Joe Girardi’s Message to His Team: Support A-Rod

Giardi made sure his team stuck up for A-Rod.

Giardi made sure his team stuck up for A-Rod.

It was coming at some point. The hatred for Alex Rodriguez is palpable throughout all of baseball. Players hate that their MLBPA dollars are going to his defense. And with the Red Sox and Yankees playing this weekend, it was all but certain that A-Rod would get plunked at least once. After two clean games, Ryan Dempster took it upon himself to take up the task. In the second inning, with no one out and no one on base, Dempster threw the first pitch behind Rodriguez’s back, then threw two more balls and, with a 3-0 count, hit him in the back. Sox manager John Farrell can claim otherwise as much as he wants, but the pitch was certainly intentional.

Home plate umpire Brian O’Nora warned both teams immediately, but did not eject Dempster. The benches briefly cleared, but the players never came together. Yankees manager Joe Girardi was incensed. He got in O’Nora’s face, screaming at the umpire and throwing his hat in disgust. Girardi was quickly ejected, but his point was clear: Alex Rodriquez is a member of the New York Yankees and players stick up for their teammates. After rumors surfaced last week that A-Rod had turned over evidence that implicated other MLB players in the Biogenesis scandal, including teammate Francisco Cervelli, it was fair to wonder how even his own teammates would treat him. Rodriguez has always been an outcast in the clubhouse, but if he had snitched on a teammate, would players even support him when he inevitably got beaned?

The answer is yes. The dugouts and bullpens cleared briefly, but the main action was Girardi’s tirade against O’Nora. He knew Dempster hit A-Rod on purpose and wanted the Sox starter ejected from the game. But the real reason for his explosion was to show his team that no matter what A-Rod has done, he’s still the starting third basemen for the New York Yankees and as such, they will defend him. They can ignore him in the clubhouse and after the game, but on the diamond, teammates protect each other. Period. Girardi sent that message loud and clear.


Pedroia Demonstrates His Leadership

Anyone who hasn’t seen David Ortiz’s outburst last night should watch immediately:

The count was 3-0 when Ortiz stepped out of the batters box and asked for time. Home plate umpire Tim Timmons refused, Baltimore pitcher Jair Asencio threw a pitch high and Timmons called it a strike anyways. It should’ve been ball four. A few pitches later, Ortiz struck out and had some words for Timmons as he headed back to the dugout.

Then Big Papi lost it. He took three huge swings with his bat against the telephone in the dugout. The plastic box that encases the telephone was destroyed with pieces of it and the bat flying in different directions. It was a pretty dangerous move by the Sox slugger. He nearly hit Dustin Pedroia with his swings and the flying plastic went off all over the place.

Immediately, Timmons ejected Ortiz, who came storming back on the field and had to be restrained by multiple Red Sox. In the dugout afterwards, Pedroia can be seen getting in Big Papi’s face, clearly upset about Ortiz’s dangerous tantrum.

Pedroia is just about the only player on the team that could get in Ortiz’s face there and have the right to do so. Big Papi is a team leader, a community leader and the face of the Boston Red Sox. He knows how important he is to this ballclub, but he also has a temper and has gotten mad at umpires over the years. It’s completely okay to get upset every once in a while – it happens to everyone, including Pedroia. But it’s not okay to take wild swings at a telephone in the dugout in close proximity to your teammates. That put not just Ortiz’s health in jeopardy, but also a number of other players. It was entirely unacceptable.

But, as I said, Ortiz is also a team leader and most players have so much respect for him to allow him a temper tantrum of that magnitude. Some players may even think he’s earned that right. He hasn’t. No player has and Pedroia told him so. Pedey is also a team leader and will be the face of the Red Sox for years to come after signing a seven-year deal last week. The deal takes him until he’s 38 years old and some people are a bit concerned about the length and significant amount of money tied up in it. But there’s a reason the Sox splurged on him. Pedroia is more than just one of the top second basemen in baseball. He’s also a great leader and clubhouse presence. He knew Ortiz was out of order and it was his job to tell him so. His teammates notice that. Young players notice that. They notice that he lets other players get upset about calls and is fine with it, but when a player’s tantrum puts other players’ safety at risk, it’s not okay. Not even when that player is David Ortiz.

