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Monday, June 30, 2008

Red Sox Commentary

Why delay the penalty?
Just make them do time and move on


Brace yourself for the following layout. If you clear your head well enough and scan it over in an unhurried, superficial manner, you should find the data more preposterous than pre-calculus. And we’re not even dipping into the startling divisional leaderboard aspect here.

The Red Sox and Rays kick off this week with a three-game set in St. Petersburg, Fla. for their first convention since Boston claimed a sweep at Fenway June 3-5. In the finale of that series, the combustible twigs that were Coco Crisp and Tampa Bay hurler James Shields served to kindle a brawling bonfire around the mound after Shields bonked the batter in the hip.

And now, Crisp’s services will be no good for this series as he is completing a five-game suspension. Just the same, Rays infielder Akinori Iwamura will miss Game 1 as he rounds out a three-game sentence for the role he played in the June 5 tussle.

This despite the fact that it will have been 25 days and the Sox have played 21 games since the incident that warranted these suspensions. Both Crisp and Iwamura heard the final ruling on their team’s respective appeals to their initial suspensions last Friday, exactly 22 days after the fact.

Cut the cute talk that this somehow lessens the risk of another basebrawl popping up in the renewal of this newfangled statistical rivalry. We’re swinging at a real screwball when it comes to MLB’s disciplinary precision and timing.

Not that this anything new. In fact, it’s customary. But the coincidental bookending sets of Sox-Rays games make this strange saga more overt and ought to bunt baseball’s governing offices towards further review of suspension appeal.

No time like the present to think this over. After all, they’ve already been touching the instant replay bases and, if all goes according to plan, will have umpires putting the right stamp on every home run in another month.

What should be the on-deck issue behind that isn’t so mathematically tough. Again, 22 days and 18 games passed for each of these teams before all punishments were finalized. That’s more than thrice the number of games Crisp was left free to play in and six times Iwamura’s participation log in the time that disciplinary officials spent mulling everything over.

It’s gale-strong mind-sweeping when you really think about it. If MLB officials want to formulate a more firm, orderly method of handling flare-ups like this, which they should, they ought to look no further than their field-based authority figures. Every time a manager hurdles out of his dugout to question an umpire’s call, ejection is imminent. The dispute is wadded up and disposed of in seconds.

Just like the 20th Century Vole movie producer in a classic Monty Python bit, if there’s one thing baseball shouldn’t have to stand, it’s people who are indecisive. And unlike the umps, indecision is an egregious trait of the league’s disciplinary department.

To make one more point about umpires, they are the only participants in the game who should have the word “appeal” –as in when the plate patroller asks a baseliner whether a check swing went too far- in their vocabulary.

By now, at least a dozen times, everyone has seen the highlight of Crisp taking that pitch to the thigh, exchanging off-target swipes with Shields, and in effect summoning everyone to the scene (because, apparently, a non-frictional 1-2 stance in the division isn’t enough to hype a series between these teams). If you’re in charge of keeping these guys in line, you ought to be able to knead a reasonable conclusion as to everyone’s degree of infraction much sooner than this. So why be so submissive as to promise them “Well, okay, we’ll look at it again. Carry on with your season, and we’ll get back to you later”?

When confronting similar issues, disciplinarians in some other sports believe in a phrase they like to call “suspended indefinitely.” That phrase applies to an offending player or coach, not to the mind of an outside-the-lines authority.

It’s not that hard. Crisp and Iwamura should have been sidelined for a set number of games that at least hovered around equivalency to their respective roles in the June 5 tussle. And those suspensions should have expired at least two weeks ago. And the whole debacle should be buried.

But that won’t be so easy with all the broadcasters reminding their viewers and listeners why certain players are scratched from the lineup every half inning.

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