually Carlos Quentin, who had led the majors in being hit by pitches each of the previous two seasons, inexplicably thinking Greinke deliberately hit him with a full-count pitch in a one-run game. We apologize to any gorillas who felt that we insulted their intelligence.
That’s just the recent history. Mike Schmidt, Billy Martin, Boog Powell, Bobby Valentine, Tommy John, and countless others sustained injuries during on-field extracurriculars. When you get a bunch of big, strong, emotional, angry men together, sometimes bad things happen. Morse was actually injured trying to prevent Samardzija from attacking Harper, and this quote from Samardzija kind of sums up the brainpower that goes into these fights:
“It was a crazy time. It wasn’t that I was mad. My buddy was just in a fight. To me, it’s as simple as that. If guys are going out there and pushing and shoving, you can kind of play patron. But when punches are thrown, it’s no longer in a baseball setting anymore. It’s time to go out there and protect your guys.”
I’ll resist the urge to point out Samardzija’s history as a football player, because I already blame football for enough bad things in life. And to be honest, there are plenty of baseball players with this same mindset. It’s easy to say, “One of these days, someone’s gonna get seriously hurt, and baseball will have to do something about it.” But people HAVE BEEN seriously hurt, and baseball hasn’t really done anything about it.
So here are my ideas to cut down on these incidents. I’m probably not the first person to think of any of them, but I came to them independently, at least. For each idea, I will also explain why Major League Baseball won’t implement it.
Idea #1: Drastically increase suspensions
When a starting pitcher throws at a hitter deliberately, he gets suspended for five or six games. That is, at worst, a minor inconvenience to his team, for whom he would not have been pitching the next four games anyway. But what if the suspension was 30 games? In mathematical terms, that’s “a lot more.”
One objection I’ve heard to this idea is that, because suspensions are unpaid, it’s not fair to ding a guy for five or six times as long just because he happens to be a pitcher. The solution to this seems almost too obvious: The first five games are unpaid; the rest of the suspension is paid. So financially, the hit is the same, but the impact on his team and his season are magnified. Seems like a pretty effective deterrent.
Along the same lines, any hitter who charges the mound is automatically suspended for a minimum of ten games, the first five unpaid. Boom! No more charging the mound!
Why MLB won’t do it:
Idea #2: Take a page from the NBA and the NHL
In the NBA, if a player not in the game comes onto the court during a fracas, he is suspended for one game and fined $50,000. I’d take it one step further in baseball: In any altercation between two baseball players, anyone other than those two players who gets involved — or even approaches the action — is suspended and fined.
Let’s look at the Harper/Strickland fight, for example. Strickland wanted to fight Harper — word is, he even told Buster Posey not to try to stop Harper if he charged the mound. Harper was clearly interested in fighting Strickland. So let them fight, but keep everyone else out of it. In hockey, refs don’t try to break up fights. They let the players go until one or both falls down, then they lie down on top of them to stop the fight. If Strickland wants to throw at Harper and Harper wants to fight, there’s no reason for Morse to break his brain trying to play peacemaker. Let them fight.
Because here’s the thing: Most players don’t actually want to fight. It’s the classic “Let me go, hold me back” thing from middle school all over again. They want to express their displeasure, but they don’t actually want to throw hands. In the rare cases where they DO want to fight, like Strickland and Harper, well … that would actually be a kind of fun fight to watch.
If a pitcher knew that he would be facing the hitter all alone, mano a mano, he’s less likely to throw at him. If a hitter knows his buddies won’t be there to “hold him back,” he’s more likely to just point and yell bad words as he takes his base. And if teams know that every player who gets involved is suspended immediately and simultaneously, there will either be fewer brawls or more forfeits.
Why MLB won’t do it:
Idea #3: Let’s get crazy
This one isn’t realistic, but I don’t care. I’m saying it anyway. Any time a pitcher deliberately throws at a hitter, he is ejected immediately (forget the stupid warning system), except … he has to lead off his team’s next inning on offense.
Let’s take the recent donnybrook between the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates, for example. Chris Archer, as the textbook example of quiet dignity and decorum on the field, took exception to Derek Dietrich‘s lengthy, silent love affair with a baseball he had just murdered. So, the next time Dietrich came up, Archer said, “Do you like this baseball, too, when I throw it at you?” The funny thing is, Dietrich didn’t even seem to take too much offense to this. It was actually Reds manager David Bell who first got angry, and he was mad at the umpire for warning both benches (and thereby preventing the Reds from being allowed to throw at a Pirates player with impunity).
So first of all, we get rid of the stupid warning. Archer is obviously ejected, and Bell has no warning to get upset about. And now, Archer has to lead off the next inning for the Pirates. If the Reds are smart, they just go ahead and get Archer out, because he’s a pitcher and therefore not a good hitter. Or, if they want to, they can throw at Archer — but then THEIR pitcher has to lead off the next inning. And on and on and on.
Chances are, in this situation — knowing he will be ejected immediately, suspended for 30 games, AND have to lead off the next inning — Archer is going to tell himself, “Ya know, I think this time I’ll just try even harder not to let Dietrich hit my pitch into the river.” And voila! No fisticuffs!
(Oh yeah, and if a pitcher throws at a hitter, the hitter gets first base even if the pitch misses him. Duh.)
Why MLB won’t do it:
Conclusion: Major League Baseball likes bench-clearing incidents. They are good for business. They drive traffic to their website and their social media. They get eyeballs. As long as that is true, none of these simple solutions will be implemented. And, to be honest, I’m okay with that, which probably says more about me than I intended to say in this article. But now that the secret of Sam Hernandez and the sunflower seeds is out there, I figured, what the heck.