After the game, Pedroia was asked about the incident and demonstrated his leadership once again:

It’s a good win. We have to build on that. Guys get frustrated. It’s part of the game. I just wanted to make sure David didn’t get too bad where he gets suspended or any of that. … He’s the biggest part of our lineup. We can’t afford to lose David for even one game.

That’s it. The issue is over. It’ll be on SportsCenter for a while and talked about on Monday. But Pedroia put it to bed here. He told Ortiz what he did wasn’t okay. He made sure the slugger didn’t get suspended by going after Timmons. He spoke to reporters after the game and focused on what matters: winning. The two probably cleared things up more in the clubhouse, but that stays there, as it should.

That, in a nutshell, is why Pedroia is so worthy of his new contract. Even though he’s in a slump right now, his leadership is still immensely valuable and a major reason why this Red Sox team has done so well this year. Don’t forget that when evaluating his new deal.

Ryan Braun Got Off Easy

Yesterday, MLB suspended Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun for the remainder of the 2013 season for violating MLB’s drug policy. He’s not contesting the penalty so it’ll go into effect immediately. The suspension stems from a list provided by Anthony Bosch, the founder of Biogenesis Lab, that had the names of MLB players who the company sold performance enhancing drugs to. The list also included Alex Rodriguez, Melky Cabrera, Nelson Cruz and other big leaguers. For months now, MLB has been investigating the connection between the players and the lab and rumors have heated up in recent weeks that the players on the list would be facing lengthy suspensions. Braun, like most other players on the list, was not cooperative with the league and refused to comment on the investigation.

This all comes just a couple years after Braun tested positive for a banned substance, but had his suspension overturned thanks to a mistake in the chain of custody in processing his urine sample. He got off on a technicality.

Braun is very lucky.

Braun is very lucky.

Now, Braun is finally suspended, but the punishment is much more lenient than fits the crime. Of the 65 games he’s suspended for, 50 are for him purchasing PEDs from the Biogenesis Lab and the other 15 are for his actions during the appeal process of his previous failed test.

Braun has lied repeatedly about using PEDs. He tested positive for steroids and then stood in front of the cameras and declared that he never ingested a banned substance. After he got off, he released a statement saying, “I am very pleased and relieved by today’s decision. It is the first step in restoring my good name and reputation. We were able to get through this because I am innocent and the truth is on our side.” What a bunch of BS.

So after all of this, what’s his punishment? A lousy 65 games, the $3.25 million in salary that goes with it and nothing else. He’ll be back for spring training and Opening Day next year, ready to go on as if none of this every happened. Of course, his legacy and career will always be significantly tainted. Buster Olney called him the Lance Armstrong of baseball, a fitting title. But the actual punishment is weak.

The Brewers are terrible this year – so Braun won’t miss out on a pennant race or the playoffs. He’s just taking a long offseason. And the punishment only goes down as his first violation – if it had been his second, it would’ve come with a 100-game ban and a third failed test is a lifetime ban. His decision not to appeal the ban also means that MLB Players Association won’t get involved, which could’ve been really ugly for Braun as the MLBPA was considering not supporting him in his case.

In addition, both MLB and the Players Association released statements commending Braun for taking responsibility for his actions. Taking responsibility?! He cheated, lied and is escaping with missing less than half a season! And his statement on the suspension? He spends more time looking for sympathy than apologizing.

I know MLB wants to get these suspensions over with and move past Biogenesis. It wants to put stories about performance enhancing drugs behind it and focus on the game. I bet A-Rod will work out a deal with the league in the next few days as well. But this isn’t enough. The punishment against Braun is weak.

And it’s not just fans who want a clean league, the players are sick of it as well. They wanted Braun to go down hard, but will surely be disappointed by this outcome. This wasn’t a tough punishment. It was a weak deal to put this episode in the past. And once again, Ryan Braun got off easy.