If you haven’t been following the baseball scandal involving a Florida anti-aging clinic that dispensed performance enhancing drugs (PED’s) to at least 13 Major League ballplayers, there’s some background here. It’s a black mark on the game and has initiated some introspection on sports and society that is long overdue and may, in the long run, actually do some good.
The biggest name caught up in this mess is the New York Yankees superstar third baseman, Alex Rodriguez. The man who signed a quarter of a billion dollar contract — the richest in professional sports history — has denied taking any PED’s knowingly. But the doctor at the center of the controversy, Tony Bosch, had documented proof that A-Rod was a cheat. Each player who used the clinic to get steroids was carefully monitored with dosages and the kinds of drugs being taken written down in ledgers. A-Rod was toast and he knew it. And in a shocking display of arrogance, Rodriguez purchased most of the records revealing his steroid use from a business associate of Bosch who started a bidding war between players and MLB for the evidence of wrongdoing. The league considered this an effort by A-Rod to hinder the investigation, for which he got a penalty of 211 games — twice that of any other player.
But the scandal has also touched the game of professional baseball in ways that other scandals have not. For the first time, the Major League Baseball Players Association, the owners, and the league office have all agreed that the scourge of PED’s must be eradicated if the integrity of the game is to saved. And this has led to players speaking out forcefully against their brethren whose “bad choices” threatens to undermine the game of baseball.
Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster took “speaking out” to the next level in a game against the New York Yankees on Sunday. In the second inning of a game at Fenway Park with Rodriguez leading off the inning, Dempster whistled a 89 MPH fastball behind the knees of the Yankee slugger.
In baseball, this is a no-no. It is a message to the batter that he has done something the pitcher doesn’t much like. Usually, the throw behind the hitter gambit is used if the opposing pitcher has hit one of your players. But in this case, Dempster wasn’t being very subtle. In an old school sort of way, he was expressing his — and most ballplayers in the league – displeasure at A-Rod’s steroid use and his attempts to cover his tracks.
The next two pitches were “brush-back” pitches — sometimes designed to force the batter back from the plate but in this case, another means of expressing Dempster’s outrage.
Then, on a 3-0 pitch, Dempster reared back and fired the ball right at the batter, hitting A-Rod in the elbow and the ball caroming off his back. It is extremely rare for a batter to be plunked on a 3-0 pitch, which gives even more credence to the idea that Dempster knew exactly where he was throwing the ball.
What happened next, courtesy of ESPN:
After the hit-by-pitch, home plate umpire Brian O’Nora issued the warnings as an enraged Girardi charged out of the Yankees’ dugout, gesticulating wildly. Girardi was kicked out after one of his gestures, which looked like a left hook, nearly hit O’Nora.
After the more than-four-hour game, Girardi was still fuming, pointing out that Dempster had hit only five batters in 145 1/3 innings. He said that he will be “disappointed” if Dempster isn’t suspended a long enough period by MLB that he misses a start. And that he wishes that Dempster had to bat for himself.
You can’t start throwing at people,” Girardi said. “Lives — people have had concussions. Lives are changed by getting hit by pitches. Whether I agree with everything that’s going on, you do not throw at people and you don’t take the law into your own hands. You don’t do that. We’re going to skip the judicial system? It’s ‘My Cousin Vinny.’”
Rodriguez was asked if he agreed that Dempster should be suspended.
“I’m the wrong guy to be asking about suspensions,” Rodriguez said with a chuckle. “Holy mackerel.”
After he was hit, Rodriguez stared out at Dempster before slowly walking to first base, trailed by Yankees trainer Steve Donohue. Groups of players from each team’s bullpen spilled onto the field, as well as a few players from the Yankees’ dugout, led by a clearly agitated Brett Gardner. But no punches were thrown and order was quickly restored.
Rodriguez has been insufferable since the league handed down his suspension. He is fighting with the Yankee front office. He is fighting with some of his teammates. He is fighting it despite the fact he doesn’t have a prayer. The league has him dead to rights and he knows it. The 12 other players suspended have already apologized and accepted their punishment without appeal. But Rodriguez, who admitted taking steroids from 2001-2003, refuses to acknowledge the obvious and take his punishment.
Manager Girardi is right — theoretically. Yes, a baseball is a weapon. But players today wear a lot of protective equipment. The batting helmet is engineered to absorb 100 MPH fastballs. Players wear shin guards and toe guards to protect them from foul balls that ricochet off their legs. And the ball that Dempster hit A-Rod with smacked him right on his heavily padded elbow guard, probably preventing an injury that would have kept him out of the lineup for at least a couple of games.
Everyone in baseball knows that Dempster deliberately tried to hit Alex Rodriquez, and they know the reason why. And yet, the league, perhaps sensing the mood of the players, suspended Dempster for only 5 games — a ridiculously small punishment for what ordinarily would be a serious offense that might have garnered a suspension of 10 or even 20 games under different circumstances.
Dempster used an old school device to send a message to a modern day cheat. And with it, baseball may have turned a corner toward a better future.