Dusty Baker still hasn’t entirely shed the reputation as a pitch-count infidel who shreds valuable arms, and now he wants pitchers fighting over petty squabbles?
The Reds’ manager said on Monday he’d welcome hockey-style conflict resolution to baseball, which was really his way of calling the Cubs’ Matt Garza a modern-day whining wimp. After Sunday’s game, Garza railed about a Johnny Cueto pitch that had sailed over David DeJesus’ head in the sixth inning, and he threatened future retaliation.
Baker said Garza should have taken on Cueto during the game instead of posturing later.
The hockey reference got a lot of attention, as if Baker were about to submit a proposal to Bud Selig’s office. But the text and subtext of his comments screamed: “Back in my day, we reacted like real men.”
The first hint that Baker might have been thinking too nostalgically came when he pointed out that the Cueto pitch was so high, it wouldn’t have grazed Wilt Chamberlain. There are plenty of 7-footers — Patrick Ewing, Yao Ming, Shaquille O’Neal — who played in the lifetimes of today’s Cubs and Reds, but he picked someone who retired 40 years ago.
“Guys didn’t talk as much, they just did it,” Baker said of his playing days. “Guys are nicer now. They all have the same agent, they play on the same All-Star teams. They call each other, they text each other. It’s a nice game now. They talk before the game — about how far he hit one yesterday off me. They’re nice.”
They’re also loaded. The average player makes about $2.9 million a year today, more than triple the inflation-adjusted average salary ($850,000) of 1986, Baker’s final season. The fights would have to double MLB’s TV ratings to pay their way in the sport.
If his scheme had gone into effect over the weekend, Baker might have seen fisticuffs involving two of his best pitchers on back-to-back days. (Even when critics blamed him for the breakdowns of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, they didn’t think he pulled it off in 48 hours.) Closer Aroldis Chapman buzzed Nick Swisher on Monday, throwing two wild pitches over his head and bringing most of the Cleveland team toward the steps of the dugout.
Baker said the Indians overreacted, but avoided any more lobbying for an NHL makeover in his sport. He even waved a thread of white hankie by saying: “That’s not something that we’d like to be known for.”
So in the end, his pugilistic reform movement amounted to a creative way of telling Garza to shut up and of taking heat off Cueto, whose kicking during a 2010 brawl with the Cardinals gave Jason LaRue a concussion that prematurely ended his career.
But Baker’s idea might have real value in another sport, one that recently saw its implicit dignity enforcement collapse. Right about now, the PGA Tour must wish that Sergio Garcia had feared dropped gloves and raised fists on the fairway.