Column: Retaliation Is Not Good For Baseball

Baseball in 2016 is as hostile as it has been at any point in my lifetime, and that’s not good.

Saturday night, Chase Utley became the latest target of the beanball game, as the Los Angeles Dodgers veteran infielder was thrown at (actually thrown behind) by New York Mets pitcher Noah Snydergaard.

This latest incident of belligerence in the American pastime came just 13 days after a horrific brawl between the Texas Rangers and the Toronto Blue Jays, which resulted in discipline for 14 players and coaches.  In that instance, Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista was thrown at, then took his frustration out on second baseman Rougned Odor with a malicious slide, and Odor, in turn, landed a punch in Bautista’s jaw, and within seconds a near-riot had broken out.

While the specifics of the Mets-Dodgers situation were far different from the Rangers-Blue Jays duel, the two incidents had something in common:  both altercations pointed back to things that happened in the 2015 MLB Playoffs.

The Mets retaliation against Utley was after Utley, in Game Two of last year’s NL Division Series, slid past the second base bag to try and break up a potential double play, and upended Ruben Tejada, resulting in Tejada breaking the leg he had planted near the base as he tried to throw to first.

Utley was suspended two games my MLB, but the suspension was later overturned on appeal.  As it would turn out, the Mets would eliminate the Dodgers three games later, and did just fine with Tejada out with his injury, reaching the World Series.  If you ask me, the Mets had already gotten the ultimate revenge by beating the Dodgers and ending their season, and their shot at a title, and the matter should have remained in 2015.  Unfortunately, that was apparently not the case.

Hostilities between the Rangers and Blue Jays were rooted in their heated meeting in the AL Division Series, and particularly in a decisive fifth game that will go down in the annals of baseball as one of the most unbelievable–and unusual–playoff games in history.

Emotions were incredibly high after Texas took the lead on a controversial play in the top of the seventh, then after three errors by Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus helped Toronto tie the score, Jose Bautista hit a three-run homer to take the lead–and flipped his bat in celebration.  Benches cleared moments later, but nothing else happened and cooler heads prevailed.

While I understand the Mets frustrations that Utley’s slide resulted in one of their players being injured, and lost for the duration of the playoffs, a player who has always shown some level of swagger flipping his bat after one of the biggest homers in the history of the game is no reason to get up in arms and retaliate.

That being said, while the Rangers were unable to win the series to get the level of revenge the Mets got by simply winning the series, the situation should have been put to rest over the offseason by both teams.  Why?  Both instances happened last year, in a different season, and should not have been carried over into the 2016 campaign, regardless of the circumstances.

Retaliation during the same game is one thing.  While I don’t like it, I understand that sometimes players and teams are upset at each other, although that doesn’t make it right to throw a 95-mph missile at someone.  But something that happened last season should be the last thing on anyone’s mind as they focus on playing their best in 2016.

To drive this point home even further, it is ironic that the Mets retaliated against Utley now, since Ruben Tejada is no longer part of the Mets organization.  I understand sticking up for your teammates, but isn’t it going a little far when the person being stuck up for, for something that happened seven months ago, was released by the team doing the sticking up 10 weeks ago?

Worse yet, in the Rangers-Blue Jays debacle, the pitcher who threw at Bautista, Matt Bush, was not on the Rangers last year, and was actually in prison when the bat flip happened (Bush signed with the Rangers in December after his release, and was making his second MLB appearance when he hit Bautista).  After the brawl, Jesse Chavez of the Blue Jays threw at Rangers designated hitter Prince Fielder, and was promptly ejected.  Chavez, who was stupid to throw at Fielder in the first place (did he not think he would get ejected?), was a member of the Oakland Athletics in 2015.

Another issue I have with each situation is that both teams had played multiple games in 2016 before their respective retaliations.  The Mets and Dodgers actually played three games in the playoff series after Utley’s slide, and were playing their sixth game against each other in 2016 when Snydergaard drilled Utley.  The Rangers and Blue Jays were in their seventh and final meeting of the 2016 season when Bautista was hit.

While the teams shouldn’t even be doing this to begin with, waiting through several games against each other before retaliating is just silly.  Bautista called it “cowardly” that the Rangers waited until his last at-bat of the season against them to get some level of revenge.

The day after the Rangers-Blue Jays brawl, I was in the waiting room at a doctor’s appointment when, on a TV in the room, I saw The View discuss what had happened the previous day between the two teams.  While it was fairly comical to hear these women who don’t know much about the game talking about the fight, and the reasons for it, Aisha Tyler made a very good point, saying that when a professional athlete, who is making millions of dollars to play the game, engages in such retaliatory behavior, it makes them look childish.

