Tuesday, July 31, 2012

LaMenting LaRue: Why La Russa Got It Right* (PART 1.5 OF 2)

*even if he considers it an attack on his integrity to say so

In PART 1, I reflected on a brawl between the Cincinnati Reds and the St. Louis Cardinals that took place on August 10, 2010, and resulted in Jason LaRue, a backup catcher for the Cardinals, being forced into retirement by concussion-inducing kicks from Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto.

A couple of years later, Reds manager Dusty Baker called out La Russa for omitting Cueto (and second baseman, Brandon Phillips) from 2012's All-Star team, saying it was payback for the brawl.  La Russa (as he is wont to do about things people say) took deep offense at these words.

I suggested that, in light of the seriousness of Cueto's assault, the ridiculousness of Cueto's explanation, and the dearth of consequences suffered by Cueto, La Russa had every reason to "payback" Cueto in this manner.

It shouldn't have come down to La Russa doling out justice, but many other agents of discipline dropped the ball.  Which brings us to PART 1.5 of this series, and none other than MLB's own disciplinarian, Frank Robinson...

1.  Frank Robinson.  Some sports have a metaphorical "czar of discipline".  MLB has something like that in Frank Robinson, who handed down a 7-game suspension to Johnny Cueto.  Many sports websites published commentary pieces following Cueto's suspension, the gist of which were "Cueto got a slap on the wrist—he’ll miss one start."  Or not.  Depending on how the schedule plays out, 7 games may not even cut into year-end total starts for a pitcher at all.

Frank Robinson had a major role in doling out the penalties for the brawl, and there is an account of how Robinson came to his decisions here.  There's some good stuff, mostly about how Robinson decided NOT to suspend others (including Brandon Phillips, which I am fine with) for their roles.  But when it comes to Cueto, most of what Robinson says ranges from suspect to silly.

To begin with, Robinson suddenly defers to everything but his own two eyes.  He interviewed the umpires?  What could they have said to make Cueto's kicks seem less like a felony assault?  ("Yeah, we saw the look in his eyes, and he really did look nervous, just like he said.")

Robinson also chains himself to the idea of “precedent.”  The viciousness of Cueto’s attack is pretty much unprecedented, but the closest comparison is probably NOT Chan Ho Park kicking Tim Belcher in 1999, as Robinson cited.  It was one kick, to Belcher's leg, and Belcher was basically fine.

A more similar precedent took place on August 22, 1965, when Juan Marichal conked Johnny Roseboro in the head with a bat.  This "Roseboro Incident" is absolutely legendary in baseball circles, and the black mark it left on Marichal almost kept him out of the Hall of Fame.  This article makes a heck of a case that Cueto's kicks are actually more despicable than Marichal's conks, and that it's a stretch to cite even this as a precedent for Cueto's kicks (because Cueto's kicks were much worse).

Depending on the setting, a precedent can be either guiding or binding, and Robinson (undoubtedly with the MLBPA looming) chose to be bound.  For all his video watching, interviewing, and discussing, at the end of the day, he essentially concludes, “My job could be done by an app on your phone.  Just plug in that 11 years ago, an incident involving feet took place, and the player who was attached to those feet was suspended 7 games.  So 7 games it is.”

Robinson all but explicitly admits having very little flexibility in dispensing punishments, as the article reads, “‘We did what we could to Cueto,’ Robinson said, noting even an eight-game suspension would have been ‘pushing the envelope.’”

In other words, 7 games is acceptable enough that Cueto didn’t even appeal (virtually unheard of for this sort of suspension), but 8 games would have been “pushing the envelope”?  OK, so what is your job again, Frank Robinson?

A couple of other gems:
-“[If we had known severity of LaRue’s concussion, we] …may have added another game and gone against precedent.  It’s more likely we would have increased the fine.”
May have added?  Another gameOne more game!?  Hear that, Jason?  They just didn’t know how bad it was, but if they had…  Oh boy, we would totally be saying, “Oh no they din’t!”  Precedent so would have been gone against.

