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Joe Kelly vs the Houston Astros: How Did We Get Here and Are the Consequences Appropriate?

The baseball season is only about 2 weeks old and the Houston Astros have already felt the effects of the target that has been put on their backs for this season, and possibly future seasons. In case you missed all of the drama from this past off season, the Astros were involved in a sign stealing scandal from 2017-2019. However, the MLB and its highly coveted commissioner Rob Manfred (highly coveted being a completely sarcastic phrase in this context) concluded that they only cheated during the 2017 and 2018 seasons. It can be argued until the cows come home that they also cheated in 2019, and I don’t think there is ANY chance that they didn’t. They have now stopped cheating because they got caught. Based on MLB’s conclusions from the investigation, General Manager Jeff Luhnow and Manager A.J. Hinch were both suspended for this truncated 2020 season, and subsequently fired by Owner Jim Crane. The Asterisks, as many baseball fans (specifically me and my fellow Yankees fans) like to call them, were also fined $5 million and forfeit a few future draft picks. Many fans and players believe that members of those teams should be suspended as well, but for whatever reason baseball didn’t or couldn’t take that action.

One of the more shocking developments from this controversy was the organization’s response to the scandal. During a press conference prior to Spring Training, they issued an “apology”. The reason for the quotation marks is how incredibly pathetic and disingenuous their statements were. Alex Bregman stood up and gave the most bull---- apology possible. He read off a note card like he was doing a book report on a book he didn’t read. JIm Crane also said during that conference, “our opinion is that this didn’t impact the game”. Less than a minute later he said, “I didn’t say it didn’t impact the game”. WOW! The rest of the league was already furious with their actions, and then for the organization to act the way it did was difficult to watch. If the team’s reaction had sounded even remotely remorseful or genuine, it would have made things a whole lot better. LA Dodgers star Cody Belinger was asked about the situation during an interview, “Altuve (Jose) stole an MVP from Judge (Aaron), and everyone knows they stole a ring from us.” The 2017 World Series featured the Astros against the Dodgers in a closely contested 7 game series win for Houston.

With the amended 2020 schedule, the clubs are only playing regional interleague games (West vs. West. East vs. East, Central vs. Central). The Astros and Dodgers faced off for 2 games in Houston to end July. Joe Kelly came in for relief in the bottom of the 6th for the Dodgers. Keep in mind he was on the Boston Red Sox from 2017-2019. Kelly also has no problem stirring the pot with teams, as he helped start a benches clearing brawl back in 2018 with the Yankees after he intentionally hit Tyler Austin with a pitch. The second batter of the inning was Alex Bregman, and on a 3-0 pitch Kelly threw one just behind his head. Three batters later, Carlos Correa stepped up to the plate with two men on and Kelly threw a change-up just over his head. Kelly ended up striking him out. As Kelly starts walking toward the dugout, words are exchanged while he’s making faces at Correa. The benches cleared but no punches were thrown, a few other players exchanged pleasantries and that was it. Nothing happened in game 2 of that series the next night.

On Monday August 10th, Joe Kelly will appeal his 8 game suspension that was handed down by the commissioner’s office. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was suspended 1 game, and Astros manager Dusty Baker was issued an undisclosed fine. In a normal 162 game season, Kelly’s suspension equates to approximately 22 games (multiply by 2.7). This is an unequivocally unfair punishment issued by Major League Baseball, though I agree that throwing at a defenseless hitter’s head is inexplicable, and it is an easy way to end someone’s career. You can argue that the pitch to Correa was unintentional. With two men on and 2 outs you want to throw strikes. The 3-0 pitch to Bregman with no men on and 1 out was absolutely intentional, it is hard to argue against that under those circumstances. If you are going to throw at hitters, the right way to do it is to aim below or around the belt. Had Kelly done it this way, the suspension may have only been a few games. Hitting a batter with a 3-0 count normally signals intention. While the pitch to Correa was arguable, the subsequent trash talk did not help his case. In my mind, a fair punishment would have been 1-3 games in suspension time. This is MLB’s way of protecting the Astros from getting thrown at moving forward. The media as well as players around the league have shown their support for Joe Kelly. The general consensus is that MLB has sent a message to the rest of the league by suspending Kelly for 8 games. If anyone else wants to throw at Houston, don’t make it too obvious or you’ll be sitting out a good portion of the season. It will be interesting to see if MLB sticks to their guns and keeps the suspension as is, or if Kelly’s team is able to have it reduced. I imagine if it is reduced it won’t be by more than 2 games. This will be an important hearing for the league as they attempt to set the tone for disciplining retaliatory behavior moving forward.

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