Does MLB Need to Impose Harsher Penalties for On-Field Brawls?

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistJune 12, 2013

Major League Baseball has an issue that needs to be curtailed quickly. No, we are not talking about anything involving performance-enhancing drugs. 

While watching the brawl that broke out between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday night, it became abundantly clear that it is time for the league to find a way to detract from these kinds of brawls in the future. 

It was a marquee game, as you had Zack Greinke on the mound for the Dodgers and Yasiel Puig, the 22-year-old phenom who is quickly becoming one of the biggest stars in baseball. As Dave Haller, the director of communications for the Tampa Bay Rays, noted on Twitter, it didn't take long before Puig was ejected:

For those who didn't see what happened, Greinke hit Cody Ross with a pitch in the top of the fifth inning. Diamondbacks starter Ian Kennedy then plunked Puig with a pitch up near the head that deflected off his shoulder and grazed his nose in the sixth inning. 

Greinke, wanting to send a message to Arizona, hit Miguel Montero square in the back with a pitch in the top of the seventh. The benches emptied after that, but it was more of an opportunity for players to start jawing with one another. 

Kennedy, trying to end the battle of machismo once and for all, hit Greinke with a pitch up and in the very next inning. That was when all hell broke loose, with players and coaches on both sides engaging in fights that resulted in six ejections and left Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully at a loss for words.  

While there are fans out there who love to see baseball players brawl and feel it brings an air of excitement to the game, it is actually quite embarrassing to see grown men behave like this. 

When you have Los Angeles hitting coach Mark McGwire being restrained by Arizona third base coach Matt Williams, you know something is wrong. 

There is a lot of blame to go around for this whole incident, starting with Arizona's Ian Kennedy. Say what you want about Greinke deliberately plunking Montero in the back, but he wasn't throwing at someone's head. 

This isn't the first major brawl in baseball this year, nor is it the first brawl involving Greinke. If you recall, the 2009 American League Cy Young winner got into it with San Diego's Carlos Quentin back in April, an altercation that left him with a broken collarbone and on the disabled list for six weeks. 

With plenty of suspensions likely to come down as a result of this, MLB could try to nip the issue in the bud by taking a proactive approach to dealing with it instead of being so reactionary. There is no system in place, other than what Bud Selig decides after the fact. 

One thing that the NBA has done so well in trying to prevent fights, especially after the 2004 incident with Ron Artest charging into the stands in Detroit, is telling anyone and everyone that if you leave the bench for whatever reason during a game, you are going to be suspended. 

However, a problem with that situation is, while the NBA took a huge public-relations hit with the "Malice in the Palace," MLB doesn't really suffer because of these brawls. Sure, at times they can come off as childish or petty. But no one takes offense to what is happening. 

In some ways, an MLB brawl is like a fight in hockey, though not technically legal. The umpires do their best to keep everything contained, and it all settles down after a few minutes, at which time players and/or coaches are officially ejected. 

Then, depending on the size of the brawl, the Office of the Commissioner hands down suspensions. Quentin was forced to sit for eight games after charging Greinke in April, though there were some who wanted him to be suspended for as long as Greinke was hurt. 

That is about the standard penalty for brawling in baseball. Most pitchers will be suspended for six games to ensure that they miss at least one start. Position players are going to get five to eight games, depending on their role and involvement in the brawl. 

As long as there is no contact with an umpire, baseball doesn't appear to have an objection to the occasional quarrel. That isn't to say that MLB is encouraging it.

Plus, even if there was an actual suspension policy, players are still going to defend their teammates if they feel that they are being threatened. It is part of that whole macho-athlete/guy facade that is practically a prerequisite for playing sports. 

It also wouldn't really be effective for MLB to do business by saying that anyone who leaves the bench will be suspended, because what would teams do if their entire roster was involved in a fight? Would they be allowed to call up 25 players for one day?

There is nothing wrong with the game as it is right now, brawls included. This was just a case of a pitcher (Kennedy) going way overboard in his retaliation attempt. Hitting a batter square in the back with a pitch is childish but, aside from a bruise the next day, harmless. 

Kennedy took things a few steps further by not only going high and tight with Puig, but also hitting Greinke, who is probably a little sensitive right now, given what happened with Quentin near his head. 

Greinke's teammates understandably took offense to what happened and all hell broke loose. That doesn't mean there is anything wrong with defending a teammate, or that it immediately warrants a suspension. 

Baseball handles these situations to the best of its ability. An occasional brawl is essentially harmless, as long as it doesn't become a commonplace in the game. 

Players are never going to stop defending their teammates if they feel they are in trouble, regardless of the consequences. Baseball doesn't need to react to that any differently than it already does.