King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Crime and punishment: Jose Offerman's swinging bat draws more fire than Juan Marichal's in 1965. Plus: Prince Fielder's suspension is too much -- and too lax.

Published August 16, 2007 11:00AM (EDT)

Shades of Marichal vs. Roseboro: Former major league infielder Jose Offerman was charged with two counts of second-degree assault after he hit the opposing team's pitcher and catcher with his bat Tuesday in an independent minor league game in Bridgeport, Conn.

Offerman, 38, last played in the majors two years ago with the New York Mets. He's been playing with the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League, a club that's employed many a faded big-leaguer in recent years. He homered in his first at-bat against the Bridgeport Bluefish Tuesday, then was hit by a pitch in his second. He charged the mound and swung his bat as many as three times, according to news reports quoting Bridgeport manager Tommy John.

Pitcher Matt Beech raised his hands to defend himself, and Offerman broke the middle finger on the lefty's right hand when he connected. Catcher John Nathans was hit in the head on Offerman's backswing and sustained a concussion. Offerman was ejected, as were Beech and John, since the incident started with, in the judgment of the umpire, an intentional beaning.

Interesting to note how crime and punishment has changed over the years. The Offerman incident is strikingly similar to the famous Aug. 22, 1965, brawl between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants. In that one, Giants pitcher Juan Marichal, who was batting, took offense at Dodgers catcher John Roseboro whizzing return throws back to pitcher Sandy Koufax an inch or so from Marichal's head.

Roseboro was doing this because Koufax had refused to throw at Marichal in retaliation for Marichal brushing back a couple of Dodgers batters. The Dominican Dandy turned around to confront Roseboro, who stood up and whipped off his mask. Marichal bonked him over the head with his bat and a massive brawl ensued.

Roseboro missed two games with a gash and a concussion, and Marichal was fined $1,750 -- about $11,000 in 2007 money -- and suspended for eight games. So he missed two starts.

Aside from being brought up on assault charges, Offerman was suspended indefinitely by the Atlantic League, with a ruling on his ultimate status promised by the end of the week. It seems likely he'll be banned for life, and that hardly anyone will call that unfair, even those few folks who care about the goings-on in the Atlantic League.

Judging by similar incidents in the NHL and NBA recently, I'd guess that if Offerman had wielded his bat in the majors, he'd be looking at a suspension of about a year.

To be fair, there were complaints in 1965, mostly from Dodgers fans, that Marichal's punishment was too light. But it's hard to imagine anyone in 1965 getting anything like the suspensions handed down to perps like Marty McSorley, Todd Bertuzzi and the participants in the NBA brawls in Detroit and New York.

It's even harder to imagine someone today wielding a bat and getting suspended for a week and fined 11 grand.

What happened in the meantime? Lots of things. There's a massive, 24-7 media, for one thing, and an attendant consciousness of public relations by the sports leagues, who don't want to be seen as condoning violence, about which there's more sensitivity than there was 40 years ago. The athletes themselves are also much more valuable commodities than they were in the '60s, so it figures that their employers go to greater lengths to protect them.

I think suspensions are getting longer because the leagues have figured out that, at least on the big-league level, the players are so rich that even massive fines don't act as much of a deterrent. At least they should be figuring that out.

Offerman posted $10,000 bond and is due in court Aug. 23. At least as a player, his attack on Beech figures to be the last we hear from him. Let's hope it's the last we hear of incidents like it for a good long time.

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Serve at your convenience [PERMALINK]

Speaking of crime and punishment, Milwaukee Brewers slugger Prince Fielder was suspended for three games by the commissioner's office Wednesday for "aggressive conduct" while arguing with home plate umpire Wally Bell Sunday over a called third strike. Fielder, who was ejected from Sunday's game in Houston, was also fined an undisclosed amount.

The Brewers, leading the Chicago Cubs by a game and a half and the St. Louis Cardinals by four and a half in the National League Central Division, were scheduled to host the Cards Wednesday night and Thursday afternoon, then play a three-game home series against the fifth-place Cincinnati Reds over the weekend.

What do you want to bet Fielder will appeal the suspension, play against St. Louis, then drop the appeal Friday and serve it with the lowly Reds in town? Or do you think he'll gamble that baseball won't get around to scheduling his appeal hearing until after the rosters expand Sept. 1?

Is there a good reason why, three days after the incident, the commissioner's office couldn't have set up a real-world or videoconference appeal hearing for Fielder by now? This being a rhetorical conversation, the answer is no. Major League Baseball needs to change this rule and stop letting players choose their own punishment.

And that concludes the hobbyhorse portion of our program, except for this: A three-game suspension is way too stiff a punishment for what Fielder did, which was belly up to Bell while arguing with him.

There's another study I'd like to see, since we were just talking about this subject yesterday: Is there a correlation between a player's race and the severity of fines and suspensions? Fielder, who is black, is a big ol' dude, so he's pretty menacing when he's up in your grill. But is that the only reason? Would Jonathan Broxton have gotten the same suspension?

Maybe so. I don't know. That's why I'd like to see that study.

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Odd little coincidence [PERMALINK]

Just one of those funny little coincidences, that Jose Offerman story. Ironies, for those of you who work in the TV business.

I'd just seen Offerman's name a day or so ago when I heard Wednesday morning about his meltdown at the mound. Where was it?

Oh yeah: It was when I was writing about Phil Rizzuto's death for Wednesday's column. On Rizzuto's Baseball Reference page, who's listed as the No. 1 most similar batter to Rizzuto? None other than Jose Offerman.

Previous column: Study: Umps biased?

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