Major League Baseball has been preoccupied with cleaning up the game, instituting harsh penalties for fighting, intentional beaning, and even attempted beaning. The tough disciplinary regime has been set in place over the past decade by Frank Robinson, who served as MLB’s Director of Discipline before returning to the manager’s chair in 2002, and Bob Watson, who replaced Robinson and has been the rules guru ever since. They were both all-star hitters during their playing careers, and don’t seem to mind too much that their actions have served to narrow the inside corner — a fact that has been brought up endlessly as the penalties have gotten ever more severe for pitchers with the temerity to plunk, to graze, even to brush back.
Now Cliff Lee has been suspended for five regular-season games for throwing two pitches at
Brandon Chris Snyder in a spring training game on Monday, without hitting him. (First Lee threw near him, and then he threw behind him.) Lee was steamed because Snyder had knocked him over in a play at the plate two innings earlier. Lee felt that the punishment was lopsided and overly harsh, particularly because after the second pitch, Snyder started walking out towards the mound. As Lee described it: “I was trying to go inside, a couple got away from me, and the guy hitting got mad and came towards the mound and I got thrown out of the game in the process. That’s it in a nutshell.”
Lee was being disingenuous: he was clearly going after Snyder. MLB.com analyst Harold Reynolds argues, “The suspension comes because of what Cliff said afterwards.” Still, a five-game suspension for not hitting a guy in a game that doesn’t count is absurd. What does this punishment serve? Is it meant to deter spring training beanings? Meant to punish Lee for lying about his intent with the pitches? Or is it meant to send a message that a pitcher may not ever brush a hitter back? Snyder nonetheless took steps toward the pitcher, so if baseball truly wants to prevent fighting, they should at least have fined him. If anything, Lee restrained himself: he certainly could have hit Snyder if he wanted to. How many regular-season games would Lee have been suspended if he did so? Seven? Ten? And what purpose would that have served?
Whatever the intent, Major League Baseball went too far with the punishment. Cliff is a headstrong guy, and if he’s pissed, it’s hard to imagine that he’ll refrain from giving a guy a close shave, so I can’t imagine that this will serve as an effective deterrent to his future behavior. Moreover, if the punishment for throwing behind a guy is as harsh as that for plunking him, there’s no real reason for a pissed-off hurler to refrain from beaning a guy, further decreasing the deterrent. At the same time, punishing a man for comments made in a postgame press conference seems anathema, especially when the game is an exhibition. For some reason, MLB felt that this punishment was warranted. I thoroughly disagree.
(Note: in an earlier version of this blog post, I stupidly wrote “Brandon Snyder” instead of “Chris Snyder.” Thanks to reader CSJ for pointing it out.)
Alex is a writer for The Hardball Times, and is an enterprise account executive for The Washington Post.