After last night’s Dodgers-Padres brawl, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said that Carlos Quentin “shouldn’t play a game until Greinke can pitch.” It’s a totally understandable sentiment. Quentin’s idiocy has caused the Dodgers to lose a key cog in their rotation for a couple months in all likelihood, and it would hardly seem fair if Quentin were to get a slap on the wrist.
Thing is: Quentin is likely to get a slap on the wrist.
Baseball’s on-field discipline system is one based on precedent. When someone does something wrong, the league tends to look at comparable previous behavior and discipline and tends to apply similar penalties to the matter at hand. It sort of has to, because the union defends players who are suspended and, if there is a dispute, the matter is appealed to an arbitrator. Baseball has to defend its discipline and there aren’t many easier defenses than “this is how we always do it.” And no harder sells than “this S.O.B. deserves WAY more.”
Typically, a player is suspended five or six games for charging the mound. There isn’t some database of brawl suspensions that I’m privy to (if I’m wrong, please let me know), but a relatively recent example which springs to mind is Kevin Youkilis charging Rick Porcello in 2009. It wasn’t a situation unlike last night’s: Youkilis led the league in being hit by pitches, was hit again and decided that enough was enough. He threw his helmet at Porcello and the benches cleared. Youkilis got a five-game suspension. Notably, he didn’t appeal. Oftentimes Major League Baseball will give six-game suspensions and then reduce them to five if the player appeals. You get the sense they feel five games is about right.
In 2010 Nyjer Morgan received an eight-game suspension for a brawl between the Nationals and Marlins. That on top of a seven-game suspension that was then pending for throwing a ball at a fan in the stands. At the time it was considered a surprisingly heavy suspension for merely inciting a brawl.
Also in 2010 — and maybe this is the most instructive — the Cardinals and Reds got into a bench-clearing brawl. Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto, pushed up against the backstop by the scrum — began indiscriminately kicking people. One of the people he kicked was Cardinals catcher Jason LaRue, giving him a concussion which ended his career. HIS ENTIRE CAREER. Cueto was suspended for seven games for his “violent and aggressive actions,” per the Major League Baseball press release. As a starting pitcher, that was, in effect, a one-game suspension.
All of this is a relatively recent phenomenon, however, as brawls were treated with light discipline prior to the 1990s. A great example: a May 20, 1976 brawl between the Yankees and Red Sox. After a lot of bad blood and then a rough collision at the plate that knocked Carlton Fisk on his kiester, Yankees’ third basemen Graig Nettles body slammed Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee — who had been jawing at the Yankees in the press for years — and broke his collarbone. Then he punched him in the eye for good measure. Lee missed nearly two months of action. Nettles was not suspended at all.
So, yes, looking at what happened last night — a $147 million pitcher two games into his new deal gets sidelined for a long, long time — it’s tempting to say that Quentin should get a much more significant suspension than we’d normally see. But baseball has rarely operated that way. They tend to punish the act — the charging of the mound — not punish based on the consequences of the act. Otherwise Cueto would have been suspended much longer, yes?
My guess: Quentin gets six games. Maybe eight if Bud Selig woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. But it’s inevitable, it seems, that Quentin will be playing games long, long before Greinke is even tentatively throwing off a mound on a practice field.