Earlier this season, Toronto center fielder Kevin Pillar did something out of line, yelling an anti-gay slur at the Braves' Jason Motte after Motte had quick-pitched him and Pillar struck out. Less than 24 hours later, the Blue Jays collaborated with Major League Baseball on the question of discipline and suspended Pillar for two games. Pillar took full responsibility for what happened, and the accountability was crucial.
It's an example that the good folks who run the San Francisco Giants should consider as they weigh their options in how to clean up the ridiculous incident that one of their players sparked Monday. After Hunter Strickland drilled Bryce Harper with a 98 mph fastball -- and after Harper charged the mound and exchanged swings with Strickland -- the pitcher told reporters that he was just trying to pitch inside and didn't hit Harper on purpose. But a chocolate-smeared 4-year-old pleading ignorance about an emptied cookie jar would be more convincing.
The Giants know better, because they know the history between Strickland and Harper, with the pitcher giving up two monster homers to the slugger during San Francisco's championship run of 2014. And Major League Baseball officials and Giants staffers know that if this situation continues on the typical trajectory, one of their players -- maybe Buster Posey, maybe Brandon Crawford -- is going to get thrown at, per the decades-old rules of engagement that typically go into effect when something like this happens. After Monday's game, Washington manager Dusty Baker said, "We're here to win the game. But we're not here to take any stuff, either ... we don't start anything, but we don't take nothing."
The Giants could take pre-emptive action to try to alter the course of events and suspend or discipline Strickland on their own, to demonstrate to the Nationals -- to everybody -- what a lot of them probably believe anyway: That Strickland's actions were incredibly selfish, dangerous and way, way out of line and unacceptable to the San Francisco organization.
Not only would this be the right thing to do, but it may also serve to defuse the potential for any sort of retaliation, because the message to the Nationals would be: We completely understand why you are upset; this is on Strickland, and we don’t agree, either. And maybe -- just maybe -- this could reduce the chances that Posey or another Giants player gets targeted with a fastball, in keeping with baseball's code of quid pro quo.
A similar response has been taken in the past by other teams. In 1995, Armando Benitez gave up a grand slam to the Mariners’ Edgar Martinez, a moment of great frustration for the hard-throwing right-hander, and Benitez drilled the next hitter, Tino Martinez. Benitez was ejected and after the game, his locker was cleared out; Benitez told Orioles staffers that he was going to quit. The Orioles exiled him to the minors for a couple of weeks. Three years later, Benitez gave up a three-run homer to the Yankees’ Bernie Williams, and Benitez – one of the game’s hardest throwers – fired his next fastball at the next hitter, who happened to be Tino Martinez, again, touching off one of baseball’s worst fights. This is why Martinez kept holding up two fingers as Orioles players held him back, referencing the two times that Benitez hit him, and it’s why Orioles players acknowledged to the Yankees during the fight that Benitez had been in the wrong, again.
It's very possible that the Giants have expressed their anger over Strickland's actions already to the Nationals. The Washington players have undoubtedly seen the video of de facto Giants captain Posey holding his position rather than move to intercept Harper when the hitter charged Strickland. They’ve seen how long it took for other Giants players to reach Strickland, how the focus of the San Francisco players was not about widening the brawl and playing out other grievances; rather, a group of Giants hauled away an enraged Strickland.
But the San Francisco organization would be wise to distance itself from the ridiculousness of what Strickland did by formally taking some sort of disciplinary action, with something substantive -- perhaps a suspension. And Strickland would be smart to agree to some kind of a plea bargain with the Giants, and take responsibility -- for the sake of his relationship with teammates, if nothing else. Because by acting on a grudge, he undoubtedly placed teammates at much greater risk of being hit in retaliation. Ultimately, it could be Posey or some other player who suffers the consequences of Strickland's decision.
Some old-school baseball officials might argue that this should be left to the players to sort out, but that would be really stupid. Right now, everybody in baseball is fully aware of the heightened possibility that the Nationals will retaliate -- and that if properly executed, a fastball will be bounced off the back or butt of a Giants player. But it's also possible that the pitcher trying to execute the retaliation will miss his target and instead hit a jaw, just as Matt Barnes nearly did when he attempted to hit Manny Machado last month.
And as the Orioles and Red Sox demonstrated with their series of beanballs last month, there are no hard and set guidelines in a situation like this. Different teams will have different interpretations about what is appropriate revenge. Eventually, commissioner Rob Manfred was compelled to step in and order both sides to stand down.
Before it gets to that point, the Giants should do something. Yes, Hunter Strickland is their player, their teammate, but that doesn't mean they should sit back and pretend that what he did Monday was anything close to acceptable.