Baseball always suffers when it tries to imitate football. Never was that more evident than last night in San Diego.
For the first five-plus innings of yesterday's game, the Dodgers and Padres treated the fans at PetCo Park to an entertaining baseball game. Then, Carlos Quentin decided to do his best Donald Butler impersonation. After being hit by a pitch, the Padres' left fielder started walking toward the mound like a linebacker preparing for a blitz. The intended target was Dodgers' pitcher Zack Greinke. Unfortunately, he forgot to wear his shoulder pads. The end result was a broken collarbone for Greinke, who will now earn his $24 million salary on the disabled list for at least the next few months.
What motivated Quentin to charge the mound? Greinke was nursing a 2-1 lead at the time, and Quentin had run the count full, so there's no reason to suspect the hit by pitch was intentional. Maybe there was history between the two? After all, it was the third time Quentin had been the victim of a Greinke pitch. Even that excuse doesn't wash. The outfielder, who has led the league in being hit by a pitch in each of the last two seasons, has been a frequent target throughout his career because of a batting stance that crowds the plate. In fact, he has been plunked more than once by 18 different pitchers, including four times by Nick Blackburn. If Quentin felt the need to settle old scores by charging the mound, baseball's health insurance premiums would go through the roof.
In the post game, Quentin tried to shift some of the blame to Greinke, who may have uttered less than inviting words to the outfielder as he approached the mound. According to Quentin, had the Dodgers' ace made a more conciliatory gesture, the incident could have been avoided. Blaming the victim isn't a very convincing defense, so Quentin might want to explore a different angle when he goes before baseball disciplinarian Joe Torre.
If precedents are followed, the Padres' left fielder will get a suspension, but he'll be back on the field long before Greinke takes the mound. And, that won't make Dodgers' manager Don Mattingly very happy with his old boss. "He should not play a game until Greinke can pitch," Mattingly said after the game. "If he plays before Greinke pitches, something is wrong."
You know what? Mattingly is right.
Implementing an eye-for-an-eye disciplinary policy has some drawbacks. It will probably discriminate against hitters, whose intentions are much easier to decipher. When a batter charges the mound, his motives are clear, but what about the pitcher who has a fastball that "just gets away"? If a bean ball breaks a bone, how would MLB executives determine intent? Also, who will monitor the injured player's progress? If a more talented player has a suspension that is contingent upon the recovery of a benchwarmer, might the latter's team be more cautious in its rehab program? There are lots of questions that would need to be addressed, but the answer to those concerned about the potential for unfairness is simple: don't put yourself in a position to be judged arbitrarily.
It's too late for Quentin to take that advice, so, advocates for the outfielder will probably argue that he should be exempt from this harsher form of punishment. However, considering the lack of mitigation and extent of Greinke's injury, Torre should not feel obliged to abide by precedent. If Quentin is to be an example, so be it. Maybe that's unfair, but so is a broken collarbone. Punishing Quentin won't make Greinke heel faster, but it will serve as a deterrent to other would-be instigators.
It's time for MLB to make the bench clearing brawl a thing of the past...and leave open field tackles to the NFL.