It doesn't take much to start a baseball brawl. It usually only takes a single pitch before the "Rabble! Rabble! Rabble!" commences.
But here's the question: What's it going to take to stop brawls altogether? What can Major League Baseball do to usher brawls toward extinction?
The short answer is that it's going to take actual effort. What the league needs is a system of deterrents, of very specific and very harsh suspensions. When it comes to brawls, the league needs to stop playing it by ear.
We're having this conversation, of course, because of what happened in San Diego on Thursday night. There was a brawl between the San Diego Padres and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Petco Park, and it was a costly one.
Zack Greinke, the Dodgers' high-priced new hurler, hit Padres left fielder Carlos Quentin in his left arm with a 3-2 pitch with nobody out and nobody on in the sixth inning. Quentin took exception, charged the mound and smashed Greinke. Fisticuffs between the two teams ensued shortly thereafter.
Did Greinke hit Quentin on purpose? Only he knows for sure. But seeing as how the Dodgers were clinging to a 2-1 lead and Quentin was the leadoff man in the inning, it's highly, highly unlikely that Greinke was throwing at the Padres slugger with intent.
Hence the reason it's utterly impossible to defend Quentin's decision to charge the mound in the first place. He made a fool of himself, and officially became Public Enemy No. 1 in Los Angeles when word came down after the game that Greinke had suffered a broken collarbone in his collision with the 240-pound Quentin.
"It's unfortunate about the situation," Quentin said, via MLB.com. "But it could have been avoided."
Yes, it could have been avoided. It could have been avoided if Quentin had taken just a fraction of a moment to consider the situation and keep cool.
Every brawl is going to have its catalyst, and nothing gets a brawl going like a mound-charger. These individuals know they will be hearing from the league office as soon as they leave the box, but exacting revenge is deemed more important in the heat of the moment.
And that may be because charging the mound doesn't result in that stiff of a penalty. Joe Lemire of SI.com pointed out that mound-charging suspensions are generally between six and eight games. That's where Quentin's suspension is likely to fall.
But that's not enough. Mound-chargers are going out there with the idea in mind to hurt somebody, and MLB's only hope of making them think twice lies in a much stiffer penalty.
A good place to start: An automatic 15-game suspension for charging the mound. That's close to a tenth of the season, and it would naturally be without pay. In Dodgers manager Don Mattingly's mind, even that wouldn't be severe enough for Quentin.
"He should not play a game until Greinke can pitch," said Mattingly, via MLB.com. "If he plays before Greinke pitches, something is wrong."
If a mound-charger does cause an injury, his suspension should indeed be longer. The problem with Mattingly's concept, however, is that suspending Quentin for as long as Greinke is hurt would result in him missing far more games than Greinke would be missing starts.
As much as Quentin deserves to have the biggest of books thrown at him, there has to be a line somewhere.
Instead, what MLB should do in the event that a mound-charger injures an opposing player is just tack on an extra five games. Make it a 20-game suspension without pay.
Implementing set penalties for pitchers who cause brawls with clearly intentional beanballs is obviously a lot trickier. It can be safely assumed that Greinke wasn't looking to hit Quentin on purpose, but in most cases, intent is going to be entirely subjective.
The best MLB can do is set a few parameters and make sure pitchers know them by heart. If a beanball is a fastball that's preceded by one or more too-close-for-comfort pitches, appears to be a retaliation to an earlier incident, comes when the score is nowhere close, and/or is too close to the hitter's head, then it was intentional by rule. No exceptions.
If said intentional beanball was what started a brawl, the pitcher who threw it should be hit with a nasty suspension. In sticking with our "roughly 10 percent" theme, 10 percent of a typical 30-start season would be three starts. If the beanball in question happened to cause an injury, make it four starts.
If it's a reliever who threw the beanball, MLB can go with a two-week ban that would rob a reliever of a significant number of potential appearances. The league can tack on an extra week if a reliever's brawl-starting beanball results in an injury.
But how is MLB supposed to keep the benches from clearing? How is the league going to prevent fights from becoming all-out brawls?
One idea is to take after the NBA and the NHL. Both leagues have rules that forbid players from leaving the bench during an altercation (Section VII, Part C for the NBA and Rule 70.1 for the NHL). Like the NBA, MLB could institute an automatic one-game suspension for anybody who leaves the dugout or bullpen during an altercation.
However, this idea doesn't apply to baseball quite like the other professional sports.
Automatic one-game suspensions for all those who leave the dugout/bullpen in an altercation would result in too many players and coaches being suspended for there to be a game the next day. That would be especially true of the team at bat, as most of its players would be on the bench.
There's also the reality that a fair number of participants in any brawl aren't looking for a fight. Some of them are looking to prevent them. Dodgers right-hander Josh Beckett, for example, was on the field on Thursday night keeping Matt Kemp out of trouble. Padres catcher Nick Hundley also appeared to be interested in nothing but keeping the peace.
What MLB has traditionally done is focus on the aggressors in any given brawl, and it should continue to do so. But just as penalties for mound-chargers and beanballers must be specific and severe, penalties for aggressors must be specific and severe.
MLB shouldn't hand out suspensions for every push and every shove, mind you, but there should be set suspensions for other potentially more damaging acts of violence.
A punch? Michael Barrett once got 10 games for punching A.J. Pierzynski. That's a good minimum for a punch, and the penalty should increase to 15 or more games if it results in an injury. For starting pitchers, that would mean at least two starts and potentially three.
A kick? Same thing. Johnny Cueto got seven games for kicking back in 2010, but a kick can easily be just as damaging as a punch. Kicking should therefore be another automatic 10-game suspension, with the penalty increasing if there's an injury (which indeed happened in the Cueto situation, as Cardinals catcher Jason LaRue suffered a concussion that eventually forced him to retire the following month).
A tackle like Quentin's? Those can be dangerous, too. Make it another act of violence that will result in a minimum 10-game ban.
These are some severe penalties, to be sure, but that's the whole idea. Whenever there's a brawl, MLB's banhammer must wield its power. That's the only way players are going to learn to fear it and act accordingly when tempers flare.
The way things are now, players know they're going to get in trouble the moment they decide to get violent in a brawl. What they don't know is exactly what kind of trouble they're going to be in.
Punishments that are automatic, specific and severe could be the end of baseball brawls as we know them. And they would not be missed.
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