Major League Baseball will announce a series of suspensions following this week’s brawl between the White Sox and the Royals, per reports from ESPN’s Jeff Passan and The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal (Twitter links). Royals right-hander Brad Keller will receive a five-game ban for throwing at White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson, while Anderson himself will be hit with a one-game ban “because of language used during the benches-clearing incident with Kansas City,” per Passan. Rosenthal adds that White Sox skipper Rick Renteria will receive a one-game suspension as well.
The benches-clearing incident in question — “brawl” is a questionable term for the majority of MLB on-field altercations — began with a Tim Anderson bat flip following a fourth-inning home run against Keller. Upon making contact, Anderson turned to his dugout, flipped the bat toward them and, as he tells it, yelled “let’s go” to fire up his teammates. Keller, taking exception to the showmanship, took the “old-school, unwritten rules” route and hit Anderson in with a pitch (on the hip/butt) in his next plate appearance. As is the case in every such instance, Keller transparently claimed after the game (and in an appearance on MLB Network this morning) that he was simply trying to bust Anderson inside, and a pitch “got away” from him.
The Anderson suspension is particularly surprising, as the only previous instances of a player being suspended for language have stemmed from using on-field slurs that transcend pure profanity. Passan, however, further tweets that Anderson was suspended for “racially charged” language heard by the umpiring crew. Keller’s suspension is standard in the case of pitchers throwing at players. While the suspension will cost Keller five times as much in terms of pay and MLB service time, suspensions for starting pitchers are always in five-game increments due to the fact that they ensure a pitcher will miss a start. (A suspension of one to four games wouldn’t necessarily cause a starter to miss any time at all.)
The debate over intentional plunkings has been ongoing for years, as traditionalists advocate for the upholding of “the code” of unwritten rules that has long been woven into the fabric of the game’s history. Detractors point to the fact that throwing at someone on purpose has the potential to seriously injure a player; it’s common to see pitchers badly miss a spot even when trying to throw a pitch for a strike, and it seems almost inevitable that an intentional beaning will eventually lead to a fractured wrist, concussion, etc.
Incidents like this one are now the source of further scrutiny given MLB’s “Let the kids play” marketing slogan, kicked off by an ad in which Ken Griffey Jr. calls for those “unwritten rules” to be thrown out in favor of players showing emotion on the field with celebrations for home runs, key strikeouts and other big moments. Commissioner Rob Manfred has been vocal about wanting to appeal to a younger generation of fans, and that campaign seems a key part of the effort. A second such ad aired leading up to the 2019 season, and MLB’s official Twitter account even tweeted the slogan in support of Anderson this week. If the league simply wanted to continue allowing players to “police themselves,” it wouldn’t be a surprising outcome to see them maintain the status quo. Continuing to administer a punishment that has proven meaningless, however, sends a contradictory message to the one they’re pushing in their marketing.
The debate isn’t confined solely to the game’s fan-base, of course. Players have been weighing in on the matter all week. CC Sabathia plainly stated on Buster Olney’s podcast this week (audio link) that he’s 100 percent in favor of bat flips and any other display of on-field emotion and doesn’t understand why a pitcher would be bothered by it. Reds lefty Amir Garrett tweeted that rather than throw at a batter in his next plate appearance, the pitcher should, “Strike him out, and do whatever you gotta do. Fist pump, moonwalk, cartwheel.” On the other side of the coin, Blue Jays outfielder Randal Grichuk tweeted that players have gotten “excessive” with their celebrations and called for more stoicism.