Top of mind for me this week are the appeals of the New Orleans Saints’ GM and coaches accused of (at a minimum) ignoring a bounty system in their organization, as well as the suspension – and planned appeal — of Cleveland Indians pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez. Jimenez was recently suspended for five games, and fined, for intentionally throwing at (and hitting) Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.
Anyone who has watched too much Law & Order (like me) is familiar with the apparent appeal of an appeal. When judgment goes against the defendant, his attorney immediately rises and shouts “We will appeal, Your Honor.” And so it goes in sports. With a few notable exceptions, if you get a suspension and/or are fined, you appeal.
Because appeals proceedings tend to be very secretive, it’s not always clear what is being appealed. Behind closed doors, is the accused claiming his innocence or just arguing that the penalty is too severe? Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun reportedly focused less on his innocence when appealing, than on improper protocol in the handling of his urine sample. He won, and became the first Major League player to successfully appeal a suspected violation of baseball’s Drug Treatment and Prevention Program.
Total vindication like Braun’s is unusual, however. The norm is a reduction in the fine/suspension after appeal, which makes the process feel more like a shady negotiation. It encourages players and coaches to appeal, because really… what have they got to lose? When was the last time you heard about an appeal resulting in a BIGGER fine or suspension?
Let’s consider Ubaldo Jimenez. He threw at Tulowitzki, and pretty much everyone knows it. “I shouldn’t be suspended,” he said. “Players are hit by pitches every day… I can’t get the ball to go where I want every time.” (If you’ve watched him pitch lately, you know the last part of that statement is true.)
Too bad Jimenez was so vocal about resenting his treatment in Colorado when he was traded to Cleveland; it’s well known that there was already bad blood with Tulowitzki because of it. After drilling him, Jimenez accused Tulowitzki of calling him “names”. So, his claim that it wasn’t score settling rings pretty false.
Very rarely, a sporting professional will consider appealing… but ultimately back away, and accept his punishment. Last year Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina was suspended for five games for bumping, and possibly spitting on, umpire Rob Drake after a questionable call. His statement:
“I am sorry for my actions and apologize for letting my emotions get the best of me… I have great respect for the umpires and the job they do. I accept full responsibility for my actions and will begin serving my suspension tonight.”
Molina may have truly wanted to own up to his bad behavior, and take his punishment like a man. Or perhaps he just knew the league had him dead to rights, going nuts on Drake. Regardless, it was refreshing.
While I wanted to be similarly impressed that former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams declined to appeal his indefinite suspension, it felt a bit less noble once I heard audio of him seeming to promise cash to any player who made a game-ending hit on San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Alex Smith during the playoffs. You don’t get more dead to rights than that, I figure.
I will be disappointed if the Ubaldo Jimenez suspension is reduced. As it stands, he’ll miss maybe two starts? Baseball needs to send a message: There are no excuses for pitching at a hitter. It’s nonnegotiable.
Will the one-year suspension of New Orleans head coach Sean Payton withstand appeal? Payton’s argument that he didn’t know about the team’s bounty program doesn’t pass the smell test. As it stands, he got a one-year suspension that allows him to work in broadcasting (for example) and apparently does not entirely prohibit interaction with New Orleans staff and players. That’s not exactly taking him to the woodshed. A reduction in that punishment would be disgraceful.
I think Payton would be a great test case for INCREASING a suspension when an appeal is obviously frivolous and disingenuous, similar to how a judge can penalize civil litigants who pursue frivolous lawsuits.
At last, a teachable moment I can really get behind!