A little flair can be good for Major League Baseball. Bench-clearing brawls? Not so much.
In light of Sunday's dugout-emptying fray early in the Milwaukee Brewers-Pittsburgh Pirates game that kicked off when Pirates starter Gerrit Cole took exception to Carlos Gomez's bat flip and slow trot out of the batter's box on a deep drive to center field, it's fair to wonder: Why doesn't MLB crack down on such incidents?
To review the events that got everybody on both sides worked up, here's how it played out in the third inning in Pittsburgh.
Gomez hit a long fly ball to deep center field that looked like it might go for a home run. While the ball was hurtling through the air—only to eventually smack off the top of the wall—Gomez tossed his bat aside and deliberately jogged to first base while eyeing the drive, only to turn it on as he neared the bag in order to leg out a triple that very well could have gone for an inside-the-park home run had Gomez busted it out of the box on contact.
At first blush, it appeared to be the behavior of a player "pimping" a home run—a common occurrence in baseball in 2014—and Cole didn't appreciate Gomez's actions. In fact, the right-hander raced over to third base after Gomez had slid in safely to tell him as much. From there, things escalated quickly, including benches emptying, punches being thrown and ejections resulting on both sides.
Here's the footage:
Much of Sunday and Monday has been spent arguing over who was right and who was wrong: Gomez for not hustling out of the box and deserving a finger-pointing from Cole, or Cole for doing said finger-pointing when Gomez's behavior, while maybe ill-advised, wasn't necessarily all that egregious.
"I didn't flip my bat because I thought it was a home run," Gomez said afterward. "I thought it was an out, a fly ball to center field. I made good contact, but I didn't think it was going out for a home run."
Regardless of whether one is inclined to believe Gomez's take, rather than focusing on the rights and wrongs, what does need to be addressed is the fact that these brawls—or at least these fairly routine incidents where players spill onto the field to get in each other's faces—can be easily avoided. And probably should be.
After all, with Gomez now facing a likely suspension and/or fine, that's going to cost the Brewers—who are off to baseball's best start at 14-5 entering play Monday—one of their top players for a game or more. Obviously, Gomez is to blame for that to an extent.
The bigger issue, however, is that whenever dozens of players, coaches and umpires are mixing it up amid a heightened atmosphere with competitive juices flowing, there's always the chance for serious injury.
That's never good for baseball, from the league to the owners to the players to the fans. Nor is so much attention being paid to a brawl, for that matter. Sure, these melees give people something to talk about and watch on highlight shows, but what ultimately comes out of it that's productive?
The quickest fix to prevent these sort of incidents from happening—or at least, make them less frequent—would be to adopt a rule similar to what the National Basketball Association does: Any player who leaves the bench and steps onto the court during a fight is automatically suspended.
Should MLB increase punishments handed out for brawls?
Baseball could implement bans for any and all players and personnel who come out of the dugouts or the bullpens while a confrontation is going down. Of course, there would also need to be some sort of corollary that prevents people already on the field (i.e., fielders and baserunners) from getting involved, too.
Such a rule might be seen as rigid or harsh, but one imagines that this would result in much fewer full-blown, dugout- and bullpen-vacating brawls. Coaches and players would learn pretty quickly that it doesn't pay to escalate an already tense situation that could be diffused much more easily without the cavalries being allowed to come into play.
Fines aren't exactly a deterrent when pretty much every player is getting millions of dollars in salary. Loss of a game or games? Now, that would be a real threat to a player and his club.
After all, while Gomez and Cole were at the center of Sunday's altercation when they engaged each other and exchanged words near third base, emotions and activity appeared to be settling down.
Until, that is, Travis Snider—who wasn't even in the game—came racing out of the dugout and went after Gomez, escalating everything all over again and to new heights.
Before MLB determines length of Carlos Gomez's suspension, it needs to ask 1 question: Why was Travis Snider even on the field? #benchwarmer— Tom Oates (@TomOatesWSJ) April 21, 2014
Immediately thereafter, Brewers backup catcher Martin Maldonado—also not in the game—threw a punch and connected with Snider's head. At that point, whatever was going to happen was going to happen. The Brewers and Pirates—and baseball as a whole—were just lucky no one got seriously hurt or injured.
Sunday's brawl between Milwaukee and Pittsburgh shouldn't be about who was right and who was wrong. It should be about finding a way to stop these dangerous incidents from happening, causing injuries and making the sport look bad.
And, hey, as a bonus, preventing on-field showdowns from turning into full-blown brawls would do wonders for shortening the time of games. That's something baseball can get behind, right?
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