“Life’s a Pitch” is a weekly column by Elizabeth Islas about baseball.
Unwritten rules in baseball can oftentimes be nuanced and complicated to understand, especially if you aren’t familiar with the sport. But one thing everyone can agree on is that pitchers shouldn’t intentionally throw at a batter’s head in retaliation. It’s dangerous and unnecessary.
Pitchers sometimes try to aim for a batter’s back to “get even” after the batter looked at a home run for too long in their previous at-bat, or if the pitcher’s teammate was hit in an earlier inning. I do not condone intentionally throwing at anyone, but there’s a stark difference between hitting someone in the back and trying to aim for their head.
That’s what Yankees pitcher Aroldis Chapman did on Tuesday night.
Chapman, known as a flamethrower, was an inch away from hitting Mike Brosseau on his head with a 101 mph fastball. The situation caused the benches to clear, which is against MLB’s COVID-19 protocols. Commissioner Rob Manfred rightfully issued Chapman a suspension the next day.
What Manfred didn’t get right, though, was the length of his suspension. Three games is seriously a joke.
It might sound like a harsh suspension considering it’s already a shortened season, but it’s not long enough when you consider the precedent Manfred set with Dodgers pitcher Joe Kelly back in July.
Kelly nearly hit Astros batters Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa above their head with breaking balls. If you watched the entire inning, as I did, you’d be able to visibly see that Kelly could not gain control of his pitches. He didn’t have his fastball and these pitches were going all over the place — not unusual during his time in a Dodgers uniform. The high pitch near Bregman’s head looked intentional, but the Correa pitch looked like Kelly just didn’t have control of the ball.
Tensions were high in this game, as it was the first time the teams met since the 2017 World Series where the Astros defeated the Dodgers. It was also the season the Astros were found guilty of stealing signs. Even after Manfred granted immunity to Astros players following the cheating scandal, he went as far as to say other players would be punished if they threw at Astros.
The difference between Kelly’s throw and Chapman’s throw was one huge thing — Kelly’s breaking balls just weren’t breaking, while Chapman threw a fastball straight for Brosseau’s head. But yet, Kelly received an eight-game suspension while Chapman got three measly games.
It’s easy to say that Manfred disciplined Kelly harsher because he was throwing at the Astros, but it’s also common knowledge that the commissioner grew up a Yankees fan. It’s no coincidence that the Yankees lefty was slightly let off the hook.
In another pitching incident, A’s outfielder Ramón Laureano was hit three times in the same series against the Astros — twice by Humberto Castellanos and once by Brandon Bailey. If a batter gets hit three times, there’s reason to believe the throws are intentional. Once a player gets hit once or twice, the umpires typically warn both benches to quit hitting players. Here, the warning was never issued and Laureano was hit for the third time.
Laureano was obviously upset over this, and he was angry heading to first base. Astros hitting coach Alex Cintron challenged Laureano from the dugout, which resulted in a bench-clearing brawl. Cintron received a harsh but justifiable 20-game suspension while Laureano got five. No Astros pitchers were punished for hitting Laureano, though, which raises my suspicions.
Rob Manfred seems to be dealing punishments with no real precedent. In fact, it looks like there is unintentional bias at play when deciding the length of these punishments. Baseball is so nuanced and there are so many considerations to make when examining these incidents. But if Manfred decides to suspend one player for hitting a batter, the rest of the league should be held to the same standard no matter what team they’re on.
“Life’s a Pitch” runs every Thursday.