Earlier this afternoon, the Reds’ and Pirates’ benches emptied after Pirates starter Chris Archer threw behind Reds first baseman Derek Dietrich in the fourth inning. Dietrich gawked at his home run off of Archer in the second inning, which didn’t sit too well with the veteran right-hander.
Home plate umpire Jeff Kellogg issued warnings to both benches after Archer’s pitch behind Dietrich, which irked Reds manager David Bell. Bell’s reasoning, ostensibly, is that the warning (as opposed to an immediate ejection) unfairly hurts the Reds since their players were thrown at but cannot do the same. If Archer isn’t guilty of obviously throwing at a batter, then no one ever is. After Bell came rushing out to the field, the benches, coaching staffs, and bullpens soon followed. Ultimately, Bell, Yasiel Puig, Keone Kela, Felipe Vázquez, and Amir Garrett were ejected.
We’ll have to see how Major League Baseball handles punishments for the biggest offenders in the fracas. I would imagine Puig and Archer stand to be the only two who will receive suspensions while the others who were ejected will likely face fines. Puig was extremely heated and continuously tried to rush at someone to continue an altercation even as he was held back by Melky Cabrera and teammate Joey Votto.
MLB needs to suspend Archer — and make it count. Oftentimes, starters are suspended five or six games for stunts like Archer’s. It sounds like a hefty amount of games, but since starters only appear in one out of every five games, the punishment is effectively just a one-game suspension. Lately, it’s been more like a zero-game suspension since teams just reorder their rotations and let the starter pitch as soon as he is eligible. Which is why MLB needs to suspend Archer for a lot more than five or six games.
Last postseason, MLB started an ad campaign in which they urged us to “let the kids play.” The ad features bat flip after bat flip and players gawking at their own home runs, criticizing anyone who would question the display of emotion. MLB published another video late last month called “Let the Kids Play 2.0” which is punctuated by Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor mock-swinging with a microphone and demonstratively flipping it like a bat. If MLB’s punishment for Archer is light, the league will be guilty of speaking out of both sides of its mouth, tacitly condoning Archer’s actions. One cannot market players for their exciting styles of play and effusive displays of emotion and then fail to punish players who take justice into their own hands against players behaving in that exact way.
Let us not forget that a baseball, especially thrown in the mid-90’s and above like Archer’s pitch to Dietrich was, is a weapon capable of seriously injuring or killing another person. Broken bones are serious, and so too are concussions. The NFL has had tremendous problems with the concussion issue, and the NHL has also had it to a lesser extent. Concussions are brain damage. I am not saying Archer was head-hunting — he clearly wasn’t — but pitchers don’t always hit their target. A player is more likely to take one to the head when the pitcher is trying to plant one in his ribs than when the pitcher is trying to pound the strike zone. Player safety is clearly important to the league as it has taken quite a few precautions in recent years, including sanctioning the use of more protective helmets and changing rules to better protect players (e.g. “the Chase Utley rule“). This area should be no different.
The suspension would need to be long enough to dissuade players from wanting to exact revenge on players who they perceive to have wronged them and/or their teammates. A 25-game suspension, for example, would effectively be five missed starts for Archer. As a comparison, Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado got a five-game suspension last year for rushing the mound and throwing punches at Padres pitcher Luis Perdomo, who intentionally threw at him (and also only got a five-game suspension). Arenado is a position player, so he was actually out of commission for all five games.
If MLB were to suspend Archer for a considerable amount of time, the MLBPA would certainly take issue with it and fight it. I would argue, however, the players’ association should not be in the business of condoning union members attempting to assault and actually assaulting each other. In the end, a longer suspension for pitchers is a correction to put their punishments more in line with those of position players, to make it count and dissuade those who hold potential weapons from wielding them as such.
If MLB won’t suspend Archer on the basis of protecting players, then it should at least do so in the name of intellectual honesty. And if it won’t even do that, then it needs to take their latest ad campaigns off of the Internet forever, never to return.