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Elephant Rumblings: What’s the point of suspending an MLB coach?

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MLB news roundup

Houston Astros v Oakland Athletics
Alex Cintron (left) and Carlos Correa (right)
Photo by Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images

Good morning, Athletics Nation!

Oakland A’s outfielder Ramon Laureano received his punishment on Tuesday for his role in the team’s brawl with the Houston Astros last weekend. He got a six-game suspension and has appealed the decision, a move which could help him reduce the ban or at least delay its enforcement until a strategically optimal moment.

Meanwhile, Astros hitting coach Alex Cintron was slapped with 20 games, the most we’ve seen in a long time for a coach, for taking an already tense situation and further instigating it into the physical fight it became. Both he and Laureano were also fined.

Overall, I expressed satisfaction at this result in my writeup yesterday. Laureano’s penalty seems fair for his actions, even with some mitigating context surrounding them. And at least an Astro got something, for once.

However, I still find myself unsettled by the whole episode, because it seems a precedent has been set. If you’re struggling and want to eliminate an opposing star player from the game, you can just toss a sacrificial coach at him to piss him off until he attacks. One team’s roster loses a huge cog, and the other’s is unaffected.

And that brings us to the real question: What does suspending a coach accomplish? According to Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle:

“[Astros manager Dusty Baker] said Cintron will be allowed to be with the team before each game but must leave the ballpark once the game begins and cannot return until the next game’s pregame session.”

I don’t know exactly what coaches do in their everyday duties or how they do it, and I’m sure they all differ. Clearly they have an important job. But it seems to me that it’s sort of a long-term job, not necessarily one that happens primarily during games, in the way that players’ jobs happen during the games since they’re the ones playing — especially hitting coaches, who aren’t working the bases or visiting the mound. Are hitting coaches giving essential rapid-fire in-game adjustment instructions that make crucial daily differences?

Let’s add it up. Cintron is still with the team, and can still be around during pre-game, which I’d have to think is one of the main coaching opportunities of the day. This is 2020 so he can still watch all the video, both live and afterward, and presumably still do his job of analyzing his hitters, and then he can report in the morning and still coach them. In what way is he actually suspended?

I do think Cintron’s punishment is more than nothing. One purpose of these suspensions is to make a statement for the record, and Rome notes that this one is “believed to be the longest suspension ever issued to an MLB coach or for any on-field incident in at least 30 years.” He also takes a financial blow, between the fine and further lost wages. It’s not nothing to him.

But it’s effect might be nothing in the competitive realm, and that’s the frustrating part. Even when the Astros receive a recent-record punishment, it still feels like they got away scot-free while the team they instigated took the most damaging blow. Next time they play the Angels, I propose that quality control coach Chris Speier should sing “Baby Shark” out loud until new dad Mike Trout snaps and charges him.

Reminder: Cintron already got away with his part in the cheating scandal too.

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