Major League Baseball’s decision to suspend Ryan Dempster might be the easiest one it makes all year.
Dempster was suspended five games and fined an undisclosed amount for intentionally throwing at Alex Rodriguez in the second inning of Sunday’s game at Fenway Park. Given the Red Sox’ schedule, Dempster won’t even miss a start because of the five-game ban, so the league’s suspension is nothing more than a message. It’s a message that’s absolutely necessary, and it’s a message that probably should have been even louder.
Dempster’s first pitch to Rodriguez on Sunday sailed behind the contentious slugger. The right-hander then missed with two pitches inside before drilling A-Rod in the elbow with his fourth pitch. It seemed fairly obvious that Dempster was throwing at Rodriguez — although he flat-out denies doing so — yet home plate umpire Brian O’Nora opted to issue warnings rather than send the veteran pitcher to the showers.
That’s what ticked off Joe Girardi, who was ejected after a heated exchange with O’Nora, and that’s why the league needed to hand down some form of discipline. Girardi said that if Dempster wasn’t suspended, it would be “open season” on Rodriguez. While that might be a bit of hyperbole, his point is still 100 percent accurate.
Dempster denies hitting Rodriguez on purpose, and John Farrell has stated that he doesn’t think Dempster intentionally threw at A-Rod. But beyond them, you’d be hard-pressed to find many people who think that Dempster was really “just trying to pitch inside.” Therefore, if the league didn’t discipline Dempster, it would have been its way of saying that intentionally hitting Rodriguez in that situation was acceptable. And that would have been an unacceptable approach by Major League Baseball.
MLB has a responsibility to protect its players. It simply can’t run the risk of pitchers repeatedly gunning for a player because of some ill will harbored toward him. Handing down a suspension now — rather than waiting until the second, third or fourth incident — at least acknowledges that intentionally throwing at someone is still intolerable, even in the case of A-Rod.
The five-game suspension also encourages umpires to be more vigilant. If MLB is going to adhere to its responsibility of protecting players, then umpires must make a concerted effort to mitigate incidents like Sunday’s. O’Nora clearly should have ejected Dempster, and the suspension hammers home that point.
The only issue that anyone should have with Dempster’s suspension is the length. Five games is nothing — literally in this instance — and MLB could have dropped the hammer a little more emphatically and still been in line. Girardi said that Dempster should miss at least one start, and that sounds reasonable given the transgression.
There was one thing that MLB absolutely couldn’t do in this instance: let Sunday’s incident go completely unnoticed by not punishing Dempster in some way, shape or form. A-Rod might be the most hated man in sports, but it doesn’t mean that we should suddenly turn the baseball diamond into the Wild West while he appeals his 211-game suspension.