Of course, another way of looking at it is that once LaRue’s career was ended by Johnny Cueto’s spikes, it should have been clear that no precedent existed for an incident like this!  But it’s like they say: “there’s a fine line between hypothetically going against precedent and hypothetically saying that no precedent exists.”

-“Robinson and Watson played a combined 40 seasons in the major leagues and believe any comparison of MLB's code of justice to other leagues such as the NBA and NHL is inappropriate.”
Yes, they would believe that; the alternative is looking like lackeys for the both MLB and the MLBPA.

But here in 2012, if you were to throw caution to the wind and start making inappropriate comparisons like some kind of rabble rouser, you might notice in 2011 when the NFL suspended Ndamukong Suh two games for stomping on the arm of an opponent during a play (that’s about 20 games in baseball years).  You might notice in 2007 when the NHL suspended Chris Simon 25 games for hitting an opponent in the head with his stick (that suspension included playoff games, something unheard of in the MLB).  You might notice in 2012 when the NBA suspended Meta World Peace seven games for elbowing an opponent (this also included playoff games).  Then again, those sports tend to frown upon players intentionally injuring each other, so perhaps the comparison is indeed inappropriate.

-“...we really can't take a starting pitcher beyond five, six or seven days because this individual may hurt himself being laid off for a longer amount of time. We didn't know the extent of LaRue's injuries until later on.”
This is one of the all-time strangest explanations for anything.  Robinson seems to be saying that if a starting pitcher is too far removed from his regular pitching schedule, the pitcher runs a significant risk of hurting himself when he is again called upon to pitch.  Oddly, if a pitcher’s arm is tired, his team may elect to have him skip a start or even go on the 15-day disabled list to “rest up” (this happens a lot and raises no eyebrows).  But if a pitcher’s arm is fine, taking off the equivalent time is dangerous?  So in terms of risk/reward, “rest” is kind of like “chemotherapy”?  OK, fine.  I’ll bite.  Let’s say that this rest-pitch-hurt scenario is way more prevalent than it seems.  Let’s say there’s an element of legitimacy to that concern.

But, Frank, let’s get real for a second.  “Five, six, or seven days”?  You can’t really have meant those numbers, can you have?  Because five days off is a normal break for a normal pitcher during the course of a season!  Most teams have five-man rotations, and they frequently do not adjust the rotation for scheduled days off.  So five days is a normal break, but six days is dangerous?

Then there’s the automatic eight-game suspension that a pitcher receives if he is caught with a foreign substance on his glove.  Are pitchers who use pine tar to make their fingers sticky generally more resilient than pitchers who kick other players in the face with their spikes?  Has there been a study?  Is that why the rest-pitch-hurt never came up when (for example) Tampa Bay Ray’s pitcher Joel Peralta was suspended this year those eight games?  Or are actions like having pine tar on your glove that much more heinous than intentionally spiking a player in the face that pitchers like Peralta deserve to have their arms hurt?

Then there’s the All-Star Break, which this year was a full 4 days.  Many teams do adjust their rotation for the All-Star break, starting their aces in games both right before and right after the break.  This forces a team’s third, fourth, and fifth best pitchers to take upwards of (wait for it) “five, six, or seven days” off between starts.  In other words, the four-day All-Star Break that is forced upon players in the middle of the season—according to Frank Robinson—is dangerous to the health of most of the league’s starting pitchers!  It’s diabolical, really.

Admittedly, one difference between taking an extra day off and getting suspended is that a suspended player isn’t supposed to have any contact with his team, which means no between-starts bullpen throwing sessions.  Could that be what Robinson is worried about?  If so, shouldn’t a major league pitcher be able to take it upon himself to find someone to play catch with every couple of days?  I think most MLB cities have junior colleges with baseball teams.  Maybe one of their players could play some long toss with you?  Afterwards, maybe you could pay $38 at MassageLuxe for your post-workout massages like the rest of us?

