While Joe Kelly probably wasn’t a household name before the 2020 MLB season, things are a bit different now. On Tuesday, July 28, the Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher threw at two separate Houston Astros before taunting Carlos Correa. Both teams left the dugout and, the next day, Major League Baseball suspended Kelly for eight games.
Although that punishment wasn’t unexpected—Rob Manfred warned teams that retaliation against the Astros wouldn’t be tolerated—it has left some baseball fans with a bad taste in their mouth. By the time Kelly’s suspension is done, he’ll have served more time than anyone from Houston.
Revisiting the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the MLB offseason seems like an eternity ago. In reality, though, we were still discussing the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal in February.
In case you’ve forgotten the finer points, the Astros were found to have cheated en route to the 2017 World Series title. As first detailed by The Athletic, the club used a camera in center field to observe the opposition catcher’s signals; that feed ran to the replay room, and batters were alerted to potential off-speed pitches. Eventually, Major League Baseball launched an investigation and confirmed the reports.
While the league handed down a sizable punishment, many fans didn’t feel like justice had been done. General manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch received yearlong suspensions before losing their jobs; the Astros organization was also fined $5 million and lost several draft picks. The players themselves, though, got off scot-free.
Joe Kelly took matters into his own hands
While it’s understandable from a logistical perspective that Major League Baseball didn’t punish individual Astros players, it still left a bad taste in many fans’ mouths. Dodgers pitcher Joe Kelly, however, dole out his own form of justice.
On Tuesday night, the pitcher threw behind Alex Bregman; a few batters later, he launched a breaking ball above Carlos Correa’s head. After striking the Astros’ star out, Kelly mocked him on the way to the dugout, apparently saying, “Nice swing b—h.” The teams then left their respective benches, but nothing more came of the incident.
After the game, both teams understandably had different perspectives on the incident. According to ESPN, Kelly simply explained that his “accuracy isn’t the best,” while Astros manager Dusty Baker questioned the likelihood of a big league pitcher missing that badly on multiple occasions.
Joe Kelly received a larger sentence than any Houston Astros player
Earlier this offseason, Rob Manfred warned that retaliation against the Houston Astros wouldn’t be tolerated. After his actions on Tuesday night, Joe Kelly became the test case for Major League Baseball’s resolve.
Kelly received an eight-game suspension, with Dodgers manager Dave Roberts also earning a one-game ban. While Kelly’s punishment might not seem too draconian during standard baseball season, things are a bit different in 2020; with teams only playing 60 games, an eight-game sentence is an equivalent of spending 22 games on the shelf in an ordinary campaign. That scale alone sets Kelly apart from the crowd.
“Over the past 10 years, no player has received a suspension longer than 20 games for a violation that wasn’t tied to performance-enhancing drugs, recreational drugs, substance abuse, domestic violence or, in the case of Juan Carlos Oviedo, identity fraud,” ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez explained.
Again, it’s understandable that Major League Baseball wants to draw a line in the sand; throwing a baseball at someone’s head can be dangerous and taking an eye for an eye eventually makes the whole world go blind. At the same time, though, Rob Manfred is already an unpopular guy. Handing Joe Kelly a harsher punishment than any of the Houston Astros won’t win him any new fans.