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Stephen Cannella
May 15, 2000
Poison PenExpected to be one of the Rangers' strong points, their relief corps has been absorbing a Texas-sized pounding
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May 15, 2000

Baseball

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Frank Robinson, baseball's new discipline czar, has sent a message. On April 27 he handed down 82 games in suspensions and $21,000 in fines to combatants in the Tigers-White Sox melee five days earlier. Then on May 3 he suspended Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez for five games for plunking the Indians' Roberto Alomar on April 30.

Robinson's point? That bean-ball wars and bench-clearing brawls will no longer be tolerated. "They're cracking down," says Detroit third baseman Dean Palmer, who was banned for eight games and fined $3,000 for his role in the dustup with Chicago. "If they're going to give Pedro [five games] for what went on, I guess they're pretty serious."

There's no question that the well-respected Robinson, a hard-nosed player in his day and a Hall of Earner, lends credibility to the discipline process, which in the past was handled by the league presidents. "I like guys who have been in the same shoes making decisions for me," says Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell. Still, the harsh penalties have caught many players and managers off guard, and have raised the question of whether baseball, like the NHL and NBA, needs to codify its punishments for violent behavior. "It should be like hockey, where they automatically hit the third man in," says A's manager Art Howe.

Robinson's handling of the Chicago- Detroit mess, one of the ugliest brawls in recent years, and of the Martinez flap, in which one player from each team was hit by a pitch and benches cleared twice but no punches were thrown, was swift, firm—and inconsistent. For example, Palmer, who rushed the field for a second round of brawling after having been ejected in an earlier scrape, received the same suspension as managers Jerry Manuel and Phil Gamer, who were on the field as peacekeepers. "Palmer should have gotten a month," says one American League manager. "Everybody knows if you've been ejected, you can't come back on the field."

Martinez's punishment highlights the discrepancy between disciplining starting pitchers and every-day players. Martinez, who dropped his appeal of his penalty after pitching last Saturday, began serving his suspension the next day, meaning he could take his turn in the rotation on Friday with an extra day of rest. Says the Yankees' Tino Martinez, "If a position player has to miss five games, a starter should have to miss three four or five starts."

It's unrealistic to think a new discipline code would eliminate brushbacks and fighting; as Giants manager Dusty Baker says, "The death penalty hasn't stopped people from killing." Yet standardized punishments-say, an automatic five games for a hitter who rushes the mound and two starts for a pitcher found guilty of head-hunting—would at least establish fair and definite consequences for players who lose their cool on the field.

Successful Comeback
Matt Lawton Stands In

Twins outfielder Matt Lawton, who was hit in the face with a fastball thrown by Reds lefthander Dennys Reyes last June, returned to the lineup before the end of July, but his recovery was only beginning. After sitting out six weeks while his fractured right eye socket healed, a rattled Lawton struggled in the season's final two months. "I wasn't reacting to fast-balls, and on any pitch inside, my first movement was back," says Lawton, 28, who over the winter had recurring nightmares about being beaned. "I didn't know if I'd ever be the player I was."

It seems he will be. Through Sunday the lefthanded-hitting Lawton was batting .363 and was tied for first in the American League in doubles (13) and was third in hits (45). More important, he was playing without the fear he felt as recently as spring training. "Being hit, the nightmares, I don't worry about any of that stuff anymore," says Lawton.

Last season was a fright for Lawton even before the beaning. After a breakout year in 1998, in which he led Minnesota with 21 home runs, 77 RBIs and 91 runs, he showed up in spring training having barely swung a bat or worked out all winter. "I thought I had the game licked and didn't have to work hard in the off-season," he says. "All of a sudden I couldn't hit."

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