This is probably one of those suggestions that sounds appalling to a big leaguer, but it speaks to a philosophical peculiarity that permeates Frank’s defense of his punishment:  Should it really be the disciplinarian’s concern as to how the recipient of the discipline will deal with the punishment he deserves?  Could an objective observer fairly suggest that the inconveniences that accompany being suspended are actually a pretty big part of what makes a suspension, you know, “bad”?  Instead of letting Cueto argue against the fairness of a longer suspension during an appeal process, Robinson took it upon himself to “pre-appeal” to himself, on behalf of Cueto, and then pre-emptively reduced Cueto’s suspension to a manageable length.  (He all but used these words.)  So Frank Robinson, MLB’s disciplinarian, is looking after Johnny Cueto.  And who’s looking after Jason LaRue?  His wife, mostly.

Frank, the pressure from your bosses and the MLBPA was probably immense.  It’s also possible that you truly are a softy, though I’ve never had that impression.  The point is, it looks like you either issued a punishment that you knew was a joke, or you issued a punishment that you thought was pretty firm until people started asking you about it.  Then you started making stuff up and passing the buck in order to justify the punishment.

Speaking of the MLBPA…

2.  The MLBPA.  The players’ union does its job very well.  It is possibly the most powerful union in the country.  But what does the MLBPA actually do?  The FAQ section on their website devotes six lines of text to answering this question (the same that they devote to answering the question, “When did the Major League Baseball Players Association launch its first Web site?”)  Three of those six lines are spent explaining that the MLBPA is responsible for ensuring the safety of the playing conditions for MLB games.  Everything else that the MLBPA does gets three lines of text.

Actually, three lines is plenty, because they could sum up “what they do” by saying, “We collect power and money for our players.”  Believe it or not, I think this is an OK thing to do.  There is a lot of power and a lot of money in the sports entertainment industry.  I think it should be divided fairly between the players and the owners.

But the MLBPA’s goal of accumulating power and money should be a means to an end, not an end in itself.  For example, the MLBPA could use its power and money to cooperate with MLB for the elimination of on-the-clock use of smokeless tobacco by its members.  This would undoubtedly benefit players, perhaps even more than padded home run walls do.  But working to eliminate tobacco would not bring any additional money or power to the union.  So something that could be a noble use of power and money instead becomes a bargaining chip for even more power and money.  After all, if MLB owners thinksquitting tobacco might help the image of the game, maybe they’ll concede something else to make it happen at the next CBA talks, right?

“Player discipline” is just another bargaining chip.  The point isn’t whether players should face stiffer consequences for ending the careers of other players (or pushing an umpire, or driving drunk, or whatever).  The point isn’t even that most players might desire stiffer consequences for such actions, since the actions of a few tarnish the reputations of everyone (PEDs, anyone?).  The point is that if MLB wants stiffer penalties, then the issue magically transforms from being a good idea to being a bargaining chip.

So, should Johnny Cueto have faced more than a 7-game suspension for ending the career of one of his union brothers?  “Should” has nothing to do with it, na├»ve friend.

What matters is that if Frank Robinson and MLB had dared to go even a game over the arbitrarily-selected precedent, the MLBPA would have treated it as a power-grab, an attempt to circumnavigate the CBA.  Cueto may have chosen to appeal his suspension, and it would have taken even longer for the MLB to brush under the rug this whole ugly incident.

Speaking of MLB…

3.  MLB.  Everyone knows that MLB commissioner Bud Selig lacks the power (and perhaps the cajones) to make any meaningful decisions “for the good of the game” (or its players or fans).  Whatever the next PED issue is in baseball, Bud would like to be able to stand before Congress and say something other than, “The union wouldn’t let me do anything, no matter how much I begged!”

