John Lackey fined; Willson Contreras wrongly suspended

One of the things that human beings value the most is consistency. It makes us feel safe by helping us know, to some extent, what we can expect. We can never be fully assured of it, but especially in a baseball game, the players need it.

After home plate umpire Jordan Baker was demonstrably inconsistent in his administration of the strike zone during the early innings of yesterday's game, both John Lackey and Willson Contreras let him know how they felt.

The Carlos Martinez single that should have been a strikeout was the tipping point, but Lackey yelled in Baker's face and Contreras threw down his mask in frustration. Both were tossed, and as we know, the Cubs went on to win anyway.

But today, just hours before their next game against the Cardinals---in the midst of an ultra-important September stretch to decide the division---news has come from MLB that Lackey has been fined and Contreras suspended. The former might be warranted, but the latter is an asinine display of power.

Contreras, having just returned from an injury, has been an immeasurably valuable part of the Cubs offense this season, and especially in the games preceding his injury. The actions that earned him the suspension were as arbitrary as the punishment itself.

He threw his catcher's mask down in frustration, and it happened to bounce and make contact with Baker's leg. Physics are sometimes fickle, and in this case they helped cause the mask to careen in just the right direction. Call it a symbol of the Cubs' season---two steps forward, one, maybe two steps back---but in the immediacy of this series, it's just plain stupid. What the league is suggesting, directly or not, is that if the mask had bounced in a slightly different direction, Contreras would not be facing suspension. Is that what passes for reasonable?

The punishment is arbitrary because the guidelines for these things are as blurry as Baker's strike zone was yesterday afternoon. In a season when umpires staged a bizarre and pathetic protest claiming that players were speaking too harshly to them and have even gone so far as to accuse a major league pitcher of intentionally throwing at an umpire, this punishment comes across like they seized the chance to come down hard on a high-status player on a high-status team.

Whatever the rationale, it's true that Lackey and Contreras probably failed to react as rationally as they should. Sure, in the midst of a tight division race against a longstanding rival, they should probably have stood stoically as Martinez, instead of sitting down in the dugout like even he thought he deserved, drove in a run to give the Cardinals the lead. And this after sliders from the hand of Martinez were being called for strikes, and the same pitch from the and of Lackey were not---an issue that persisted even after Lackey was ejected from the game.

But it's also true that MLB has as much of a responsibility to protect its players---the real product on the field---as it does the men who make the calls. This decision is tilted too far in favor of the umpires, and it attempts to harness the emotions of the players in a way that hinders them.

Contreras is appealing, and the obvious hope for Cubs fans is that he wins this appeal, but it is already too late. The league failed him by putting him in this position at all.

Filed under: General

Tags: Suspensions, Willson Contreras


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  • How many games did Baker get suspended for? That's one of the worst calls I've ever seen.

  • I'm going to disagree a little with here Jared. Yes it was a bad call and it was preceded by other questionable calls, but Contreras appeared to be out of control and when start slamming catchers masks, who knows where it's going to bounce. In addition Javy game running in to hold Willson from further contact and it took a pretty good effort on Baez' s part to do it. Maddon wasn't much of a blockade. Hopefully, William get a game of the suspension knocked off.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Willson, stupid spell check.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    All sorts of forces coming together in a moment; This umpire after watching the game replay this morning was dominating the game from his judgement. Cubs reacted, first emotionally and paid the price, then the team reacted and a negative happening turned into a positive. Hope this is a defining binding point where the team see's that the entire world is against them and they still will overcome. Contreras is an example, signal to the players to cool it. A second one will be what if any things are done without fanfare to Baker, 'he sucks', or at least did yesterday, 'he sucked'. Contreras's appeal must be done strategically timed outside the 10 games remaining with their chasers. Examples are what they are, unfair and necessary.

  • In reply to rnemanich:

    BTW, my biased but educated view is that the Cubs have an imbalance against them with calls by the umps this year, so they better know the world is against them.

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    In reply to rnemanich:

    You mentioned the same anti-Cub calls last year too and it all came out OK in the end. Right?

  • I just think the suspension part was a little too harsh as well....Maybe its MLB's way of putting its foot down given all the controversy this year we have heard regarding players vs umpires (I'm thinking Ian Kinsler). If MLB is so willing to suspend a player like it did Willson, perhaps MLB should also disclose just what type of training and corrective action may go into grading the performances of umpires when they are behind the plate? Blatantly missed calls happen, but when it is consistent with an umpire year in and year out (like we hear during baseball telecasts that so and so has a generous outside corner) if erroneous calls are consistent and MLB grades its umpires, how and why do these patterns continue?

