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Jose Ureña's Dirty Pitch at Ronald Acuña Jr. Shows MLB Must Take Stronger Action

A six-game suspension will cause Jose Ureña to miss a single start, but MLB should have set a precedent and suspend him for 20 or 30 games, minimum.

The Marlins finally figured out a way to keep Ronald Acuña Jr. from hitting a home run: try to injure him on a dirty, chickens--t play.

On Wednesday night, the Braves’ spectacular rookie strode to the plate against Miami righty Jose Ureña as the owner of homers in five-straight games, three of them leadoff. But he never got a chance to make it six straight, as Ureña plunked him on the left elbow with a fastball with his first pitch of the game. As Acuña hopped around and ultimately went down in pain, both benches cleared, and furious Braves skipper Brian Snitker gave an earful to Ureña and the umpires. Ureña was ultimately ejected, but Acuña’s night also came to an early end: He initially stayed in to run the bases but left the game in the second inning, though he apparently escaped without a fracture.

There’s no debate over Ureña’s intent. The umpires realized that, as they eventually decided to eject him, and both the pitch itself and the location—97.5 mph, one of the hardest he’s thrown all season and his fastest ever to open a game, aimed up around Acuña’s back despite catcher J.T. Realmuto setting up low and inside—left no doubt. Nor did Ureña’s demeanor, as he made no attempt to apologize to Acuña after the plunking and seemed ready to rumble once benches cleared. It was as intentional a beaning as you can get.

Ureña’s actions were cowardly, dirty and dangerous. It’s an embarrassing response to the way Acuña has been destroying the Marlins all series and a humiliating admission on Ureña’s part that he’s either not good enough to get Acuña out or that he’s a psychotic hot-head willing to hurt another player just to avoid giving up a hit or run. (It’s worth noting that the Braves seem to believe that Ureña acted on his own, and that the rest of his team wasn’t behind him.) It was, in the immortal words of The Big Lebowski’s Jesus Quintana, bush league psych-out stuff.

But then again, so is every intentional plunking and hard slide and clash of egos on the field. Every instance of players trying to police the game—the upholding of the so-called unwritten rules—ends up the same silly and stupid way: fastballs to the back, brawls on the field, spikes to the knee. Injuries happen and careers are threatened, all in the service of wounded pride and in the name of standing up for … well, nothing more than a tenuous belief that Some Things aren’t allowed.

What happened to Acuña doesn’t fall exactly into that category, as there was no perceived slight or show of disrespect that, in the game’s absurd code, had to be avenged. But it’s all born out of the same old toxic mindset, where you settle your disputes with fights, or with pitches high and tight.

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You saw that on Tuesday night in Los Angeles, when the Giants and Dodgers brawled after Yasiel Puig and Nick Hundley got in each other’s faces during an at-bat. The reason? Puig got mad at himself after fouling off a pitch and swatted his bat, which Hundley took as a sign of disrespect. Some harsh words, two cleared dugouts and a Puig slap later, and both players were ejected over some truly trivial nonsense. And earlier this week, Cubs infielder David Bote preemptively apologized for flipping his bat on his walk-off grand slam against the Nationals on Sunday night. “I meant no disrespect by any means,” Bote said. “It was just heat of the moment.”

No one actually seemed to take offense to Bote’s toss; after all, he did just win a game with one of the most dramatic hits imaginable. But that he felt compelled to apologize anyway speaks to how brutally ingrained the game’s old-school culture is, even in its youngest players. No one’s allowed to have fun or be outspoken, and if you get out of line, there’ll be a fastball buzzing your way, or an older guy calling you out for it.

It’s gross and tired and exhausting, and a brilliant player like Acuña shouldn’t have to worry about his livelihood being jeopardized over it. Nor should the league be okay with one of its marketable names getting hurt, possibly seriously, over hurt feelings and a desire for vengeance. Both baseball’s mindless frontier justice and the culture that promotes and excuses actions like Ureña’s need to go.

Ureña was suspended for six games on Thursday. But it should be longer, and MLB should have used this moment to set a precedent. If you hit a batter on purpose, you’re gone for 20 or 30 games, minimum, and you lose a giant chunk of salary. Take these battles out of the players’ hands so we don’t have to worry about guys getting hurt. Make it clear that this kind of behavior, regardless of the reason, won’t stand, and maybe the mentality behind it will disappear, too.

It’s patently ridiculous that, to settle a score or get revenge or whatever else, a pitcher can deliberately throw at a hitter, or a hitter can go spikes high on a slide. At the end of the day, the intent is to injure and to send a message. So MLB still needs to send a message of its own with harsher punishment to deter future vigilante stupidity. Ronald Acuña Jr. and the fun young stars of the game deserved that much.