Cliff Lee’s Suspension Is Just Too Much

Major League Baseball has been preoccupied with cleaning up the game, instituting harsh penalties for fighting, intentional beaning, and even attempted beaning. The tough disciplinary regime has been set in place over the past decade by Frank Robinson, who served as MLB’s Director of Discipline before returning to the manager’s chair in 2002, and Bob Watson, who replaced Robinson and has been the rules guru ever since. They were both all-star hitters during their playing careers, and don’t seem to mind too much that their actions have served to narrow the inside corner — a fact that has been brought up endlessly as the penalties have gotten ever more severe for pitchers with the temerity to plunk, to graze, even to brush back.

Now Cliff Lee has been suspended for five regular-season games for throwing two pitches at Brandon Chris Snyder in a spring training game on Monday, without hitting him. (First Lee threw near him, and then he threw behind him.) Lee was steamed because Snyder had knocked him over in a play at the plate two innings earlier. Lee felt that the punishment was lopsided and overly harsh, particularly because after the second pitch, Snyder started walking out towards the mound. As Lee described it: “I was trying to go inside, a couple got away from me, and the guy hitting got mad and came towards the mound and I got thrown out of the game in the process. That’s it in a nutshell.”

Lee was being disingenuous: he was clearly going after Snyder. MLB.com analyst Harold Reynolds argues, “The suspension comes because of what Cliff said afterwards.” Still, a five-game suspension for not hitting a guy in a game that doesn’t count is absurd. What does this punishment serve? Is it meant to deter spring training beanings? Meant to punish Lee for lying about his intent with the pitches? Or is it meant to send a message that a pitcher may not ever brush a hitter back? Snyder nonetheless took steps toward the pitcher, so if baseball truly wants to prevent fighting, they should at least have fined him. If anything, Lee restrained himself: he certainly could have hit Snyder if he wanted to. How many regular-season games would Lee have been suspended if he did so? Seven? Ten? And what purpose would that have served?

Whatever the intent, Major League Baseball went too far with the punishment. Cliff is a headstrong guy, and if he’s pissed, it’s hard to imagine that he’ll refrain from giving a guy a close shave, so I can’t imagine that this will serve as an effective deterrent to his future behavior. Moreover, if the punishment for throwing behind a guy is as harsh as that for plunking him, there’s no real reason for a pissed-off hurler to refrain from beaning a guy, further decreasing the deterrent. At the same time, punishing a man for comments made in a postgame press conference seems anathema, especially when the game is an exhibition. For some reason, MLB felt that this punishment was warranted. I thoroughly disagree.

(Note: in an earlier version of this blog post, I stupidly wrote “Brandon Snyder” instead of “Chris Snyder.” Thanks to reader CSJ for pointing it out.)

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Alex is a writer for The Hardball Times, and is a product manager for The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @alexremington.

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neuter_your_dogma
Guest
neuter_your_dogma

I disagree that the suspension was too much. For the second pitch a 5-day suspension wasn’t enough (one start missed).

I don’t think MLB does enough to stop this kind of conduct. A baseball in the hands of someone like Lee is a very dangerous weapon – especially when thrown at the head.

DavidCEisen
Member
DavidCEisen

Exactly, a 5 day suspension is the minimum that should be given to a starting pitcher. If Lee was suspended 4 games, he doesn’t miss a start.

Jon
Guest

Throwing at the batter’s head is never okay. Hitting a batter in the ass is another matter IMO, but I respect your opinion if you disagree on that one. But just buzzing his tower? We all know that Lee was going after Snyder. We also know that Lee was only looking to intimidate, not injure (would a Cy Young winner miss a full grown man twice? If you gave ME two pitches to hit a guy from 60 feet, I could do it nine times out of ten).

This punishment is too harsh because there’s no incentive for pitchers to not hit someone. If they’re pissed at someone (and in sports, you get pissed at your opponents all the time) there’s only two options: ignore it, or say “damn the torpedoes” and try to hurt the batter. Punishing intimidation removes the middle ground where a message is sent while nobody gets hurt.

Steve
Guest
Steve

Isn’t the middle ground hitting someone in the ass?

Tim In Missouri
Guest
Tim In Missouri

Jon is right. Pitchers shoul never let one get above the shoulders but brush backs have been a part of baseball for almost 130 hundred years! Frank Robinson used to dive into the dirt with every other pitch from some guys(Bob Gibson) because he stood Right. On. The. Plate. I believe the slider has gained prominence due specifically to the fact that a good one dives away from a hitter who is already close to the plate. Chris Duncan(I’m a Cards fan) used to hit balls 3 to 5 inches off the outside of theplate[he shouldn’t have swung but that’s not the point]. The only reason he was able to swing the bat so far out was because he wasn’t afraid to stand right on the dish. What’s a pitcher supposed to do? Really. What is a pitcher supposed to do if they can’t make a batter back up a little?

Greg Foley
Guest
Greg Foley

I completely agree with Neuter. A baseball to the head can kill a person or at least have serious long-term consequences like concussions. Tony Conigliaro was the Justin Upton of his day hitting 84 homers before his age 22 season, but his career was derailed by a beaning in his age 21 season. Wouldn’t it have been better had we been able to see how Conigliaro’s career progressed? There is no place in the game for dangerous, macho behavior. The pitcher’s job is to try to get the batter out. Nothing more.