You’ll never believe this, but MLB commissioner Rob Manfred messed up this week. I’m not referring to the way he allowed the Marlins to play amid a coronavirus outbreak that at last count has stricken 16 players and two coaches; his juking the league’s COVID testing stats by using samples, not people, as the denominator; or his contention that this disaster does not qualify as a “nightmare.”
No, Manfred, perhaps nostalgic for the days when people were just arguing about perhaps the worst scandal in the history of the sport, relit the dying embers of the baseball world’s rage at the Astros, who cheated their way through their 2017 championship season.
On Tuesday, for the first time since Houston’s misdeeds came to light, the Astros faced the Dodgers, the team they beat in that World Series. The L.A. players spent the winter seething, but the game remained remarkably civil through the first five and a half innings. Then Dodgers righty Joe Kelly entered the game.
Kelly misfired a ball through a window in his house this spring, so he insisted after the game that the 3–0 fastball he launched at Alex Bregman’s head was an accident.
“My accuracy isn’t the best,” said Kelly, who yawned after throwing the pitch.
The next hitter, Michael Brantley, bounced a ball to first. Kelly, covering the base, collided with Brantley, who was ruled safe. Afterward, Kelly dawdled by the bag. “Just get on the mound, m----- f-----!” yelled a voice from the Houston dugout.
Two batters later, Kelly whiffed Carlos Correa on a knuckle curve in the dirt. “Nice swing, b----!” Kelly shouted as he walked off the mound, sticking out his tongue and contorting his face into something like a grimace.
The benches cleared. Players and coaches milled around on the field, some masked, some not. Few of them observed social distancing regulations. Eventually, without throwing a punch, they returned to their dugouts.
On Wednesday, the league announced that Kelly would be suspended for eight games—which, in a 162-game season, would amount to 22. Kelly appealed the ruling. (L.A. manager Dave Roberts was suspended for one game; Astros manager Dusty Baker was fined.)
Within minutes, other players began weighing in. It escaped no one’s notice that the Astros players themselves had not been punished at all for their cheating; Manfred granted them immunity in exchange for honesty.
“And what do the Astros players deserve?” tweeted Indians righty Mike Clevinger. “Just snitch and walk free and still seem confused as to why everyone is mad?”
“MLB siding with/protecting a team that openly and knowingly cheated their way to a World Series,” tweeted Mets righty Marcus Stroman. “He doesn’t deserve to be suspended at all. Hoping he wins his appeal. Looking forward to seeing you back out there JK!”
“YO FREE JOE KELLY,” tweeted Angels righty Keynan Middleton.
The players are speaking from a place of emotion. You can argue about the length of the suspension, but adults should not hurl 96-mph projectiles at one another with impunity. The real issue with the league’s punishment is that it fails to address the bigger problem: You can’t get in someone else’s face during a pandemic.
MLB paid lip service to this idea in its 113-page operations manual. “Fighting and instigating fights are strictly prohibited,” reads the text. “Players must not make physical contact with others for any reason unless it occurs in normal and permissible game action. Violations of these rules will result in severe discipline consistent with past precedent, which discipline shall not be reduced or prorated based on the length of the season.”
If Manfred wanted to send that message on Wednesday, he would have fined every person who left his dugout $50,000. That would put an end to this nonsense, and it would remind the players of the real dangers they pose to one another. Instead, we’re back to talking about the Astros.
Jays Lose in Home Opener Away from Home
The Toronto Blue Jays—now of Buffalo, N.Y.—played their home opener on Wednesday—in Washington, D.C. The government of Canada kicked the team out of the Rogers Centre, citing a reasonable desire not to have Americans lugging the coronavirus along with their bat bags across the border, and Triple-A Sahlen Field is not yet ready to accommodate them, so the Jays will play their first two home series on the road. Righty Nate Pearson, Toronto’s first-round draft pick in 2017 and Baseball America’s No. 7 prospect, made his debut, allowing two hits and two walks in five scoreless frames. The Nationals won 4–0 in 10 innings.
The AL East Plays On ...
The Yankees were already in Philadelphia on Monday when that night’s game against the Phillies, who had just played the Marlins, was postponed. Tuesday’s game at Citizens Bank Park was postponed as well, as were games scheduled between the Yankees and Phillies at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday and Thursday. The Orioles were also sitting idle, having been due to face Miami, so the AL East foes decided to play one another.
“We felt like we don’t want to take three or four days off,” said Yankees reliever Zack Britton.
And no one was complaining about the prospect facing Baltimore, which has a chance to produce baseball’s worst record this year. New York won the first game, 9–3.
... With Some Crucial Advice In Mind
This is a good tweet.