On the Phillies: Baseball got suspension all wrong

Giants catcher Eli Whiteside (right) was not suspended for his role in Friday's brawl. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group/AP)
Giants catcher Eli Whiteside (right) was not suspended for his role in Friday's brawl. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group/AP)
Posted: August 09, 2011

If you thought Joe Garagiola was funny, you ought to see his son.

Joe Garagiola Jr. is, for the time being at least, baseball's vice president in charge of standards. He lowered his badly on Monday, suspending the Phillies' Shane Victorino for his part in Friday night's San Francisco earthquake while absolving the Giants who provoked and inflamed the incident.

How bad was the decision?

So bad that Victorino, whose jaws make more contact than Ryan Howard's bat, didn't want to talk about it.

A "no comment" from the Phillies' speed-talking centerfielder is the baseball equivalent of an "I'm not hungry" from Andy Reid.

The silence spoke volumes. It was a clear indication that Victorino was thinking exactly what every Phillies fan - every reasonable person, really - was thinking: Garagiola Jr. got it terribly wrong. Perhaps he should have opted to do what his annoying announcer/father would have done: let Tony Kubek sort out anything remotely connected to baseball itself.

In effect, by merely fining Ramon Ramirez and Eli Whiteside, Garagiola Jr. implied that Victorino's anger was created in a vacuum.

Let's review:

If you recall, last October, 10 whole months ago, the Giants weren't happy with Chase Utley, the Phils second baseman who himself seems incapable of being happy. So in Game 6 of the NLCS, starter Jonathan Sanchez plunked Utley, who in turn bemusedly tossed the ball back at the pitcher as he trotted to first. Sanchez, for whom control has never been an asset, nearly lost what little he has.

Anyway, whatever payback Sanchez may have been concocting had to be delayed since he was disabled when the Giants visited Philadelphia late last month, apparently suffering from a persistent case of stupidity.

On Friday, early in a game the Phils won, 9-2, he buzzed the sizable head of Phils catcher Brian Schneider. Vance Worley didn't retaliate. But the Phils offense did, driving Sanchez from the game with an increasingly rare offensive outburst.

The Phils' lone culpability in the incident might have been the stolen base by Jimmy Rollins when they already led, 8-2. That was indeed overkill since the woeful Giants offense couldn't have overcome a six-run deficit in a week let alone three innings.

But, in Rollins' defense, San Francisco was holding him on at first. And if they're dumb enough to do that, then he can be forgiven for acting just as foolishly.

The Giants, however, were not happy. Apparently the defending world champions can't abide showboating, even if their roster includes a starting pitcher who resembles Jackie Kennedy and a publicity-hungry closer who seems determined to pass for Charles Manson and may already be as crazy.

So when the Phils lead grew to 8-2 in the sixth and Victorino came to bat, reliever Ramon Ramirez drilled him in the back.

Victorino took a few steps toward the pitcher and probably would have done nothing more than talk him to a pulp if Giants catcher Eli Whiteside, bouncing on his toes like a very bad middleweight or a Castro District hoofer, hadn't decided to pull an Assante Samuel and go for Placido Polanco's knees.

It was Ramirez and Whiteside who triggered the wrestling match that ensued. And yet Garagiola Jr. merely fined them, along with Polanco, who was guilty of nothing more than trying to protect a teammate.

But Victorino got a three-game suspension.

MLB undoubtedly will say that Victorino warranted the suspension because he broke free from umpire Mike Muchlinski, who controlled the Phils centerfielder no better than he did the prelude to the fracas or the game.

But a 90-plus m.p.h. fastball to the back would provoke anyone, with the possible exception of Travis Lee.

So ask yourself this: If Ramirez doesn't hit Victorino and Whiteside doesn't tackle Polanco, would the incident have escalated beyond all the others that result in little more than words and gestures?

One positive though, it kind of makes you yearn for a playoff rematch with the Giants. Because as Joe Garagiola's old buddy Yogi Berra knows, this little feud, heightened by baseball's bad decision, ain't over till it's over.

Contact staff writer Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068, ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com, or @philafitz on Twitter. Read his blog, "Giving 'Em Fitz," at www.philly.com/fitz

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