Odor suspension lacks punch
Rangers infielder Rougned Odor has every chance to be a very good player for the next decade. Unfortunately, barring an MVP season or a big moment on a big stage, his punch to the jaw of Toronto slugger Jose Bautista in Arlington – at age 22 – could well prove the most iconic moment of his career.
Regardless of how the rest of the regular season plays out, few outside of Texas will remember how Odor extended the Rangers’ run of dominance over division and in-state rival Houston with a walk-off double three games after returning from his brief suspension in early June.
Heck, there were five walk-off hits across Major League Baseball the very next day – as well as a very memorable one by the Auburn softball team to boot. Special as they are at the time, the joy that comes with those at-bats is relatively fleeting over the course of the 162-game grind. The right hook that connected with Bautista’s face will likely be the defining moment for which Odor is remembered, in 2016 and beyond.
Odor’s eight-game suspension – reduced to seven on appeal – was in line with expectations. But that doesn’t make it OK.
The reason we could so confidently predict the nature and length of his punishment was we had recent precedent for comparison. In 2013, then-Padre Carlos Quentin charged the mound after copping a Zack Greinke fastball to the upper arm. The result: eight games for Quentin and a broken collarbone for Greinke.
Just as there was bad blood between Bautista and the Rangers (a bat flip several months earlier and an illegal slide several seconds earlier), Quentin and Greinke had a history – the oft-injured outfielder believing Greinke had intentionally drilled him at least twice in seasons past.
So there was no surprise at Odor’s penalty. No rules have changed since 2013 and you could make a case his initial suspension could have been less considering no bones were broken.
We could point to the relative lack of outrage and say baseball is a game that polices itself. But this isn’t a discussion on the sport’s contentious unwritten rules.
We could assess public opinion and recent history to argue Bautista had it coming. But this isn’t a popularity contest.
We could reasonably argue the merits of a harsher penalty based on the result of any subsequent injury. But this isn’t a debate about the outcome; it’s about the process.
Yes, Bautista’s slide was dangerous. And it wouldn’t surprise if MLB eventually implements suspensions for offenders as the league adjusts to its new rule. But that’s an argument for another day.
The issue here is that one player punched another in the face in the middle of the baseball field, with tens of thousands in the stands and millions watching around the world.
Is this a good look for a sport that is rapidly losing the interest of younger generations and desperately hoping parents will encourage their kids to pick up a bat and ball?
Isn’t there too much money invested in the game to see its stars sidelined for injuries that could all too easily be avoided?
And with the league recently taking a welcome approach to punishments for off-field acts, shouldn’t we at least pretend we’d like to see measures in place to discourage violence on the field as well.
Somehow, suspending a guy for little more than a week – or less than 5 per cent of the regular season – doesn’t seem enough for the potential consequences of intentionally striking a member of the opposition in the head.
For many players, a suspension this long would be little more than a chance to rest the body and recharge the batteries in the middle of a gruelling regular season.
Like other major sporting codes, baseball has already shown a willingness to introduce rules to protect players their marquee attractions – the players – from unnecessary injuries. The slide that immediately preceded Odor’s punch is case in point.
Would it really be so outrageous if MLB announced in January they were cracking down on violent acts and such incidents would carry, say, a minimum 25-game ban? Even that would only be 15 per cent of a long, long season.
The 2013 Dodgers cruised to victory in the weak NL West and Greinke was back in plenty of time for the playoffs. But would more have resulted from Quentin’s charge if it had happened in September and LA entered the playoffs without the guy they’d just inked to a groundbreaking $147 million deal the previous offseason?
Unlike the Chase Utley rule, and the Buster Posey rule before it, hopefully Major League Baseball doesn’t wait for a major injury or an playoff series marred by controversy to act on an ugly part of the game that has been punished by a relative slap on the wrist for far too long.