I’d agree with that statement.  The revengeful climate in today’s game of baseball often makes the grown men who play it look immature, and can’t be good for the game.  I get that conflict sells tickets, and raises ratings, but the game today is not the same game that was handed down from the last generation to this one, and that’s really a shame.

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Column: Gordon’s Ban Puts PEDs Back In Spotlight

Thursday, Miami Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon was suspended 80 games without pay after testing positive for exogenous testosterone and clostebol, a pair of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).  Gordon becomes the 50th MLB player to be suspended under the league’s current drug policy, dating back to 2005.

Gordon was the National League’s batting champion in 2015 with a .333 average, and led the NL in hits (205) and stolen bases (58), in his first year with Miami after four years with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Many within the game of baseball like to believe the so-called “Steroid Era” is over, and that the game has moved on.  I hate to break it to those people, but players will always try to gain any advantage, even at the risk of getting caught, no matter how big that risk is.  It’s also alarming that a player like Gordon, who is one of the best hitters in baseball and received some MVP votes last year, has been busted.

In addition to the common sense that players will always try to gain an edge, there’s also the fact that Gordon is the fifth player suspended for using PEDs this year, and the second in the last 10 days (Blue Jays first baseman Chris Colabello).  One such player suspended this year, Mets pitcher Jennry Mejia, was banned for life after failing his third drug test.

That lifetime ban is certainly a sufficient penalty for anyone dumb enough to continue “juicing” after already being caught twice.  However, with the PED issue back in the headlines with Gordon’s suspension, I’m starting to think the current penalty structure, which is already the stiffest in professional sports, still is not harsh enough.

As is, first-time offenders are suspended 80 games, second-time offenders for 162 (a full season), and third-time offenders for life.

MLB should get rid of the 80-game ban altogether, and start with the season-long suspension.  The lifetime ban should be for the second offense, not the third.

Why?  The current system is working a majority of the time, as there are 750 active MLB players at any given time, and only five have tested positive this year.  However, five players using PEDs is still too many for a game that is still trying to rebuild its reputation as a fair and clean game after the widespread use of steroids in the 1990s and early 2000s.

While there will always be players who try to get away with using banned substances to become stronger and play better, the added deterrent would likely make players think even harder before injecting something into their bodies.  Although I acknowledge, reluctantly, that it will probably never completely be out of the game, regardless of the penalty (i.e. murder still exists despite the death penalty/life in prison).

Given my stance, you may wonder why I did not suggest a lifetime ban for the first offense.  That is, after all, the strongest possible penalty, and would send a message of zero tolerance beyond anything we see in MLB today.

However, I am not in favor of a lifetime ban for first-time offenders because of the possibility of a false positive on a drug test.  It scares me to think about someone working all their life to become the best baseball player they can be, only to get to the major leagues and have their life’s work ruined by incorrect drug test results.

That being said, I am in favor of something else that would cost players millions and would send a huge message to anyone thinking about taking PEDs:  MLB should allow its teams to nullify contracts of players who are caught using PEDs.

Here’s why:  over the offseason, Dee Gordon signed a contract extension through 2021 worth $50 million.  While that averages out to about $8.3 million per year, the deal is back-loaded, and Gordon will only lose approximately $1.5 million during his suspension, or only about three percent of the contract’s total value.

Whether Dee Gordon makes $48.5 million or $50 million over the next six seasons will not make a huge difference to his personal finances in the long run, so the possibility of losing his salary during a suspension was not an overwhelming deterrent.

If, in an alternative scenario, a failed test would cost Gordon $50 million, he might have thought twice about putting PEDs in his system.  I’m using Gordon as an example since he is the player who was busted this week, but his $50 million contract is actually a somewhat modest one in today’s MLB landscape; the potential of a contract worth $200 million or more being wiped out would/should give the players good enough to make that much money enough incentive to not take PEDs.

If you think my opinion is hypocritical, since I’m saying not to end someone’s career with a hypothetical false positive, but still take their money away,   I’ll answer that a player whose contract is nullified in the event of a bad test could still sign another deal and play on after his suspension expires, while a lifetime ban results in them never being able to play the game again.

You may think all of this is a moot point.  However, while I obviously don’t have any pull in MLB circles, there are people with similar opinions to mine who do, and the next Collective Bargaining Agreement between MLB and the MLB Players Association is being negotiated this year, meaning any changes that are made to the drug policy could go into effect in the near future.

This is good, because while steroid use in baseball is certainly past his peak, it also has not become a non-issue, something that needs to happen for baseball to continue to be viewed as a clean and credible sport into the middle of the 21st century and beyond.