  • Bad take. He threw his mask, it hit the ump. 2 games. So what? Take your punishment and move on.

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    In reply to TheMightyGin:


  • In reply to TheMightyGin:

    A big part of the problem is that players have received less punishment for doing much worse things. In an ideal world, of course I agree that he should not have thrown his mask, but it's not as if he was throwing the thing at the umpire. Again, had the trajectory of the mask been slightly different, this suspension probably doesn't happen, which should show us just how silly it is.

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    In reply to Jared Wyllys:

    Don't throw the mask, and you don't have to worry about physics or potential trajectory. Unfortunately, Willson earned that suspension. He and Lackey have to be better than that in a playoff chase.

  • Nothing wrong with appealing and dropping it before the appeal could be heard on Monday though.

  • Sounds as though Contreras appealed. I hope mlb doesn't sit on it until the Brewer series. Team will need Willson then as well.

  • It was a terrible call no doubt. It could have cost us the biggest game of the year. I couldn't believe Lackey didn't get tossed after his tantrum right after the call. It was obvious he'd lost his composure and I fully expected Martinez to walk; instead Lackey hung a curve and he got a hit.

    Lackey's tantrum was an embarrassment. But he doesn't get it. This is one of the reasons I didn't like him at all before he got here. I've grown to respect him as The Old War Horse battling his guts out. But bad calls are part of the game and he's always been a big cry baby. It's all on him, not the ump. And he then ends up fueling Willy's emotions and, so, here we are.

  • In reply to TTP:

    Right where we need to be.

  • In reply to TTP:

    I only glimpsed part of it, but Len has become a bigger homer than someone's favorite announcer Hawk, which such stuff as "Lackey was only heading in that direction to back up the throw" and "Lackey was only talking to the umpire while on his way to the plate." It didn't look that way.

    Rob Manfred doesn't seem convinced to turn the game over to roboump, but until he is, you don't charge humanoid ump.

  • I believe Willson can drop his appeal at any time. Monday seems a reasonable day to drop the appeal, then serving it on Tuesday and Wednesday.

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    In reply to TexasCubsFan:

    That's what I fully expect to happen.

  • I agree with Cliff. Where is the suspension and fine for Baker? His call launched the entire scene. Enough of these umps becoming the story line. The best ump is when you don't even realize they were on the field making calls.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    My only problem with that it appeared like he might have just missed the call because he was fooled by the cross up..

  • In reply to 44slug:

    The ump should be watching the ball, not where the gloves ends up after the catch.

  • In reply to 2016 Cubs:

    I think the ump realised his mistake the instant that he made the call. He was having a rough go yesterday behind the plate. In other words, it was an honest mistake. Time to 'play ball'.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    The ump is never crossed up. He doesn't know what pitch is being thrown.

    There appears to be zero accountability for the umpires.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    Expecting perfection from them is unreasonable. They will make mistakes, even worse than this at times. 1985 WS, anyone?

    We have replay that can fix most of the serious mistakes. Eventually ball/strike will too.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Perfection. Hardly. The pitch split the center of the plate thigh high. I don't think it is expecting perfection to get THAT PITCH right 100% of the time. Close calls on the corner or pitches at the upper and lower boundaries--yep I get those are tough and some will be missed. Not the pitch that started the entire issue.

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    In reply to Michael Ernst:

    I had to ump an unimportant tourney once and swore I would never complain about umps/officials ever again. We all make mistake. As you say, expecting perfection is unreasonable.

    One of my favorite stories in baseball recently was the Tigers pitcher who lost. Perfect game with an even MORE blatantly missed call. After the game the pitcher was asked about it and his comment, not long after the blown call was, "Nobody's perfect.". How brilliant was that? Later the u.p apologized to him but in the heat of the moment to come up with that line was brilliant.

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    In reply to Joel Mayer:

    Sorry for the typos. The Tigers pitcher would have had a perfect game. And after the game the ump apologized.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    I think that that is a stretch. Umps do a good job. In a perfect world an ump would not miss an obvious strike.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    I realize they miss. An ump cannot be crossed up like you wrote. I don't see how saying they cannot be crossed up is a stretch.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    I said fooled by the cross up, not that the ump was crossed up.

  • No denying that it was an umpire's terrible call that led to a hit that gave the Cardinals a lead in a crucial game and that it's therefore natural that Lackey, Contreras and others will be upset. That said, it was the players who are responsible for their reactions and the punishments are consistent with what others have gotten in similar situations in the past. Take your medicine, learn from it and move on.

