San Diego Padres’ sensitive slugger Carlos Quentin has had a moment of clarity. Or perhaps his agent or someone else counseling him had one and has laid down the law. This event could be, as we have learned to say, a teachable moment for Major League Baseball. But it probably won’t be.
Quentin announced Sunday that he would not appeal his lenient eight-day suspension for charging the mound and inciting a brawl last Thursday night at San Diego’s Petco Field, a brawl that left Los Angeles Dodger pitcher Zack Greinke with a broken collar bone. Greinke underwent surgery to repair the collarbone Saturday and is expected to miss eight weeks.
Quentin should miss eight weeks as well, not a trifling eight days, because the brawl and the resultant injury to Greinke were entirely Quentin’s fault. They will cost Greinke a third of a season, and probably cost the Dodgers some ball games.
Thursday’s story is a dreary one, and one that fans of the Grand Old Game have been subjected to all too often. Quentin is one of many batters who like to hang out over the plate so they can reach and hammer pitches over the outer part of the plate. Too many of these guys then get their supporter in a knot when pitchers, trying to keep things honest, come inside to back them off. The Greinke pitch that hit Quentin in the upper left arm was almost a strike, so much does Quentin lean in. And in a 2-1 game in the bottom of the sixth and a 3-2 count, no one with even a fundamental understanding of baseball could imagine that Greinke was throwing at Quentin. But this didn’t stop Carlos Bonehead from charging the mound.
When peace was finally restored, Greinke was injured and four players had been ejected from the game. None of this would have happened had Quentin simply gone to first base after getting hit. Quentin was hit on a meaty part of his arm. The pitch, which registered 89 on the speed gun, is about as hard as Greinke, a finesse pitcher, throws. But hardly the hard cheese Quentin faces from other pitchers. Quentin’s reaction was all out of proportion to what happened.
Quentin was unrepentant after the game, saying over and over to reporters, “It could have been avoided,” and that the fault was “not on my side.” Well yes, it could have been avoided if Quentin has acted like a man and taken his base. Quentin, who has been hit more than 100 times in his career, whined that he had never charged the mound before last Thursday. Without attempting to verify this, one can at least wonder if this was the match-up Mr. Tough Guy was looking for. The mild-mannered Greinke is listed on the roster at 195 pounds, Quentin at 240.
Dodger Manager Don Mattingly had another view of the matter, saying after the game that Quentin should be on the shelf as long as Greinke is sidelined. “If he plays before Greinke pitches again, something’s wrong. He caused the whole thing.”
All right, pitchers are not entirely immune to malevolent intent. And intimidation can be part of the game. (One is entitled to wonder how the great Pedro Martinez could issue the fewest walks per nine innings while at the same time leading the league in hit batters.) But from the comfort of my office couch, from which I monitor the nation’s sporting life, it appears that most baseball dustups caused by close pitches, like last Thursday’s, are instigated by touchy hitters with a sense of entitlement. They feel entitled to lean over the plate to their own advantage while putting the inner third off limits to the pitcher. Major League Baseball and ML umpires shouldn’t let them get away with this.
Major League Baseball has an interest in maintaining its current audience and building one for the future, and so has an interest in putting an end to sorry spectacles like last Thursday night. I suppose there may be some ghoulish fans who enjoy watching baseball fights (which, in most cases, are just a bunch of ineffectual pushing and shoving -- happily, injuries such as Greinke sustained last Thursday are rare). But most baseball fans are far more interested in watching batters attempt to hit a five-and-a-half-ounce baseball, not a 195-pound pitcher.
Perhaps part of the obstacle in this one is the players’ union, which tends to protect players who’ve paid their dues no matter what they do. And owners aren’t that keen to see expensive athletes out of the game for extended periods. But, these difficulties acknowledged, more realistic suspensions for charging the mound -- suspensions measured in weeks or months rather than days -- might put an end to most of it.
Finally, one has to wonder about hitters who can’t deal with pitches on or just off the inner half. Perhaps sensitive folk like this should go into professional bowling instead of baseball. Or perhaps they should join a religious order with pacifist tendencies.