Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Punishment Doesn’t Fit the Crime

By Jeff Kallman

Skip sublime, go to ridiculous. Go directly to ridiculous. Do not pass Go, do not collect whatever was the amount Hunter Strickland was fined, along with his puny six-game suspension for throwing at Bryce Harper. Whom he hadn't faced since the 2014 division series, but who hit two mammoth home runs off him — one of them out of the park and into McCovey Cove — in that set. You're not seeing things. Strickland threw at Harper on Memorial Day over a pair of homers surrendered almost three years ago.

Two years and seven months is an awful long time to hold a grudge for two ICBMs one of which the hitter couldn't help stopping to wonder about, isn't it? And that was in a division series the Giants won, mostly because a) Harper was just about the only Nationals bat that didn't fall asleep at the switch, and b) then-Nats manager Matt Williams mis-managed his bullpen and, telegraphing the following season's disaster, couldn't put his Book down long enough to manage in the moment's need.

Apparently, it wasn't long enough for Strickland.

Facing Harper at the plate in the eighth with two outs, no one aboard, and the Giants in a 2-0 hole, he threw a first pitch fastball right at Harper's anatomy, drilling him square on the hip. Of course Strickland was just trying to pitch Harper inside, with no intent to hit him. And of course the neighbor's china closet, through which Junior just planted his foot, had no business being there in the first place.

Bad enough that, last year, the Rangers decided to aim for a little payback toward Toronto's Jose Bautista — in the last regular-season game between those teams, and near the end of the game — over a seven month old bat flip. A seven month old grudge was its own kind of ridiculous. A three-year-old grudge? Calling it "ridiculous" would be something like calling the Manchester concert bombing a prank gone haywire.

All right, everyone take a quick pause to vote. What was the funnier moment in this markedly unfunny situation: Harper unable to aim his batting helmet? Or — after what seemed like a long delay before any Giants poured in from the infield or out of the dugout as Harper engaged Strickland — Giants first baseman Michael Morse and pitcher Jeff Samardzija colliding en route, like two of the old three goofy cartoon guards en route answering the summons of their king?

The two actually traded a couple of punches before anyone else arrived to try breaking it up. Harper admitted taking a scratch when Anthony Rendon pulled him out of the rumble. Strickland needed three teammates, Hunter Pence, George Kontos, and Mac Williamson, to get him out of there. Both Harper and Strickland were ejected. Harper got four games off, Strickland six plus a lightening in the bank account the amount of which went undisclosed.

Before that, Buster Olney of ESPN made a case that the Giants ought to discipline Strickland by themselves, too.

It wouldn't be unprecedented. The Orioles once sent a message to then-closer Armando Benitez after he triggered a brawl with the Mariners by drilling Tino Martinez right after Edgar Martinez hit a grand slam. When they found him at his locker following his ejection, threatening to quit, the Orioles sent him to the minors for three weeks. Five years later, Benitez drilled Martinez, now a Yankee, again, after a Bernie Williams three-run bomb. During the scrum not one Oriole told one Yankee Benitez was in the right.

Just this month the Blue Jays' Kevin Pillar hollered an anti-gay insult at Braves pitcher Jason Motte after Motte quick-pitched him into a strikeout. The Jays went right to baseball government to collaborate, Pillar got docked two games, one and all making clear it was the Jays' idea, and Pillar was compelled to apologize and take full blame. The Giants, Olney says, appropriately, need to hold Strickland accountable likewise.

Harper could credit Strickland for not going head hunting, at least, throwing at the right spot on his anatomy, but that still didn't make an almost three-year-old grudge right.

"I don't want to go on a baseball field and try to fight somebody," Harper said after the melee. "Especially when it's somebody that it's in the past. It's so in the past that it's not even relevant anymore. They won the World Series that year. I don't even think he should be thinking about what happened in the first round. He should be thinking about wearing that ring home every single night. I don't know why he did it or what he did it for, but I guess it happens."

The other hot conversation topic around the Strickland-Harper dance was Giants catcher Buster Posey. He stayed behind the plate with a look through his mask that could have been taken to say, "You're on your own, bro, I didn't call for that pitch, and wouldn't it be easier not to throw home run pitches than to steam about them for almost three years?"

It also could have been taken to say, though Posey has too much class to say it outright and vocal, "I hope you made it a good one, because you're not the one they're going to go after for being a jackass, I am. Hell, I'll be first on the hit parade if those guys decide to pay us back for your almost three-year-old ego bruise."

Some, like FOX Sports's Ken Rosenthal, thought Posey may have acted under orders. Rosenthal cited Giants broadcaster (and former pitcher) Mike Krukow saying Posey — who's suffered concussions during his career — was ordered to stay out of fights on the field, but who gave the order Krukow didn't say.

Rosenthal also thought it possible Strickland might have told Posey beforehand that he planned to get Harper and to kindly stay out of it. After first writing that he thought Posey was simply sending a message that he didn't approve of ridiculous execution of baseball's unwritten rules, so-called, Rosenthal said another club's coach contacted him to suggest Strickland just might have given his catcher such an instruction.

My own thought was that Posey reminded me for a moment of Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, sending a signal of "It wasn't me!" after Matt Barnes threw at Manny Machado's head, two days after Machado inadvertently spiked Pedroia on a hard slide at second base — for which Machado apologized right after the game — and several innings after several Red Sox pitchers threw too close to Machado for comfort before Barnes' high hard one almost took Machado's head off.

Pedroia tried to send a message that he knew too much was more than enough two days after the fact. Posey wouldn't have been out of line if he was trying to send Strickland and his teammates the same message about too much being enough almost three years after the fact.

The Giants wouldn't have been out of line sending the same message by suspending Strickland on their own, before baseball government stuck its fool nose into it. Protecting your teammates is one thing. Trying to make someone answer for nearly three-year-old postseason humiliation is trying to protect nothing but your ego. An ego overdue for re-tuning, if that old a pair of long home runs still has you that steamed.

Harper's suspension was lowered to three games. Strickland at this writing awaits the outcome of his appeal. Essentially, Harper's been suspended 27 innings and Strickland, so far . . . five? Six? (Remember, he's a relief pitcher.) But do you see why some people can't take baseball government too seriously? Every time you look for Solomon, you wind up finding Donald Trump.

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