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October 14, 2003

Breaking Balls

Yer Outta Here!

by Derek Zumsteg

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What's a guy got to do to get suspended?

Seriously, I want to know. In the wake of the weird events of Game Three of the ALCS, MLB brought the gag inflatable hammer down. On Sunday, the Associated Press reported that Pedro Martinez was fined $50,000, Manny Ramirez $25,000, Karim Garcia $10,000, and Don Zimmer $5,000. There wasn't a single suspension handed down, not even for a few days next season, or during spring training; nothing at all.

Don Zimmer can charge the starting pitcher, forcing Martinez to spill Zimmer, and the old guy's fine is $5,000? George Steinbrenner is going to go insane: for those prices, he can have everyone on the roster go after Derek Lowe if he comes out in the first inning tonight throwing unhittable stuff. If it works, the team gets a shot at the middle relief; if it doesn't, maybe Lowe is rattled. Either way, the total fines will be something the Yankees can pay out of petty cash.

What's even weirder is that MLB is punishing intent in one incident, by going after Martinez for beaning Garcia on (what could have been) purpose, a fine that is more for what is widely being reported as a direct threat to put a ball to the head of Jorge Posada. (If anyone wants to step forward with audio or a good lip-reader to settle this, that'd be helpful.) On the other hand, Zimmer--who clearly intended to toss Martinez around like a rosin bag--is let off with a fine one-tenth the size. For what? Because he's old and frail? Because he reminds our dear commissioner of an old gerbil he once knew and loved?

The bullpen fight is still under investigation, of course, so there might be some fallout from that. Yet as we consider whether or not Martinez threatened Posada, we should also consider that in the same broadcast the ninth-inning bullpen incident was announced as being the product of some crazy nut of a fan who climbed down into the bullpen and attacked the relivers. The spin was that Karim Garcia's intervention was heroic, Posada's run towards the bullpen in full gear another example of his steely leadership and the team's overwhelming, invincible chemistry. Had this game been played in New York, no doubt "The Ghosts of Yankee Stadium" would have risen up and prevented any wrong-doing.

I understand that the broadcast crew has to work with imperfect information. However, it turns out that it wasn't so much a crazy nut of a fan as a groundskeeper who is not crazy and didn't jump down. And maybe it wasn't so much that he was a nut as Jeff Nelson was a nut, and Garcia came over to assist in a beating...and magically, none of the 1,400 Fox cameras at Fenway Park were watching the bullpen at any time during the game to provide us with any evidence (as the Yankees claim) that the groundskeeper taunted them through the game, much less started a fight in the ninth inning. Fox has a crew of thousands producing ads ("First, The O.C. was a pilot. Then, we proclaimed it a hit. Later, some people believed us.") and carefully skipping the first pitch every other inning, and they can't manage to spare one dude to point a camera at the bullpen?!?

Here's my point: if baseball really regrets what happened, and doesn't want to see this kind of game make the wrong kind of headlines, the solution is obvious: drop suspensions on these guys, from Pedro Martinez to Don Zimmer, and if it affects the outcome of a series, let it be their fault for acting like morons. Discipline and conduct are important enough to baseball only as much as baseball is willing to stand up for them, and when the going price for rushing the starting pitcher is $5,000, well, that doesn't tell us anything we didn't already know.

May the rest of this series show the game at its best.

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