But he won’t be able to.  So, in the absence of making actual, substantial changes, he either highlights the awesome things that he has been able to negotiate for (Hey, did you hear that the All-Star game matters again?) or moves quickly to hide the things he can’t.  He can’t throw the hammer down when players do things like assault each other at the work place.  So he moves on.

This is especially true if the culprit is an ace-pitcher and the victim is a backup catcher on the tail-end of his career.  Cueto is a face of the game, for many years to come.  No one wants him to be seen as a thug who got away with assault.  Fighting to punish Cueto does nothing for the image of the game.

Unfortunately, Bud is right.  For all of the justice dispensed by commissioners of other sports, their efforts have probably heightened the perception among fans that athletes in the NBA, NFL, and NHL have a disproportionate number of criminals and bullies in their ranks.  Often, the suspension gets more notice than the crime.  Sadly, the best way to maintain a family-friendly image of a professional sports league is not to actually punish people who do bad things; the best way is to try to move on as quickly as possible.  If you offer a token suspension that you can pretend is tough, but is light enough that the union doesn’t appeal, the dust settles pretty quickly.

If it had been Yadier Molina instead of Jason LaRue whose career had ended, the dust would have not have settled so quickly.  If it had been someone like Bryce Harper or Mike Trout—oh, heavens, you can almost imagine Bud Selig sitting before Congress saying how he needed to fight the union on this to make sure that the world knows that this sort of behavior will not be tolerated, because baseball players are role models for children, and so on and so forth.

But Jason LaRue’s loss to baseball was not tragic enough for MLB to pick a fight with the MLBPA (yes, that would be Jason LaRue’s union).  So MLB buried what it could, and refocused everything else.  Online videos of the incident mysteriously lack the close-up, slow-motion replay of Cueto’s cleats entering LaRue’s face and Chris Carpenter’s back.  The focus of the incident became Brandon Phillips and Yadier Molina talking face-to-face in a stern manner.  (Brandon Phillips, despite his role in the incident and his inclination to talk smack, seems like a pretty good guy.  He’s funny, doesn’t take himself too seriously, hangs out with his twitter followers, and is basically good for the image of Major League Baseball.   What makes him endearing also makes him the perfect candidate to draw focus away from the man-child thug that appears to be Johnny Cueto.)  After the conversation, there was some pushing, and who can know for sure what happened after that, right?  We’ll let Frank Robinson play the grandfatherly disciplinarian at a press conference, issue a suspension that the union won’t bother appealing, hope that the media cooperates, and move on.


In PART 2.0, we'll finish up looking at the ways Jason LaRue was let down, and why Tony La Russa got it right.  Until then...

-THP

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Two Little Monkeys Going on a Date

Many of you have read my last post and wondered, "So WILL Jason LaRue ever get justice?"  It's called a cliffhanger, folks!  I'm building suspense.  Also, it turns out that the finale of that post will be closely modeled after the finale of the Harry Potter franchise (i.e., split into 2).  So the next segment of that series (the first half of part 2) is in the proofreading stage.  Meanwhile, the second half of part 2 is practically writing itself.  And it has told me it will be done with itself by the end of this week.

In the meantime, we interrupt that series with a post involving some relatives of the Hungry Preacher himself. It started when Beth discovered that her youngest daughter enjoyed watching "American Idol" with her.  It become known as "their show".

When the "American Idol Tour" rolled into St. Louis a couple weeks back, Beth had the idea that maybe, just maybe, going to that show would be a fun night of mother/daughter bonding.  Realizing that we only live once, we got a couple of tickets, and told Monkey 2 the plan.  She was very excited.

Monkey 1 has never been into American Idol, but we decided that she and her daddy could have a corresponding night out.  So a couple of Wednesdays ago, while Beth and Monkey 2 went to the American Idol concert, Monkey 1 and me went to a place called "Sports Fusion" out in Chesterfield.  We went for the indoor miniature golf but found quite a bit more.  Here is the photographic evidence of our double date, starting with me and Monkey 1.


