MLB Rightfully Backs Ronald Acuna Jr. in Taking Strong Anti-Beanball Stance

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistAugust 17, 2018

Atlanta Braves left fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. (13) reacts after being hit by a pitch from Miami Marlins starting pitcher Jose Urena in the first inning of a baseball game Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
John Bazemore/Associated Press

It's time for the nonsense to end.

It's time for the days when a pitcher hurls a dangerous projectile at another person in excess of 90 mph with little or no provocation to end.

Thankfully, it appears MLB agrees.

On Thursday, the league announced a six-game suspension for Miami Marlins right-hander Jose Urena after he hit Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. with a 97.5 mph fastball, seemingly intentionally.

In case you missed it, here's the footage:

Did that beanball arrive courtesy of a bat flip or some other "justifiable" reason? Nope.

What was Acuna's crime, then? What affront had he committed?

As best as anyone can tell, it was the "offense" of homering in five straight games, including three straight against the Marlins.

Acuna was on a roll. More specifically, he was on a roll against the Fish. Somehow, that warranted a fastball to the elbow.

Multiple MLB commentators, including ESPN's Buster Olney, thought it was on purpose:

Acuna wasn't showboating or running his mouth or breaking any of the game's other antiquated unspoken rules. He was merely raking, which is what he's generally been doing since his big league debut April 25. 

Through 68 games, Acuna has 19 home runs and a .924 OPS. He's squarely in the conversation for National League Rookie of the Year honors. 

Other intriguing Senior Circuit rookies such as the Washington Nationals' Juan Soto will give Acuna a run for his money, but he's undeniably one of the most eye-opening up-and-comers on one of the most exciting young teams in either league.

Now we return to his standoff with Urena. Is there a universe where his behavior is remotely justified?

Former MLB player and current New York Mets commentator Keith Hernandez seems to think so.

"He's hit three home runs. You've got to hit him," Hernandez said, per MLB.com's Do-Hyoung Park and Daniel Kramer. "I'm sorry. People aren't going to like that. You've got to hit him; knock him down, at least."

A hitter is hitting, which is his job. In response, you hurl a sphere of cork, string and leather at his arm in the vicinity of triple digits, endangering not only his physical safety but also his long-term livelihood.

That's horrendous on its face. It's cruel and antithetical to the spirit of the game. 

Braves legend and Hall of Famer Chipper Jones had a strong take in response to Hernandez's asinine comments:

His slippery slope argument is precisely on point. A player, whether a pitcher or hitter, should not be targeted for performing at a high level. Period, paragraph. 

While we're on the subject, bat flips and other mild on-field antics shouldn't result in baseballs being intentionally thrown at players. It's dumb. It's juvenile. It makes the game less enjoyable—not more.

Fortunately, Acuna played Thursday and seems to be OK after going 1-for-4 against the Colorado Rockies. And MLB's harsh, swift punishment of Urena ought to set a precedent. 

Granted, we can all recall our favorite beanball (or near-beanball) scuffle. Maybe it's Nolan Ryan and Robin Ventura. Perhaps it's an even more one-sided tussle such as Pedro Martinez and Don Zimmer.

There's sick fun when a guy gets plugged or buzzed by an inside pitch and the benches clear. But doesn't it feel like a baseball artifact, set to be relegated to history's dust bin?

Here's where Acuna deserves a ton of credit: He didn't charge the mound. 

In a sense, who could have blamed him for wanting to rip into Urena? Acuna, after all, is a key contributor on a rising postseason hopeful.

Urena's pitch endangered his season for the "crime" of being good, and it was bush league.

Yet, Acuna restrained himself. Tip your cap. Give more points to the youngster, and to MLB for cutting through the noise and punishing Urena for his childish antics. That six-game suspension sends a message: This isn't cool.

As an interesting side note: If Urena doesn't appeal his suspension and simply serves it, his next turn on the mound would be scheduled to come against the Braves. Stay tuned.

ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 13:  Ronald Acuna Jr. #13 of the Atlanta Braves reacts on the way to homeplate as he scores on a RBI single by Freddie Freeman #5 in the fifth inning against the Miami Marlins during game two of a doubleheader at SunTrust Park on Augu
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Here's a foundational question: Do we watch baseball because we're hoping a burgeoning superstar will get plunked in the elbow, or because we want to see the best hitters swing the bat against the best pitchers?

It's time to do away with the unwritten rules.

It's time for the nonsense to end.

       

All statistics current as of Thursday and courtesy of Baseball Reference.

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