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MLB’s quick discipline breeds inequity

An arbitrary agreement between MLB and the Players Union led to unfair discipline decisions – a systematic problem that should be fixed.

Jason LaRue (AP/Tom Gannam)Like many St. Louis Cardinals watchers, I have been concerned about the growing inequity of the punishment handed down by MLB to the Cincinnati Reds’ Johnny Cueto. The pitcher was the aggressor in the August 10 melee between the two clubs as he landed multiple cleated kicks to the head and ribs of Cardinals reserve catcher Jason LaRue.

LaRue was left with a concussion, bruised ribs and a trip to the 60-day disabled list that ended his regular season. It also seems unlikely he could return during the post-season – if the Cardinals can even get past the Reds to reach that far. While no one knows where this will go for LaRue personally, post-concussion syndrome has ended more than one career, including that of former Cardinals catcher Mike Matheny.

On the other side of the ledger, Cueto’s seven-game suspension means he has to be skipped for one start – during a time of the year in which many tired starters would welcome a rest, anyway.

With Yadier Molina having started 21 games in a row and manager Tony La Russa likely uncomfortable starting rookie Bryan Anderson, especially when his team is 3 ½ games behind the Reds, it puts an even greater potential long-term impact on Cueto’s actions.

Regarding the incident itself and its aftermath, others have already weighed in, including:

These and other reports, while extensive, have not focused on one point which I feel is most relevant and illustrative of the need for a change at the MLB-union levels.

In a Monday article with background on how the discipline was handed down, Joe Strauss of the Post-Dispatch included the revelation that in their haste to announce the punishment, MLB officials had no idea how severely LaRue had been injured.

The excuse: An agreement between the commissioner’s office and the Players Association that punishment for on-field incidents should be handed down within 48 hours.

“Sometimes we may miss something like (LaRue’s case) because of that,” MLB Senior Vice President for On-Field Operations Frank Robinson told Strauss. “If we had not acted, it would probably have been more severe. But as is, we really can’t take a starting pitcher beyond five, six or seven days because this individual may hurt himself being laid off for a longer amount of time. We didn’t know the extent of LaRue’s injuries until later on.”

So, the former Reds Hall-of-Famer Robinson was concerned about the risk of the current Reds star Cueto getting injured during an extended layoff? You mean, Cueto would be locked in a cell somewhere, not allowed to throw on the side during his suspension?

What about LaRue, who may have suffered a career-ending injury?

This lame explanation, spawned by an agreement that was used as justification to pass down a sentence while lacking important evidence, clearly points to a systematic problem at the top levels that needs to be re-negotiated.

Wouldn’t it be better to allow the investigators the time they need to fully understand the entire situation instead of being pushed into making short-sighted decisions that can neither be reversed or altered – especially when relevant new information surfaces?

Currently, MLB is so focused on having a “speedy trial” that they trample all over the even more important “fairness” aspect.

The bottom line here is that LaRue will be sidelined over 50 games or perhaps much longer while Cueto misses just one start.

How can anyone call this equitable?

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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