After doing a little research, I discovered that regular-season suspensions stemming from spring-training incidents are more frequent than I suspected, especially since Bob Watson took over as MLB’s czar of discipline in 2002.
Cliff Lee, who was suspended five games for throwing at Arizona’s Snyder, joins a list that includes such players as Mike Piazza (pictured above in a television image going after Guillermo Mota in spring of 2003), Vladimir Guerrero, Brad Penny, Ryan Klesko, Scott Spiezio, Melky Cabrera. And the always volatileJulian Tavarez — twice.
Judging from precedent, there’s a decent chance that Lee’s suspension will be reduced, particularly since the incident doesn’t seem to be nearly as intense as some of the others over the years. But on the other hand, if a starting pitcher has his suspension reduced to less than five games, he’s not being hit with the loss of a turn. Perhaps Watson will decide that having Lee’s first start pushed back is penalty enough. The Mariners are going to push to have Lee’s expected appeal heard as soon as possible so they can form their pitching plans accordingly.
Here is a summary of all the spring-training-based suspensions I could find, dating back to 1997:
March 1997: Cardinals relief pitcher T.J. Mathews admitted he threw at Bret Boone, then with the Reds. Mathews was suspended for six games, and lost his appeal.
March 2000: Giants infielder Russ Davis charged the mound on Cubs pitcher Julian Tavarez, who gave him a flying dropkick. Davis was upset when Tavarez, after striking him out, dropped to his knee, and the two exchanged words before Davis charged. Tavarez served a five-game suspension, and Davis was suspended for two games (reduced from three after appeal; Tavarez lost his appeal).
March 2002: A pair of incidents between the Padres and Angels led by a four-game suspension for San Diego first baseman Ryan Klesko and a seven-game suspension for pitcher Bobby Jones. For the Angels, Scott Spiezio was suspended five games and Troy Glaus two.
Earlier in the game, the Angels’ Aaron Sele hit Klesko in the back with a pitch, said to be retaliation for Klesko spending too much time admiring a homer off Sele the previous year. Klesko charged the mound. Jones later hit Glaus with a pitch, setting off another incident.
Sele was fined but not suspended.
“What we’re trying to do is let them know this kind of behavior won’t be condoned,” said Watson, who had recently replaced Frank Robinson as MLB’s vice-president of discipline.
March, 2003: Marlins pitcher Brad Penny threw a pair of inside pitches to Expos slugger Vladimir Guerrero. After the second one brushed Guerrero’s jersey, he began walking to the mound in what one story described as “a menacing fashion.” Benches emptied, Penny and Guerrero “exchanged curses and wild punches that did not come close to connecting.”
Guerrero was suspended for three games, Penny for five. Montreal infielder Jose Macias, who was involved in the ensuing scuffle, was suspended for two games.
Guerrero dropped his appeal in exchange for the commissioner’s office reducing it to two games. Penny appealed, but his suspension was upheld. Macias didn’t appeal.
March 2003: Dodgers reliever Guillermo Mota was suspended five games for hitting the Mets’ Mike Piazza with a pitch. Mota was suspended five games, reduced to four after appeal. Piazza, who charged the mound and later went into the Dodgers clubhouse in search of Mota, was suspended five games. The picture at the top of this post is taken from a televised broadcast of that fight.
March 2003: Phillies manager Larry Bowa was suspended one game for his ejection in a spring training game that resulted in a bench-clearing incident between Philadelphia and Toronto. After being ejected, Bowa continued jawing with Blue Jays pitcher Roy Halladay, who had hit Jim Thome earlier in the game. Both benches emptied, and Bowa had to be restrained by several people.
Bowa lost his appeal and had to sit out the Phillies’ game against Atlanta on April 8.
March 2004: Tigers manager Alan Trammell was suspended one game, and pitcher Nate Cornejo was suspended five games, for an incident in a spring training game a week earlier. The suspensions were handed down four games into the regular season. Cornejo hit Philadelphia’s Ricky Ledee during an exhibition game after the umpires had warned both teams. The warning stemmed from the Phillies’ Vicente Padilla beaning Detroit’s Carlos Pena earlier in the game.
March 2006: Boston reliever Julian Tavarez (again) was suspended 10 days (not games) for “violent and unsportsmanlike actions” after punching Tampa Bay’s Joey Gathright. MLB said it made the penalty days rather than games because as a reliever, Tavarez’s usage was unpredictable.
The incident occurred in the eighth inning of a spring game when Tavarez tagged Gathright in a play at the plate. Gathright claimed Tavarez was stepping on his forearm and attempted to push his leg out of the way. Tavarez responded with a right hand to Gathright’s jaw.
March 2007: Rockies pitcher Jeff Francis was suspended five games and Colorado manager Clint Hurdle one game after an incident with San Diego. Francisco threw behind the Padres’ Kevin Kouzmanoff after a warning had already been issued as the result of San Diego’s Doug Brocail hitting Matt Holliday with a pitch. Three days earlier, Brocail had hit Troy Tulowitzki with a pitch.
Francis appealed, but dropped his appeal on April 10 and served the suspension.
March 2008: Shelley Duncan and Melky Cabrera of the Yankees were each suspended three games after a fight with the Rays. The Rays’ Jonny Gomes was suspended two games.
Duncan slid spikes-up into Tampa Bay second baseman Akinori Iwamura, sparking a benches-clearing incident. Cabrera was charged with “violent and aggressive actions,” with the Rays claming he punched third baseman Evan Longoria in the back of the head. Gomes tackled Duncan after the slide (pictured above).
Both Cabrera and Duncan had their suspensions reduced to two games, staggered. Gomes’ suspension was reduced to one game.
(Photos by Associated Press)