After the first hole, she was actually beating me by a stroke. 

Her mom played golf in high school and is widely recognized as one of the best lady golfers at her law firm.  Clearly, the apple fell from that tree.

The goal was to navigate through the room without tripping the lasers.  She did great, until she got stuck in a corner, panicked, and started calling for me.  I busted in the door, ran through those lasers, and pulled her to safety.

After much convincing, I finally agreed to pay for a round of laser tag before we left.   Fortunately, there were only 6 people on the course: the 2 of us and 4 high school girls.  Monkey 1 and me were on a team, and the 4 girls were split into 2 teams.  Monkey 1 was very stealth, and benefited by having the height of her head be just above many of the barriers of cover.  Thus, she could stand upright and look out over the course while her vest was still out of the line of fire.  Tall people like me had to continually duck or squat down or risk being shot.


Like they say, "It's not the size of the gun, it's the size of the gun in relation to your entire body."

Meanwhile, at the Scottrade Center...

Mommy and Monkey 2 were having a blast.
We discovered that Monkey 2 takes her concerts very seriously.

And she's out.

All in all, the evening was a lot of fun for all parties involved, and both of the girls felt like they'd been given a very special treat.  Of course, Beth and I felt like we'd been given a special treat, and we still do feel that way every day we spend with our little Monkeys.

I just wanted to share the joy a little bit.  Thanks for reading, and I'll write more soon.

-THP

Friday, July 13, 2012

LaMenting LaRue: Why La Russa Got It Right* (PART 1 of 2)

*even if he considers it an attack on his integrity to say so

Tonight, my hometown team, the St. Louis Cardinals, is playing in Cincinnati against the Reds as the second half of the MLB season kicks off.  "Kicking" was also a popular subject before and during the All-Star break, also with regards to the divisional rivalry between the Cardinals and Reds.  Actually, "kicking" wasn't mentioned explicitly so much as the "incident" from a couple of years back when these teams engaged in an on-field brawl.  You can watch it here.

The most recent flare up of this rivalry started with Tony La Russa's team playing in the World Series last year. Even though he retired after the Series, he was invited back by Major League Baseball to manage this year's National League All-Star team (as per baseball tradition). Part of this job was picking (in conjunction with MLB) a handful of players to round out the roster after the fans and players have had their say.

La Russa did NOT pick either Brandon Phillips or Johnny Cueto from the Cincinnati Reds, though statistically either would have been fine selections. Dusty Baker, manager of the Reds, perceived these omissions as snubs, and egregious ones at that. So flabbergasted was Baker that he suggested La Russa snubbed Phillips and Cueto NOT because there were better options, but because La Russa is still holding a grudge against those two for their roles in the brawl of 2010.

La Russa responded: "The comments Dusty made clearly disappoint me and are attacking my integrity. The All-Star experience is too important to let anything stand in the way of a decision like that."

Some disclosure: I am a Cardinal fan, but am highly ambivalent about Tony La Russa.  He has had a lot of success as a MLB manager.  Double switches and pitching match-ups aside, word is that keeping a team motivated day-after-day is often the most challenging aspect of being a manager.  La Russa did that, and many of his best players swear by his tactics.  That said, I always wonder if he could have held on to what made him effective, but without coming across as such a self-important bully to the rest of the world.

His response to Baker's criticism is telling.  Aside from offhandedly overstating importance of the All-Star experience, it's La Russa who elevated Baker's critique to an attack on his integrity.  It's La Russa who effectively proclaimed, "How dare he?"  It's La Russa who almost certainly would have said the exact same thing if the roles had been reversed.

