If Mexico pitcher Arnold Leon had been pitching in a regular season big league game when he plunked Canada's Rene Tosoni, he'd have some free time coming up and it would be hitting his paycheck. The same could likely be said for Tosoni, Mexico third baseman Luis Cruz (who was seen obviously telling Leon to plunk Tosoni) and others.
But a dirty little secret of the World Baseball Classic became apparent on Saturday night. World Baseball Classic, Inc., the company created by Major League Baseball and the Players Association to run the tournament, needs the players more than the players need the tournament. So after watching a brawl that saw three brushback pitches, fists flying and players thrown to the ground, no real punishments were levied.
"After communicating with both the Mexican and Canadian baseball federations this evening, we are aware of the perspectives held by both sides in a competitive environment. Nevertheless, we relayed to both teams that such an altercation is inappropriate under any circumstances and has no place in baseball," the WBCI said in an official statement.
"Because at least one club–and potentially both–will not advance to the second round, WBCI has determined that disciplinary measures would not have a meaningful corrective impact. Thus discipline will not be imposed beyond today's seven game ejections. It is our firm expectation that the members of Team Mexico, Team Canada and all the tournament's participating teams will learn from this incident and set a better example–one that befits the sport they share–in the future.:
In other words, both teams got a stern look from the teacher and were asked to please don't do anything like that again. No matter what happens in the rest of the tournament, the WBC organizers likely have little other recourse. One of the biggest problems the World Baseball Classic faces is getting top players to agree to participate. Opening up the possibility that players will pay fines or face MLB suspensions for their actions would simply dissuade more players from participating.
And unlike a normal MLB suspension, these teams do not have ready minor leaguers to promote to fill holes created by suspensions. If Canada had seen players suspended for a game or more, it would have likely forced the team to play extremely short-handed. After all, even with full day to add another third baseman before its roster had to be set, Canada was unable to replace the injured Brett Lawrie because it had no readily available options to step in. In a tournament where managers already have to be cognizant of not overworking pitchers, playing with a shorthanded bullpen because of suspensions is simply not an option.
"We can't accept behavior as you saw yesterday," Team USA manager Joe Torre said. "Yeah, you're right you can't go down and fill holes. That means guys would be stressed out. But you can't just say apologize and move on because it's not good for baseball.
"Fines when you get emotional like that, no one really cares what it's going to cost me. Taking them off the field is the thing that makes the impact, but again if that's at the price of hurting someone else then there is an issue. So I don't know what the answer is."
When talking about last night's fight, Torre thought back to a brawl he saw when he was managing the Braves back in 1984. Braves pitcher Pascual Perez hit Alan Wiggins with the first pitch of the game leading to a massive brawl. From there, the rest of the game was played with the players at a low simmer. Torre learned as a manager there is only so much he can do to restrain his players.
"It's really tough, you want your players to be emotional, but then you have to say you cannot do this," Torre said. "I remember bringing in Donnie Moore and gave him the ball. I told him we need to win this game, it's a one-run lead in the last inning. When I looked in his eyes, I knew I had no chance. He hit Graig Nettles with the first pitch. As a manager you have very little control. When you're out there and the passion starts, it's tough to try to have someone be rational about it."
For the WBC, the fight was not without its benefits. The brawl brought some of the most significant coverage the World Baseball Classic has received in the U.S.–it was the kind of exciting video that ensured it was on heavy rotation on SportsCenter last night and this morning. It's likely that there will be no more fights in the WBC this year, but short of players going into the stands, it's unlikely that any further fights would be met with any harsher discipline–for once the headmaster has very little power.
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