King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Baseball's justice system is in need of an overhaul. We have the answers. Plus: The killer timeout strikes again.


King Kaufman
April 3, 2008 2:00PM (UTC)

Columnist Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star hopped on one of this column's favorite hobbyhorses by way of grousing about the Blue Jays getting beat Tuesday by New York Yankees center fielder Melky Cabrera, who was supposed to have been suspended for the first three games of the year after a spring training fight. Cabrera is playing while he appeals the suspension.

The fight, in which Cabrera allegedly punched Tampa Bay Rays prospect Evan Longoria, happened March 12.

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"That's 21 days ago," Griffin writes. "Appeals are heard in the offices of Major League Baseball in New York. We are in New York. The hearing on the appeal should have been held Monday, or at least [Tuesday] morning. It's ridiculous.

"Anyway, the way major league rules work, Cabrera had the right to appeal and, thus, was allowed to play in the opener. He will probably wait for this weekend against the Rays or when the Yanks travel to Kansas City and drop the appeal, immediately serving his three days against an inferior opponent. Baseball justice?"

Yeah. Baseball's court system is obviously way overdue for an overhaul. In the old days, a player would appeal, then there'd be a hearing at the league office whenever his club's train pulled into New York. That resulted in a lot of players serving their suspensions against the New York teams. That is, when they didn't drop the appeal strategically, as Griffin suggests Cabrera might do, to serve against a bad team.

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Baseball's gotten better about that in recent years, though it's still at times amazingly poky about getting around to the hearing. In today's world of videoconferencing and whatnot, there's really no good reason why any appeal hearing couldn't be held within a day or two.

It's not as if either the defense or the prosecution has to marshal a complex case. The league handed down Cabrera's penalty several days after the fight because someone at the commissioner's office spotted him punching Longoria on the tape of the incident. Cabrera's defense: "I didn't hit anybody."

If he didn't hit, you must acquit! Get a statement from Longoria, run the video, hear what Cabrera has to say and make a ruling. Tick tock.

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But even if baseball takes my advice on that -- and nobody ever takes my advice on anything, no matter how brilliant it is, which is why we still have free throws and punts -- there will still be a problem.

Let's say MLB got its act together for a quick hearing and upheld the suspension. Cabrera punched a Tampa Bay Ray. Why should he serve his suspension against the Blue Jays?

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So here, at long last, a century and a half into this whole baseball thing, is my solution to baseball's justice-system woes.

If a player appeals a suspension, the hearing should be held as quickly as possible, within a day or two. It should be considered an emergency meeting, with the principals clearing their schedules as needed to get it done. We're talking about the eligibility of active players in games on the championship schedule here. It's top priority.

Now here's the big change: Should the suspension be upheld, the player must serve it against the offended team. If Cabrera punched a Ray, he should serve against the Rays. If the series is over by the time the appeal is heard, he sits out the next time the teams get together. A five-game suspension, which is rare, might be split up over a couple of series.

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And here's kind of a fun part of this unbelievably perfect new rule: If there are not enough games remaining between the two teams to cover the suspension, the offended team gets to decide what team the miscreant serves his suspension against. If there had been only two Yankees-Rays games left when Cabrera got suspended for three for punching Longoria, he would have sat out those two, and then the Rays would have been able to choose which team would benefit from that third non-Melky game.

In most cases, the offended team would probably more or less flip a coin. If the Rays are 20 games out, they don't care who benefits from a Yankee suspension, as long as it's not the team closest to them in the standings -- probably the Blue Jays, funny enough. But imagine if the Rays and Yankees were in a pennant race. They'd make Cabrera serve against the best team remaining on New York's schedule.

Bud Selig, make this happen.

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The deadly timeout [PERMALINK]

As long as we're hobbling around on hobbyhorses, here's one last, last note on Davidson, the last underdog standing in the NCAA Tournament before losing to Kansas in the Midwest regional final Sunday.

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I can't quite say the outcome of that game would have been different had Davidson not called an unnecessary timeout with 7:35 to go, but I can say the momentum turned abruptly in Kansas' favor at that point.

Davidson had been on a roll. Bryant Barr had come off the bench to nail three straight 3-pointers, part of an 11-2 run that gave the Wildcats a 51-47 lead. The teams traded misses, and after Kansas missed again, Davidson coach Bob McKillop called time as Stephen Curry walked the ball to the front court.

McKillop had something he really needed to say to his team or he felt that a substitution was so crucial it couldn't wait another few seconds. Since the clock had just ducked under 8:00, the next stoppage of play would have resulted in a media timeout anyway.

We'll never know what would have happened if that timeout hadn't been called, but we do know what did happen after it. Kansas scored five unanswered points to take the lead back before the media timeout. It eventually became a 12-2 run for the Jayhawks.

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It was as if the timeout gave the Davidson players a chance to think about where they were and what they were doing, and they fell apart.

McKillop did a great job to get his team as far as it went -- or he did a great job not interfering with Curry carrying them as long as he did with his hot shooting. But at a crucial time, like most college coaches, he just couldn't let his players play.

Timeouts. They're dangerous things.

Previous column: American League preview

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  • King Kaufman

    King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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