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BY CHRISTIAN CRITTENDEN
Over the past several decades, Major League Baseball has seen its image take hit after hit after hit. Here’s one of the biggest reasons: Since the sport remains stuck in bygone eras, old schoolers still surround the game.
Well, newsflash to those old schoolers . . .
You’re not old school. You’re just plain old, especially when it comes to thinking about what players should or shouldn’t do in games.
So you can either get with the times or get lost.
This isn’t 1869 anymore. That’s when the Cincinnati Reds became baseball’s first professional team, long before anyone currently in the Major Leagues was even born, and yes, that includes Bartolo Colon.
Still, here we are during the 21st century, and some of those old ways from decades ago were on display this week.
Ronald Acuna Jr., is a 20-year-old stud for the Atlanta Braves. He has been sizzling at the plate since the All-Star Break, and he is fueling their playoff push at the top of the National League East, where they own a 1 1/2-game lead. He entered Wednesday night’s game at SunTrust Park against the Miami Marlins as the only person his age or younger to slam a home run in five straight games. He also had a leadoff homer in three consecutive games.
Since the slick-fielding outfielder with the potent bat killed the Marlins during the three games prior to this one, Marlins starter Jose Urena decided he wanted to put an end to Acuna’s streak.
So old school was on the way in its ugliest form.
On Urena’s first pitch of the game, he gassed up a 97 mph fastball, and he hit Acuna in the left elbow. That pitch was the fastest the right-hander had ever thrown to open a game. Both benches emptied, and so did the bullpens for the threat of a brawl. Even though Acuna went to first base following medical attention, he left the game soon after he took his spot in the outfield in the top of the second inning. His elbow was hurting too much, but he returned to the Braves’ starting lineup Thursday night during a home against the Colorado Rockies.
Old school almost sidelined Acuna, or it was more like old stupidity. If Urena was too terrified of Acuna, he should have given him an intentional walk and avoided the possibility of seriously injuring one of the rising stars in a sport that needs a bunch of them. There is no doubt Urena hit Acuna on purpose, and it was because of that old-school unwritten rule in these situations.
Make no mistake that Urena deserved the six-game suspension he got Thursday from Major League Baseball, along with the fine.
Actually, the suspension should last the rest of the season, and this makes everything worse: When the Braves retaliate for Urena’s actions next week in Miami (and they’ll do so), it will hurt the Braves more than a Marlins team sitting is the division cellar. That’s because the Braves’ starting pitcher that day will likely be kicked out of the game during the middle of a pennant race, and he may even be suspended.
Urena couldn’t care less. More disgusting than his actions were those of Mets color commentator Keith Hernandez coming to his defense.
“They’re killing you. You lost three games. He’s hit three home runs. You got to hit him,” Hernandez said during the Mets broadcast shortly after the whole thing happened. “I’m sorry people aren’t going to like that. You know you got to hit him, knock him down. I mean, seriously knock him down if you don’t hit him. You never throw at anybody’s head or neck. You hit him in the back. You hit him in the fanny.”
Hernandez played in the Major Leagues from 1974 to 1990. During that era of baseball, it was perfectly fine to pluck streaking hitters.
Christian Crittenden is a junior at Georgia State University majoring in Journalism and minoring in marketing. He is a staff writer for The Signal, where he is the women's basketball beat writer. In his free time, he hosts the "Average Sports Guy” Podcast on SoundCloud.