It’s a shame, really, when something like Sunday afternoon’s basebrawl is what you need to discover a particular player is a decent-seeming fellow. Even when he’s willing to call a man who goaded him obscenely into a fight a loser. Now it still remains to be seen whom commissioner Rob Manfred will suspend more heavily.
Will the hammer fall harder on Oakland Athletics outfielder Ramon Laureano for charging the Houston Astros dugout? On Astros hitting coach Alex Cintron for climbing the dugout steps forward, urging Laureano to bring it, after calling Laureano something Latino men consider the most vile insult on earth?
Suspensions were expected Monday afternoon, so swiftly because the brief skirmish by the dugout violated MLB’s tightened COVID-19 safety protocols that enjoin against such rumbles no matter who did what.
By 7:30 pm Pacific time Monday, though, suspension lengths hadn’t even been rumoured, even if a host of observers expected if not hoped that Cintron would get the harder hammer drop for being the adult in the room who wasn’t.
On Monday, Laureano told reporters including ESPN’s Jeff Passan that despite being hit by pitches three times over the weekend including twice on Sunday he didn’t hold it against the Astros. Not even against Brandon Bailey, the Astros relief pitcher for whom Laureano was traded by the Astros to the A’s in the first place when they were minor leaguers in 2017.
Bailey drilled Laureano in the fifth on Sunday afternoon. Another Astros reliever, Humberto Castellanos, plunked Laureano on Friday night in extra innings and Sunday in the seventh. Laureano wasn’t exactly alone; his fellow A’s outfielder Robbie Grossman got it twice on Friday night. Laureano (five) and Grossman (four) lead the parade of A’s (fourteen) taking one for the team so far this truncated season.
The latter triggered Laureano to pantomime a proper slider grip toward Castellanos before he took first base and returned chirpings wafting from the Astros dugout. But the chirpings apparently included Cintron referring to Laureano as the crude euphemism for maternal fornicator.
“[Saying] in Spanish something you don’t say about my mother,” is how Laureano put it to Passan. In places where they don’t play professional baseball, saying that to most Latino men can get you beaten senseless, assuming you can be beaten into a pre-existing condition. It can also get you stabbed or even shot.
Cintron being Latino himself should have known better. Suppose the reverse was true and it was Laureano who called Cintron a maternal fornicator? Would Cintron have resisted the urge to charge his fellow Latino with drawing and quartering on his mind?
We’ll never know what Laureano would have done if he could have reached Cintron Sunday afternoon. The coach who urged Laureano to bring it after the insult stepped aside and let other Astros do his dirty work. Except that Laureano’s former A’s teammate, Astros reserve catcher Dustin Garneau, tackled him specifically to keep him from getting bloodied.
The insult resonated with Laureano more than many of his peers, since his parents courageously enough sent him from the Dominican Republic to the United States alone so he could chase his baseball dreams. The chase has borne fruit; Laureano in three Show seasons has become something of a stealth star who’s thought to have the game’s best outfield throwing arm and showed some pop at the plate in the bargain last year.
Ask and he’ll tell you the only thing he hates about playing major league baseball is being away from his family. “Every day I wake up with the motivation to be with them,” he told Passan. “They sacrificed their life for me.”
They made the tough decision to let their own kid go to the States by himself and follow his own dreams. I’ve been away from my family for 10 years. It’s tough to be away from them. Any chance I have to be with them, I feel like I’m in heaven. So for [Cintron] to say that to me about my mom, it doesn’t sit well. I’ve got a fire inside me right away in that second.
A’s manager Bob Melvin swore to Cintron hurling the vile epithet at Laureano. Cintron denies he said that specific compound word. The A’s wouldn’t let Laureano tangle with the Astros alone. Their catcher Austin Allen took down Astros catcher Martin Maldonado, who was behind the plate calling every Astro pitch in the set, including the ones that drilled Laureano and Grossman.
Melvin said Monday that Laureano was remorseful about charging the dugout. “I’m a man, I’m a freaking man,” said Laureano, who accepts a suspension being likely. “Whatever happens, happens. I’ll take it. I couldn’t keep my cool and I should have. And I wasted my time with that guy.”
He even went out of his way to say he didn’t think any Astro pitcher who plunked him over the weekend did so with malice aforethought. “The other days I’ve been on base,” the ex-Astro product said, “we’ve been chitchatting, talking about life and family on the bases. Everything’s great. I get along with everybody on the Astros.”
That would make Laureano another kind of minority this season. Seven-eighths of MLB players, seemingly, wanted the justice Manfred didn’t exact when he immunised Astro players from the 2017-18 electro-cheating. Even if they didn’t dare suggest who’d be the first to deliver or how many would from there.
It might have been turned to one side over the coronavirus world tour, but then Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Joe Kelly served four pungent reminders to two Astros a fortnight ago. Kelly’s eight-game suspension was thought too severe and remains under appeal.
Almost forgotten, too, in Sunday’s rumble by the Bay: Cintron turns out to be suspected of being one of the 2017 men who sent the Astro Intelligence Agency’s illegally pilfered sign intelligence from the monitors to the dugout and to the hitters at the plate. Like the players Manfred handed blanket immunity in return for the Astrogate deets, Cintron escaped the woodshed.
Let’s remind ourselves, too, that not a single Astro batter saw a brushback, knockdown, or plunk all weekend long, no matter how often Grossman and Laureano got dusted or drilled.
The Astros couldn’t possibly have been thrilled that A’s pitcher Mike Fiers, himself a former Astro, blew the whistle on Astrogate last November. The A’s may have been fortunate that their starting rotation schedule meant Fiers facing the Texas Rangers the night before the Astro set started and thus not scheduled to go again until this week against the Los Angeles Angels.
Intentional or no, five weekend Oakland plunks from four Astros pitchers (Zack Greinke plunked Grossman earlier in Friday’s game) was a terrible look for a team against the guys whose ranks include their whistleblower. Even if three of those pitchers are rookies.
Even if Laureano is too decent to entertain the prospect that veteran teammates or even a coach or two might have urged those Astros rooks, none of whose minor league jackets show immunity to hit batsmen, to send some messages meant to shoot the messenger’s enablers.
It’ll be a terrible look, too, if Manfred comes down harder on Laureano for charging the dugout than on Cintron for instigating the charge. But Commissioner Nero seems immune to the looks produced by his fiddling reign of error.