CINCINNATI — Reds manager David Bell and outfielder Yasiel Puig did not appeal their suspensions stemming from Sunday’s bench-clearing incident in Pittsburgh, but there were plenty of strong words coming from the home clubhouse at Great American Ball Park on Tuesday.
Most concerned the Pirates’ Chris Archer, who was handed a five-game suspension. For a starting pitcher, that's essentially one game.
The Reds believe Archer, well-known for his displays of emotion on the mound, retaliated in the fourth inning on Sunday by throwing a pitch behind the back of Derek Dietrich. An inning earlier, Dietrich had launched a 436-foot home run off Archer and then paused at home plate to admire his blast as it sailed into the Allegheny River.
“For a guy like Archer to be the guy to get offended, it makes no sense,” Reds reliever David Hernandez said. “It’s just soft. That’s really what it is … soft.”
The league announced Puig was given a two-game suspension "for his aggressive actions." Bell received a one-game suspension for the same stated reason. The league also issued them an undisclosed fine.Bell and Puig missed Tuesday's game against the Miami Marlins at Great American Ball Park.
Archer can appeal his suspension. He was not ejected from the game on Sunday, but that’s what Bell wanted.
“I felt my only course of action was to get their pitcher ejected for intentionally trying to hurt our player,” Bell said. “I was told (by the league) that he would have been ejected if he had thrown at his head. That’s a dangerous approach.”
There also is the bigger picture about how baseball’s unwritten rules should be applied, if at all, and what role Major League Baseball should take.
Sunday’s scenario has played out countless times during major league baseball’s history.
A batter launches a long home run — typically one that everyone in the ballpark, including the pitcher, knows is gone as soon as contact is made — and pauses at home plate to watch the ball sail into the stands. Maybe he flips his bat aside before rounding the bases.
However, baseball’s unwritten rules, the universally understood protocols of the game that have existed for decades, call for the batter to politely drop the bat then round the bases while keeping his emotions in check. If not, retaliation can come in the form of a pitch thrown at the batter or his teammate.
“Derek clearly didn’t do anything wrong,” Bell said. “Our hitter hits a home run, and he didn’t do anything against Major League Baseball’s rules or the umpire’s rules or anyone else’s rules, and everyone in the ballpark knew he was going to stand up there and get hit with a fastball, and it could have done damage.”
The question is whether unwritten rules asking players to “respect the game” still have a place in this era where spontaneous emotion is such a significant aspect of the entertainment value in professional sports.
Former Reds pitcher Bronson Arroyo once said a batter could dance at home plate after hitting a home run off him, and his best form of retaliation was to get him out. Hernandez shares a similar sentiment.
“As long as you’re not yelling at me, pointing at me, saying anything to me, you can do whatever you want up there,” Hernandez said. “I just think it’s part of the game. Fans look forward to the celebrations of a home run. It’s good for baseball. I would never throw at anybody who hit a home run off me, unless they did something to me.”
Former major league pitcher and Reds broadcaster Chris Welsh believes baseball needs some parameters set on what conduct is and is not acceptable.
“How high can you flip the bat without somebody saying enough is enough? How much showboating is OK?” said Welsh, who pitched for five years in the majors. “I wish there was some type of a gauge where baseball players know what’s OK and what’s not OK. That’s where the confusion is.”
Some have argued that baseball is doing itself a disservice by limiting the amount of emotion players can show on the field. According to Nielsen research from 2016-17, only 23 percent of sports fans age 18 to 20 were “very” or “somewhat” interested in baseball, while the NBA was gaining ground in this demographic.
“You make the argument that pitchers are celebrating strikeouts, linebackers are celebrating sacks, basketball players are celebrating dunks,” Welsh said. “People are compelled to watch the TV when two teams are brawling. It’s not a good thing, but it happens.”
Among the major professional sports, this is somewhat unique to baseball, whose unwritten protocols often are compared to golf. NFL receivers are permitted extended and even orchestrated celebrations following touchdowns. NBA players can flex their muscles following dunks.
Following Sunday's game, Pirates closer Felipe Vazquez told reporters that an established veteran such as Joey Votto would be permitted to watch a home run in such a fashion, but Dietrich isn’t.
“Shouldn’t matter if you’re making $100 million or making the minimum,” Hernandez said. “It’s a way for certain guys to express who they are. I’m not going to be out there showboating after every strikeout, but come Opening Day and the bases are loaded, I’m going to show emotion. If I give up a home run, I watch the ball, not what he’s doing at home plate. It’s part of the game and should be part of the game.”
Rather than leave things up for interpretation, perhaps it’s time to put them on paper. Welsh believes there needs to be some consistency.
“The game is changing,” he said. “The fan base is changing, and the unwritten rules are changing, too. We just don’t know how much. I wish they would address these unwritten rules so some players don’t feel like they’re governed by what happened two generations ago."
“Major League Baseball needs to take it out of the hands of the players policing it themselves," Bell said.