Incident in Houston highlights questions around protocols and punishments

As baseball tries to settle down and reschedule games lost to the Marlins’ coronavirus outbreak, the shortened season has been hit with a debate over the Astros’ sign-stealing shenanigans from the 2017 season:

Major League Baseball suspended Dodgers relief pitcher Joe Kelly for eight games - 13 percent of the season - for throwing at the Astros’ Alex Bregman and taunting Carlos Correa Tuesday night in a 5-2 victory in Houston.

Was it a fair punishment?

The Astros beat the Dodgers in the 2017 World Series, but their garbage-can banging, sign-stealing cheating came to light last year. After an investigation, Commissioner Rob Manfred suspended Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch, and the team fired both of them.

No Astros players were punished because Manfred gave them immunity in exchange for their testimony.

Players across baseball were angry with Manfred for not punishing the Astros’ players. The Astros were the major story in baseball at the start of spring training, but when the coronavirus spike closed camps on March 12, the story faded. The Astros were secondary.

But then Kelly, who pitched for Boston, and not the Dodgers in 2017, came into Tuesday’s game in the sixth inning.

He threw a 3-0 pitch behind Bregman’s head. Kelly collided with Michael Brantley at first base and stayed near the bag after Brantley was safe. The Astros taunted Kelly from their dugout.

Then, Kelly struck out Correa and yelled at the Astros’ shortstop as he left the mound.

Benches cleared, but there were no punches, at least not on the field.

There were virtual punches on Twitter.

“MLB siding with/protecting a team that openly and knowingly cheated their way to a World Series,’’ Mets pitcher Marcus Stroman tweeted. “He (Kelly) doesn’t deserve to be suspended at all. Hoping he wins his appeal.’‘

The players’ frustration is understood, but Kelly threw at Bregman’s head.

Throwing at a batter’s head is extreme. Bregman could have been seriously injured or even killed.

In another era, pitchers upset at opponents would aim for a batter’s ribs, make the pitch and then let the anger go.

Kelly went too far.

In the heat of the moment, players from both teams violated baseball’s pandemic protocol by hanging out on the field after benches cleared. The new rules for this season say that players are not allowed to fight or create contact other than the contact that happens normally in a game.

Even arguing with an umpire without six feet of physical distancing is prohibited.

So, which is the bigger issue, Kelly’s pitching/behavior or the pandemic violation?