Last night's Diamondbacks-Dodgers brawl was one of the ugliest in recent memory. Punches were thrown. Coaches were fighting with each other. A coach nearly got thrown over a rail into the dugout like he was being ejected from the ring in the Royal Rumble.
As Vin Scully so eloquently put it, "That's fertilizer."
The whole affair was a giant mess, not only in terms of the brawl but also the interpretations of the "unwritten rules" pertaining to retaliation for hit by pitches and throwing at players' heads. Frankly, both teams and MLB are lucky that nobody got seriously hurt.
No doubt in the coming days we will hear about the fines and suspensions the league will hand out for the debacle. Someone from the league office will surely also issue some sort of verbal wag of the finger to the teams for their behavior. What the league won't do is implement any changes to their system to prevent such ugliness from happening again. That is a shame, because MLB actually has several options at their disposal to curb this behavior yet they have never employed them.
The first thing they could do is really drop the hammer on the offending parties in terms of suspensions. Under normal circumstances, the pitcher that intentionally threw at the batter gets hit with a suspension that causes him to miss one start. If he is a reliever, he misses a handful of games. Any position player that earns a suspension typically gets banned for a few games, one week at the most if he has a history of such behavior like Carlos Quentin did when he earned an eight-game suspension for charging the mound against Zack Greinke earlier this year.
Those punishments do hurt the players and teams, but only marginally so. For a lot of teams, they just consider it the price of doing business and protecting their players. So they have to use a spot starter once. Big deal. Given the regularity with which these events occur, it is pretty safe to say that the current system of penalties is not acting as an effective deterrent.
If the league were to greatly ramp up the length of suspensions, players and managers would all think twice before getting involved in all of this petty retaliation. If a starting pitcher knows he is going to have to miss four or five starts if he intentionally hits a batter and a position player or reliever knows he is going to be banned for four weeks if they instigate a bench-clearing incident, that gives them a lot to think about. Not only does the player go into the situation knowing that they are going to deprive their team of their services for nearly a month over some misplaced sense of machismo, they are costing themselves a big fat chunk of their paycheck. As much as it might hurt a player's pride to not protect a teammate who got dotted in the back last inning, it hurts a lot more to take such a big blow to your own wallet.
The long suspensions also pass the buck to the managers quite a bit. In many cases, these beanballs and brushbacks come at the direct order or tacit approval of the manager. Now if the manager wants to retaliate, he has to make the conscious decision to sacrifice a player, potentially a very good one, for an extended period of time. Say what you want about being gritty and tough, any manager that gives such a command to a player would be downright derelict of their duty.
Alas, because testosterone inevitably leads to grown men doing stupid things, beanball wars would still breakout from time to time, forcing benches to clear. Unless, of course, MLB made the clearing of benches a punishable act. Much like the NBA did to put an end to their own bench-clearing brawls, MLB could put in the rulebook an automatic suspension for any player that leaves the dugout, bullpen or defensive position during an on-field altercation. This, again, puts the onus on the coaching staff to control their players since no manager in his right mind could allow his entire roster to get suspended for the sake of milling around in a throng, puffing their chest out and acting like they want to fight when they really don't.
Without 50+ people on the field grabbing and shoving each other, the odds of someone going ape, throwing a sucker punch, body slamming an unwitting player or anyone getting hurt go down to pretty much zero. Nobody breaks a hand, nobody dislocates a shoulder, nobody gets a black eye like the league received last night.