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May 9, 2000

Internal Consistency

The Pedro Martinez Suspension

by Joel Veeneman

There has been a push over the past decade or so to get former baseball greats into upper management in the game, especially in high-profile positions. Some of these appointments have worked well: Hank Aaron in Atlanta has done a fine job as a visionary and public relations lightning rod for one of the more controversial franchises in the game. Mix Ted Turner with John Rocker, an obnoxious (and stolen) chant and an offensive logo, and there's a lot to keep ironed out every day. I could say glowing things about the efforts Willie Mays has made in San Francisco, George Brett in Kansas City, and on and on.

Maybe someday I'll be able to say the same things about Frank Robinson and how he's helped the game. So far, I can't. His visibility has been limited to two "you-hit-me, I-hit-you" incidents, and he's badly mangled the aftermath of both.

Exhibit A

Comiskey Park, April 22, Tigers at White Sox. The Tigers' Jeff Weaver, he of the noted even temperament, was behind 5-1 and soon to be picking a shampoo for his post-outing shower when he hit the White Sox's Carlos Lee with a pitch. Lee's sole offense was batting behind Chris Singleton, who would end up 5-for-5 on the day. Weaver was promptly yanked, but exchanged some choice words with Lee on his way to the clubhouse.

Since imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, Jim Parque introduced a baseball to Dean Palmer's back to start the top of the seventh, and the rugby scrum was on. There were some notable cheap shots, with five or six Tigers laying out Bill Simas and Bobby Higginson taking a flying sucker punch at Keith Foulke. That shot resulted in a remarkably hockey-like scar for Foulke. Tigers' coach Juan Samuel was out there too, but, just as in the last year of his career, couldn't hit anything to save his life. Weaver, for his part, didn't just leave the dugout to join the fight: he left the clubhouse.

The scene repeated itself later in the game after the Sox hit two more Tigers, including, for those paying attention, the guy that replaced Palmer after the first fight. Despite the cheering from the Robert Fick fan club out by the bullpen, Round 2 was relatively sane.

So, how did the suspensions work out after this fracas? Here's the scorecard (number of games in parentheses):

Detroit: Samuel (15), manager Phil Garner (8), Palmer (8), Higginson (5), Fick (5), Doug Brocail (4), Juan Encarnacion (4), Luis Polonia (3) and Karim Garcia (3, if he ever makes it back to the majors to serve them).

Chicago: Jerry Manuel (8), Magglio Ordonez (5), Parque (3), Foulke (3), Bobby Howry (3), Lee (3) and Tanyon Sturtze (3).

Pay particular attention to the suspensions the pitchers received.

Exhibit B

Jacobs Field, April 30, Red Sox at Indians. Einar Diaz spends his first two at-bats diving into Pedro Martinez pitches and is rewarded with a clean double and another double off Nomar Garciaparra's glove. In the time-honored tradition of Don Drysdale and Bob Gibson, Martinez sends a message to Diaz in his third at bat, subtly implying that Diaz shouldn't get used to fishing for off-speed pitches on the outside corner. Apparently, that message was misinterpreted, as Charles Nagy hit Jose Offerman, after which Martinez hit Roberto Alomar the next inning. No fights occurred, no blood was shed, no stitches were needed. Thirty years ago, this would've been passed off as "major league hardball" and nary a second thought given.

But this is 2000, the time of New Enlightenment. How many games was Martinez suspended for? One more than sucker-puncher Doug Brocail, and two more than any other pitcher involved in the not one, but two ugly brawls. Indeed, the man who started the whole nasty business, Jeff Weaver, wasn't suspended at all, despite covering the approximately 26.2 miles from the clubhouse to short right field to participate in the fruits of his labors.

Huh? Are we really sending the message that it's better to precipitate a half-hour love fest on the infield than to react professionally, using the recourse the game has developed over the last century?

Some people need to be beaten senseless with a clue stick before they figure out what it is they're supposed to be doing. Here's hoping Frank Robinson is not one of those people.

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