Baseball’s “unwritten rules” are a very touchy subject among baseball circles, and that makes sense. Something that is “unwritten” obviously could result in rifts of opinion and interpretation. Some major events like Chase Utley’s slide and the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard’s subsequent attempted retaliation fastball are widely understood and almost justified in the baseball world. Others, like the Hunter Strickland and Bryce Harper brawl, are a little more complex and controversial.
Enter José Ureña.
The Marlins, currently tied for the worst record in the National League, entered a series this past week against the surging Atlanta Braves, led by Ronald Acuña, who hit a home run in each of the first three games of the series, extending his lead to 5 consecutive games with a home run. He was on fire, and he made the already embarrassing Marlins look even worse. The Braves won the first three games of the series by at least five runs, and coming into Wednesday’s game, Acuña was leading off and looking to collect another home run. Ureña wanted to make sure that didn’t happen, however, and subsequently drilled Acuña with a fastball to the elbow on the very first pitch of the game.
Acuña was visibly upset, and more importantly, visibly in pain. Catcher JT Realmuto’s shoulders simply slumped in disappointment. Braves manager Brian Snitker came out of the dugout to argue with the lack of action by the umpires, leading to a clearing of the benches.
There is something very different about what happened here than what happened in New York with Utley or in San Francisco with Strickland and Harper. Noah Syndergaard threw at Utley because he broke the leg of Ruben Tejada on an arguably dirty yet legal slide. The attempt to hit Utley, morally accurate and fair or not, was symbolic, and was meant to make the teams “even.” Strickland threw at Harper because of Bryce’s success against him in the playoffs multiple times before. Again, fair or not, is at least somewhat justifiable (albeit still absurd)
Attempting to inflict physical harm on a player intentionally, simply because they are doing their job better than you are, is not at all a justifiable offense. It is a hideous act of pettiness and immaturity which should not be tolerated. Whether it was ordered by manager Don Mattingly, or anyone else in the Miami organization, or if it was just Ureña acting as a loose cannon is irrelevant to the facts.
Acuña was not severely injured, and played the next night against Colorado, though he was removed from the Miami game immediately (no, that didn’t end his HR streak because it didn’t count as an at-bat, but he did lose it the next night against Colorado).
Ureña, on the other hand, was immediately ejected and issued a six game suspension. If you couldn’t figure this out by now, he is a Starting Pitcher. He only plays every five games anyway. He got the equivalent of a one game suspension for actively trying to harm another player who in no way harmed anyone himself.
The night before, Yasiel Puig got into an altercation with Giants Catcher Nick Hundley, where he pushed Hundley, and attempted to slap Hundley in the face while Hundley was still wearing his catcher’s mask. Yasiel Puig is a position player. The league is indirectly saying that Puig pushing Hundley is twice more deserving of punishment than Ureña throwing a 97 MPH fastball at Acuña’s elbow.
(Side note: yes, player salaries are paid by 162 games, so Ureña is technically missing out on six days worth of pay while Puig is missing out on only two. This is a relevant point, of course, but I don’t exactly think Ureña will be hurting at all, considering his season salary is still well over a half million dollars)
Simply put, this is a disgusting display of punishment standards. Thankfully, Acuña was fine, but what if he wasn’t? The suspension was announced before Acuña’s health status was, so that means, if x-rays came back positive, and Acuña’s season was over, that would still be worth only one start? Without him, the Braves offense takes a massive dip. They lose one of their best producers, and likely crash and burn in the playoffs. Acuña, who is currently on pace to potentially win Rookie of the Year, would basically be disqualified, damaging his legacy. He may have recurring injuries in that elbow for the rest of his career. It could even have potentially ended his career if severe enough. No matter what the potential outcome was, the league thought that was worth six games. That’s absurd.
To the MLB’s credit, they have demonstrated a strong backbone on issues such as domestic violence (Roberto Osuna receiving a 75 game suspension) and steroids (multiple lifetime bans given to repeat offenders), but is intentionally harming someone because they’re better than you, potentially seriously injuring them, really twelve times less severe or less bad? I’m not so sure.