Beaning is part of baseball. It’s retaliatory, it’s necessary, it’s simply part of the game. That’s what we’ve been hearing from many corners in the day since José Ureña beaned Ronald Acuña on the very first pitch of the game with a 97 MPH fastball for no reason besides the fact Acuña had been lighting up Marlins pitchers for a home run during every game of the series.
It was a cowardly move that a number of baseball pundits have been quick to defend behind the incredibly flawed logic that shithousery such as this is fine if it’s in defense of your team, or your pride, or because you feel like it.
On Thursday, Ureña was suspended for six games for intentionally hitting one of the best young players in baseball as part of some strange revenge-seeking impulse he was harboring. Six games. That’s enough for it to seem like a serious suspension as long as you don’t think too hard (or at all) about how all the Marlins have to do to not be affected by this at all is call one minor league pitcher up and push Ureña’s next start back by a game or two, maximum.
This feeble suspension does absolutely nothing to inconvenience the Marlins or Ureña, and even if you assume the “undisclosed fine” leveled on the perpetrator here was a major chunk of his $575,000 2018 salary there’s no proof that even a sizable fine would discourage Ureña — or any other major league pitcher — from doing this in the future if they find themselves somehow insulted or slightly inconvenienced by another player’s actions.
It’s an inadequate punishment for many reasons, but none more disappointing than this could have been the prime opportunity for the league to finally put its foot down. The league could have made a definitive statement regarding retaliatory action by pitchers that involves purposely throwing a baseball anywhere near an opposing batter, no matter if it hits them or not. Disappointing may be too charitable a word for an outcome every baseball fan saw coming as soon as the ball made contact with Acuña’s arm.
This was an open-and-shut case in regards to intent and MLB, rather than taking the opportunity to make a point, they went about things entirely as usual and guaranteed pitchers won’t reconsider throwing at another player who slighted their team in the future.
At this point, it’s obvious that punitive half-measures won’t change anything about this “tradition.” It’s long past time for it to leave the game. Besides the possibility of serious injury on the batter’s part it’s also just a pathetic display of machismo cloaked in the guise of standing up for one’s team. Even if a pitcher simply throws near a batter to back them off the plate or scare them a little as payback there’s the possibility that the ball gets away from them (and that’s actually gets away from them not managers’ favorite “gets away from them” refrain) and injures a player.
Especially in the case of Acuña, who thankfully was OK and was back in the lineup on Thursday, risking the health of one of the sport’s most exciting young players because an opponent couldn’t handle his talent should have been more than enough for the league to finally put its foot down and see if a more severe punishment did anything at all to start shifting players’ mindsets when it comes to retaliation.
Sure, they would have the MLBPA to tangle with if they set a precedent by tripling or quadrupling Ureña’s suspension when compared with previous incidents. But the MLBPA represents all of the players in the league, not just the pitchers getting suspended for stunts like this. They should also want to protect the batters getting hit, and looking at the longterm benefits of making sure as few of their players as possible are facing potential injury every time they face a pitcher who happens to be slightly miffed.
If Ureña doesn’t appeal this decision (as he is currently expected to) he would return to action against ... the Braves. At the very least MLB should have suspended him for long enough to avoid that matchup. It’s proof of a complete lack of backbone or foresight by the league and as they continue to shed viewers and fans they should be thinking of ways to show fans that they’re serious about protecting top (and all) players from missing weeks of the season because of a disagreement on the field.
Charging the mound, full-on brawls, and fights at the plate all also carry the risk of injury for one or more players and there’s probably no way to keep everyone in the dugouts at all times. Those entertaining brawls won’t go away. But brawls that begin by one player hurling a projectile at the other at nearly 100 MPH could, and it wouldn’t have been that hard for MLB to attempt that course correct with this situation.
Pitchers throwing at batters on purpose is one of the most egregious examples of avoidable danger in the game right now, and apparently MLB is perfectly fine with the status quo.