Baker, on the other hand, didn't do any favors to Phillips, Cueto, or himself by including Phillips and Cueto in the same paranoia-infused proclamation.  We'll get to Cueto in a second, but first a word on Brandon Phillips.  He's having a good year.  Maybe even a great year, at least for a second baseman.  But it's not a slam-dunk All-Star type of year.  Among qualified NL second baseman, he's 5th in OPS.  He's first in RBI and 3rd in HR.  He's also last in doubles (actually, worse than last, since he's been outdoubled by an unqualified second baseman) and has only 5 stolen bases.  All things considered, the top half-dozen or so second basemen in the NL are pretty closely grouped, and Phillips is one of those.  I'd probably rank him fourth.

Though not quite on par with the bawling mother who tells reporters that her just-convicted-of-murder son is "really a good boy", Baker's perspective on Phillips seems just a tad biased.  Pretty much any reasonable fan with access to an internet site with MLB stats would conclude that Phillips is a borderline All-Star who could have been chosen, and could have just as easily not been.  Even most unreasonable fans would conclude that there are at least 3 or 4 explanations less extreme than "the manager is out to get us" that explain Brandon Phillips' omission for this year's All-Star game.

All of this makes Dusty Baker look like a doofus, as paranoid and oblivious as La Russa is arrogant and defensive.  (People in the know say that these guys are something like friends away from the field--oh, to be a fly on the wall...)

Now, had Baker mentioned only Cueto, that would have been more interesting.  On paper, Cueto may very well be the second most effective starting pitcher in the National League of the first half of the season (though that whole "tightly grouped" thing still applies--he could also conceivably be ranked near 8 or 9).  He certainly looks like a full-fledged snub.

There are several reasons why La Russa may have overlooked Cueto, but apparently, to suggest that one of them was payback for Cueto's role in the brawl is to attack his integrity.  Presumably, the unwritten baseball code designates such behavior as "uncool" or something like that.

Here's another reaction to the possibility of La Russa intentionally snubbing Cueto for his role in the brawl: So what?

Cueto didn't just have a "role in a brawl".  Cueto propped himself up against the netting above the backstop, pretended Jason LaRue's face was the mat of a Dance Dance Revolution arcade game, and started singing "Maniac" by Michael Sambello in his head.  "Why, yes, those are metal spikes, and I'm not at all happy to see you."  LaRue was severely concussed, and had to stop playing professional baseball forever.

A couple of notes on the brawl and its aftermath:
-I once thought that LaRue retired because he was going to retire at the end of the season anyway.  In my research, I found no indication that this was a foregone conclusion.  Maybe he would have.  Maybe LaRue doesn't even know that.  What he did know was that in the weeks following the kicking, "he experienced painful headaches and nausea....  He was unable to drive or ride in a car, cook for himself or watch television.  His doctors, concerned that he was in no condition to care for himself, sent him home from St. Louis to his family in Texas."  (This quote is from here.)

-Brawls are part of baseball.  They probably shouldn't be.  And maybe LaRue should have stayed in the dugout.  OK.  Instead, he stood around in the scrum, like 60 other guys on the field that day and hundreds of guys before him.  Maybe he was even "in the middle of it."  And then he got pushed and held until the next thing he saw was Johnny Cueto's spikes.  Did he "have it coming" for getting in the middle of things?  Mmm, I'd have a hard time saying that.  It didn't seem like he was trying to hurt or kill anyone.  Unlike, say...

-Johnny Cueto had an interesting explanation for his kickage.  Apparently, he was frightened.  Oh, just let him explain it: "When 15 people get over you, you get scared.  I did get nervous, a lot.  I put my feet up, trying to get out of the way.  I was trying to get up.  My back was against the wall and I was trying to get people out of the way so I could get up."

More disclosure: I'm one of those people who, when they heard Metta World Peace (formerly Ron Artest) of the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers explain his elbow hitting James Hardin's head as an "unfortunate... unintentional elbow" and as an outpouring of "too much... erratic passion", sincerely thought, "Yeah, I can kind of see that."  So I'm someone who wants to believe ridiculous explanations for stupid behavior.

