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Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2016 — #15: The Jose Bautista-Rougned Odor Fight

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We’re a few short days away from 2017 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2016. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

Most baseball fights are pretty lame. They’re more shouting matches than fights these days anyway. Rarely is true violence done. Rarely are real punches thrown, let alone landed. We had a pretty good one back in May, though. At least by today’s standards. And we got a pretty good picture out of it too.

The roots of the fight grew out of last year’s ALDS between the Blue Jays and Rangers, which was highlighted by Jose Bautista‘s famous bat toss following his famous three-run homer in the seventh inning of Game 5. The Rangers didn’t much care for that toss, and they no doubt stewed about it all winter.

On May 15 the clubs met again. In the eighth inning, Rangers pitcher Matt Bush hit Bautista with a fastball that sent Bautista to first base and earned both teams a warning. Later in the inning, against pitcher Jake Diekman, Justin Smoak hit an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play. Bautista slid late into Rougned Odor. Odor was not happy about it, so he took a few swings at Bautista. One of the punches hit Bautista square in the jaw, sending the outfielder’s sunglasses flying off of his face, as captured in that photo above. Both benches emptied and chaos ensued. The next inning, Blue Jays pitcher Jesse Chavez drilled Prince Fielder with a first-pitch fastball. The benches emptied again but peace was quickly restored.

Fourteen players and coaches were either fined, suspended, or both as a result of fracas, led by Odor’s eight-game suspension for throwing that haymaker.

The aftermath of it all was kind of dumb. Jose Bautista claimed, as the losers of all fights do, that if he wanted to he could’ve hurt Odor but he held back. He also claimed that Odor was looking for a fight that day long before the slide. For his part, Odor later admitted that he respected Bautista and that maybe he shouldn’t have punched him. To the extent he had any real contrition, though, it seemed to be more about the fact that he got suspended than the fact that he thew the punch. The dumbest reactions, of course, belonged to the media. They dumbest reactions ALWAYS belong to the media.

But hey, it was all far more entertaining than guys just sort of yelling at each other, right?

Mariners sign Ichiro to a minor league deal

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USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports that the Mariners will sign Ichiro Suzuki to a minor-league deal. If he makes the roster he’ll make $750,000. At least until he retires.

I say that because it seems quite clear that the idea here, telegraphed since last season, is to activate Ichiro for the Mariners’ series against the Oakland Athletics in Tokyo on March 20-21 and for hoopla surrounding it all. The Mariners and A’s will have a 28-man roster for that series, which is officially part of the regular season schedule, but it will be pared back down to 25 once games begin in the United States.

Suzuki, 45, hit .205/.255/.205 in 47 plate appearances through May 2 last season, at which point he agreed to be deactivated to join the Mariners’ front office. Many assumed Ichiro would announce his retirement later that season or during the offseason, but the Japan Series soon crystalized as an obvious way for him to offer his final farewell to both his American and his Japanese fans.

Unless of course he goes 6-10 with three doubles in that series, at which point everyone will be tempted to keep him on the roster past Japan. Which, given the Mariners’ rebuild and likely poor performance this coming season, wouldn’t exactly be hurting anyone, would it?