  • My take is this - I'm all in favor of ball and strike calls being automated. But until they are, teams and catchers know very well that pitch framing is a part of the game. Had Willson done a good (even decent) job of framing that pitch it likely would have been called a strike. That doesn't excuse the umpire from what should be his job regardless of framing, but a player shouldn't go postal when they didn't properly do what they know to be their job.

  • I thought Jordan Baker handled himself very well during that situation.

    Like they even said on the broadcast, "You're responsible for your own equipment." If you throw your equipment and it hits a official you're subject to fine and/or suspension in any sport, period.

  • In reply to Ben20:

    *an official

  • In reply to Ben20:

    Agreed. This was not an instance of an ump grandstanding or trying to make himself the center of attention or overacting to a situation. He blew a call. He knew it. He has no recourse to fix it. He moved on. The Cubs players did not. He acted professionally throughout the proceeding events.

  • There is no way to prove this, and it will play out in front of us, but if John and Willson take the high road without the fines and suspension, maybe we lose that game and the edge Memanich alludes to in order win the division. Go Cubs!

  • Contreras and Lackey got what they deserved. To call their actions childish is an insult to children.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Ha! You having met my family.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    To be honest, Contreras and Lackey got off easy. You have to uphold the integrity of the game. Bad calls happen, deal with it appropriately and professionally.

    However, I have always maintained that the fans, who essentially pay the bills, should have full knowledge of any disciplinary actions given to the umpires. The fans have the right to know whether they are going to see a well officiated game.

  • I look at it this way. If Molina had done the same thing, we'd (mostly) find ourselves and fellow Cub fans liking the suspension.

    There has to be a line drawn somewhere and "intent" - such as it may have been - can't figure into it. Throwing equipment and having it strike an official, as discussed above, can't happen, no matter who is involved.

    Lackey is a known hothead. Contreras added fuel to the flare-up and while I admire the intensity and passion he shows in games, he does have to keep it under control, at least to the extent that it won't hamper the team's results on the field.

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    In reply to MN Exile:

    LOL, you are on to something cuz if this was Wainwright and Molina, we would want Wainwright w a 5 game suspension ( so he misses a start) and Molina w at least 3 games.

    YOUR 100% right.

  • Jared as a writer u can't have that type of heading in the title. It make you look as bad as Tim mccarver.
    As I commented yesterday this would happen. It was a dumb move on both players. I way worried it was gonna be 3 game. We can't get mad at the consequences. He acted inappropriate and now we want to reach out like little kids and say what about so and so. Man up and except the responsibility for his actions and just hope it doesn't hurt us.

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    My opinion on the suspension remains the same, hence the headline. Thankfully, the Cubs won anyway, and again today, and if the suspension is upheld, Contreras can serve it before the Brewers series.

  • I love willison's emotion he reminds me of my all time favorite cub zambrano BUT he got too fired up & deserved to get suspended.Just appeal it so he play during the cards series this weekend and see if mlb can cut it to 1 game or serve it during the rays series.The cubs absolutely need contreras playing for the 8 games at milwaukee and st louis.

  • In reply to bolla:

    Actually, Willson reminded me of one of my all-time favorite Cubs, the #9 catcher whose picture appears next to the "Cubs Den" title at the top of the blog.

    I don't recall Randy Hundley ever throwing his mask and getting suspended, but he sure could get hopping mad and jump up and down.

  • With Avila and Rivera we can cover if need be. And now that Addison is back we can cover for El Mago too.

  • IF MLB announced some some discipline for Baker - I probably could live with the 1 game suspension. MLB clearly would fear it would set a precedent for players to blatantly disrespect the officiating crew without more repercussion than in-game ejection.

    But the protection of the umpires and the lack of transparency for teams/fans for these umps to be held accountable is groundswell.

  • In reply to TheCHISportsFan:

    What are you gonna suspend the umpire for?? A miss call? Then we'd have no umps.

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    He was as bad as CB Buckner, but he did stand for a few of Lackey's stares and yells. Still, his strike zone was not consistent and that matters. Actually, today Hendricks is "missing" on the corners. Something really has to be done about this.
    Willson should be suspended for hitting the ump with his mask. That can't happen. I hope it's reduced to 1 game though.
    Learn from it and move on. I hope the umps do the same.

  • Best way to come out of this ahead is just TCB.........

  • My guess is the appeal drops the suspension to one game.

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