And I almost had that thought about Johnny Cueto's explanation.  Then I had a couple of other thoughts:
1.  His description of the incident just doesn't match the video.  I tried to watch the video with his explanation of it running through my head as a commentary, and it was like watching "Spider Man" with the audio from a "Batman" movie: "I guess this is the same genre, but the details just aren't matching."

2.  That "wall" Cueto was up against?  It was more like what most people would call "a net."  And it had a lot of "give."  I'm no physicist, but I don't think even the force of 15 men could have made Johnny Cueto go all Play-doh-spaghetti-factory on the fans of row 1.

3.  If Johnny Cueto was in genuine (or genuinely perceived) danger of being squished, sticking the feet up sideways like that would make some sense, as the legs of the squish-ee conceivably could be stronger than the force of the squish-ers.  But that protective leg power is significantly reduced when the squish-ee starts kicking like a Riverdancer!  If you're keeping someone at a safe distance by pushing them with your legs, "slow and steady when you're on the fence, 'cause fast and pokey makes no sense."

4.  Finally, let's grant for a moment that Johnny was truly overcome by nervousness, as he claimed; that his visions of soccer fans being crushed against chain-link fences by hundreds of other fans all trying to press in the same direction, that these visions were overcoming his vision of reality, which was 60 guys bumping around together with no particular target in a corner of a wide open expanse of a field while Johnny leaned up against a net-like barrier surrounded most immediately by people who had no interest in seeing him crushed.  Let's grant that he was truly and sincerely nervous, and was just trying to protect himself by "get[ting] people out of the way so [he] could get up."  If that was the case, why were no Reds punctured by his cleats?  There were plenty of them around.  If Johnny was so frightened that his "fight" defense overcame his reason and sportsmanship so drastically, could he possibly still be clearheaded enough to only puncture guys on the other team (Chris Carpenter also received some cleatage)?  Did Cueto just get lucky?

Or here's another way of wondering about this: If he HAD ended the career of a teammate--say, Scott Rolen (who was in kicking range)--would Rolen, or Brandon Phillips, or Dusty Baker have been all, "Well, he was nervous, and just trying to protect himself by 'getting up'.  Makes sense to me.  I mean, the man was nervous for goodness' sake!"  No, they would have been like, "Are you a freaking idiot?!"

And it would have been a fair question.  In fact, it's just as fair a question when the victim happened to be on the other team, because the explanation makes just as little sense.

To be fair to Johnny Cueto, his honest answer to the question "Are you a freaking idiot?" might actually be, "Yes."  But I have a hard time believing anyone is that idiotic.  A more believable (to me) answer is that, in those few seconds, Cueto saw an opportunity to stomp his spikes into Jason LaRue's face and get away with it.

(I was trying to find a clip online that actually shows the impact of Cueto's spikes into LaRue's face.  It was curiously difficult to find, even though I know the clip exists.  Maybe it's out there somewhere.  But while I was watching the broader-view replay on MLB.com, the video paused several times to buffer.  Three separate times, the video paused at such a point where Cueto could clearly be seen hovering just beyond the center of the scuffle and let me tell you this:  His eyes sure as heck looked like the eyes of someone looking for a fight.  Watch for yourself.)

Fortunately, baseball has all sorts of ways of disciplining men who manifest the flaws of their character in such a violent manner.

Unfortunately, if you're Jason LaRue and the guy who slammed his metal cleats into your face is the ace of his team, those measures of discipline... well, let's just say they become more like a net, and less like a wall.

Jason LaRue, a backup catcher on the back end of his career, got kicked out of his livelihood.  Last week, Johnny Cueto's manager whined about Cueto not making the All-Star team.  In between, a lot of forces that could have doled out some measure of justice to Johnny Cueto have--to put it simply--not done so.

In PART 1.5 and PART 2, we'll look at how those forces dropped the ball of justice, and why La Russa was right to snub Cueto even if he won't admit it.

Until then...

-THP