Sam Donnellon: Hamels, Giroux: To tell truth, lying preferred

Claude Giroux denied targeting Dainius Zubrus' head and had a clean record, but was suspended for Game 5 anyway.
Claude Giroux denied targeting Dainius Zubrus' head and had a clean record, but was suspended for Game 5 anyway. (JIM McISAAC / GETTY IMAGES)
Posted: May 09, 2012

COLE HAMELS said he meant to hit Bryce Harper and he was suspended for it. Claude Giroux said he didn't mean to hit Dainius Zubrus in the head with his shoulder and he was suspended anyway, on account that few, if any, believe him.

I conclude from this that honesty has no place in sports.

Or relevance.

Because it's not just about Giroux being dishonest here, or Hamels being honest. It's about the hypocrisy of the people who oversee it, about the culture of both sports, a culture that not only mocks honesty, it sneers at it.

In baseball, you are supposed to plunk a guy and then say the ball got away from you. Lie your butt off, it's tradition. That's what critics of Hamels were saying Monday, critics who included his manager and general manager.

Oh, and by the way, that's going to play real well in contract negotiations.

Anyway, that's what pitchers are supposed to do, to avoid being called "chicken[bleep]" by Mike Rizzo, the general manager of a rival baseball team that is still practically begging fans to come. It's what Roger Clemens did while spending most of his career in the American League, where he was not required to bring a bat to the plate afterwards, the way Hamels was. Roger never meant to hit anybody. You could look it up.

That, Mr. Rizzo, is the definition of "chicken[bleep]," by the way. But Clemens was revered for pitching inside, as was Nolan Ryan, who spent the latter part of his career protected by the DH rule as well.

Hockey used to live by its own creed like that, policing cheap shots with cheap shots, the eye-for-an-eye approach. Those days are long gone, replaced by layers of government regulation that would make even the most ardent Obama supporters gasp. Players are bigger, faster and have about the same protective coating as your average new car, while the area they compete in remains the same size as it was 40 years ago.

Concussions, the mystery behind them and the very real threat of ugly endings to its best stars, have changed the sport forever. And I would argue, for the better.

Which brings us to Mr. Brendan Shanahan, the latest front man for the National Hockey League's discipline arm. Shanahan delivers this smooth, media-savvy presentation following each of his "we" rulings, using select video clips to explain his punishments or, as has been the case more often, his lack of punishments. Honestly - and we'll get back to that word in a moment - Shanahan's rationale for not suspending people like Shea Weber and not throwing the book at Matt Carkner and James Neal was so bizarre it was if he might be operating with an undiagnosed concussion himself.

But now, after a first round in which Shanahan took his share of figurative shots to the head, he has become the peacemaker that fans in Detroit, New York and Philadelphia were begging him to be just a few weeks ago. When Neal, on the same shift, threw a forearm to the head area of Sean Couturier and then Giroux in that Game 3 against Pittsburgh, Shanahan avoided a multiple-game suspension by breaking up the transgressions into two separate hearings.

The logic that followed was as convoluted as the one-game suspension that ensued, and I would argue, dishonest as well. Neal had a history and a suspension in his past. Giroux has neither. That might have mattered in the first round. But clearly, times they are a-changing in the NHL.

By the minute, it seems.

In the Neal video ruling, Shanahan says that "we" were willing to accept Neal's assertion that he left his feet to avoid contact with Couturier - even though Neal left his feet to deliver the hit on Giroux as well. Shanahan also calls Neal's two hits, 40 seconds apart, "two separate incidents."

This time, Shanahan uses this phrase in explaining Giroux's suspension: "When you look at this shift in its entirety . . . "

He does this without even a hint of irony in his voice.

He does this without ever referencing Giroux's explanation that he was "just trying to finish his hit." It's probably not an honest description, but then again, did anyone but Shanahan buy Neal's explanation?

The sad thing here is that Shanahan got it right this time. Giroux was frustrated, was headhunting and deserves his one game. But because the league and its "safety czar" have been all over the map this postseason, these slick video explanations are about as believable as Jordan Zimmermann's contention that he was not trying to hit Hamels a few innings after the Phils' loopy - but painfully honest - lefty plunked Harper.

In suspending Hamels for five games, Major League Baseball decided it would not interfere even in a small way with how the National League East will be decided. Hamels will get an extra day of rest between starts, no big deal. But anyone who witnessed Giroux's Game 6 against Pittsburgh can testify to his ability to change a game, and even a series.

Again, there would be nothing wrong with this suspension.

If it had been arrived at more honestly.


Contact Sam Donnellon at donnels@phillynews.com.

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