Here’s how MLB is aiming to curb on-field skirmishes

April 29th, 2022

The video of ballplayers tussling made the rounds on social media recently. It showed Portland Sea Dogs first baseman Tyreque Reed charging at and striking Binghamton Rumble Ponies pitcher Marcel Rentería after getting plunked by a pitch, sparking benches-clearing mayhem near the mound.

But while the altercation had a brief and temporary stay on people’s timelines, its fallout will, unfortunately, have longer-lasting effects. Reed and teammate Victor Santos, who are Red Sox prospects, were handed suspensions that limit their valuable development time. And Rentería, a Mets prospect, suffered a torn ACL that required surgery.

That’s a regrettable result, but also a teachable moment as Major League Baseball works with its clubs and affiliates to improve on-field conduct in the Minors and, by extension, the big leagues.

Prior to 2021, it would have been up to the individual league (in this specific case, the Eastern League) to dole out discipline following a skirmish in the Minors. But when MLB assumed control of MiLB last year, it also took over punishment for such on-field infractions. And MLB is holding its clubs accountable for bad behavior at the affiliate level.

“In previous years, it might be the same club that may have had four or five run-ins, and we didn't have communication with the Major League club,” said Michael Hill, MLB’s senior vice president for on-field operations. “Now, if a club has multiple offenses, they're going to feel it, from a fine standpoint and from a communication standpoint. So it's not something that goes without notice.”

Hill credited Ronnie Richardson, a former farm director for the Braves and Royals who is now one of MLB’s regional supervisors in the Minors, with sparking an initiative aimed at improving on-field conduct. Richardson and his fellow regional supervisors have worked with Hill, MLB senior vice president of Minor League operations and development Peter Woodfork and senior director of player development Mike LaCassa to communicate with the 30 clubs and establish a disciplinary standard that applies across MiLB.

“There’s no place in our game for derogatory language, unsportsmanlike conduct or pitchers intentionally throwing at hitters and bench-clearing incidents,” Richardson said. “That’s dangerous and can alter the careers of the players involved in these types of incidents.”

As part of the initiative, farm directors from the clubs and members of the Commissioner’s Office developed policies and educational materials that were distributed to staff members and coaches to compel conversations about conduct.

“A lot of that education is allowing the players to understand the impact that they have on the fans,” Richardson said. “You can really allow them to see that their actions and the decisions they make go beyond just that moment and impact everybody at the game. I think the players will embrace it and learn that we're trying to do what's best for the future of our game and also for their careers.”

A culture of beanballs and brawls does not go gentle into that good night. Such behavior has been baked into the game for generations, after all. The goal of MLB’s effort is to quell the emotional instincts that so often have erupted in the sport’s history in order to positively impact its future.

The thought is that holding the clubs -- not just the players involved -- accountable for repeat offenses will go a long way toward that goal.

“I know, in my time running an organization,” said Hill, former general manager of the Marlins, “if I am going to hear about one of my clubs misbehaving, that club’s going to hear about it. And if we are going to be disciplined because of someone within my organization misbehaving, then we're going to have a conversation. So the fact that we have involved the Major League organization, I think, is huge.”

The process by which these rulings are made has multiple layers.

“We get incident reports and video of each incident,” said Richardson. “After we review those, it’s a collaborative effort by many to ensure that we're being fair and consistent with our discipline. We will do further, in-depth interviews with farm directors, umpires and managers in an effort to make sure that we're getting all the best information before we render a decision or make a recommendation to Michael for certain incidents.”

As evidenced by the brawl in Portland, this new structure has not rid the game of such conduct. But as players and teams develop a greater understanding of the consequences of such actions, MLB hopes its initiative serves as a deterrent.

“We have some of the best athletes in the world playing our game,” Hill said. “We don't need all that other stuff.”