Plenty of blame to go around in Mexico-Canada brawl

PHOENIX -- The big scoreboard at Chase Field showed all the usual good-sportsmanship, touchy-feely propaganda supporting international brotherhood and all that kind of thing before Sunday’s United States vs. Canada game in the World Baseball Classic.

And the teams, as is tradition, shook hands, gave half-hugs and traded smiles and little gifts with each other after the national anthems and team introductions.

What a farce.

How could anyone call it anything other than that after what transpired the day before when Mexico played Canada?


Long story short:

Canada was up 9-3 when catcher Chris Robinson led off the ninth inning by dropping a bunt down the third-base line for a hit.

Typically, that’s bad baseball form. You don’t bunt when your team is up six runs in the ninth inning. However, in this particular tournament, there are tie-breaking rules, and those rules include run differential.

Mexico’s third baseman, a likable young Dodger named Luis Cruz, picked up the bunt and immediately made a motion toward his ribs as he said something to pitcher Arnold Leon.

It’s not clear exactly what he said, but it’s very doubtful that motion toward his mid-section meant he was hungry and wanted Leon to hurry up and end the inning.

Leon’s next pitch drove Canada’s Rene Tosoni off the plate, and unkind words were exchanged -- not the kind of stuff that was said when these teams also shook hands and exchanged gifts before their game.

The second pitch was at Tosoni, too, and barely missed his right thigh. The third pitch hit him in the back, prompting an ugly brawl in which players from both teams threw punches. Fans -- and we use that term loosely -- also got into the act, with scuffles breaking out in the stadium aisles and dangerous objects getting hurled toward players and coaches on the field.

In all, seven players were ejected -- four from Mexico, three from Canada.

And the fallout after that, after tournament officials reviewed video of the incident?

Now there’s the real farce.

In a statement released early Sunday morning, tournament organizers called the incident “inappropriate” and “counter to the spirit of sportsmanship and respectful competition for which the World Baseball Classic has stood throughout its history.”

Then it said that “because at least one club -- and potentially both -- will not advance to the second round, WBCI has determined that disciplinary measures would not have a meaningful corrective impact.”

So, in other words, the folks responsible for a sophomoric and embarrassing melee that could have easily resulted in injuries to players, coaches and fans got away with a scolding and were suspended a grand total of one inning.

Of course, hindsight is 20-20 and in the heat of battle, good people make bad decisions -- or no decisions. But, at the risk of sounding sanctimonious, there seems to be plenty of blame to go around in this case.

Let’s start with Leon, who delivered the message that Mexico wasn’t happy by brushing back Tosoni with the next pitch. The pitch didn’t connect, but the point was made. And it should have stopped there. But then a second pitch that misses too?

He might have missed with the third pitch as well had Tosoni, perhaps tired of dancing, not just turned his back and taken it.

And where were the managers? Mexico’s Rich Renteria said after the game the incident was a “misunderstanding” and lamented that he had perhaps not explained the rules of the tournament well enough to his team.

But was it not obvious to him after the first pitch what was going on? How about taking control of the situation and his team right then? Or after the second pitch?

Ernie Whitt, Canada’s manager, could have stepped in, too.

But if home plate umpire Brian Gorman had done his job better, the situation would not have been left to fired-up players and absent-minded managers.

Gorman surely recognized that Leon was looking for payback. When the first pitch was way inside and players exchanged harsh words, he should have stopped play right then and there, called both managers onto the field for a conference, and ordered Renteria to admonish his pitcher -- or else.

Gorman did issue a warning to both dugouts after the second pitch, but his point wasn’t made strongly enough.

And sadly, tournament officials, given video to study and time to ponder, were even weaker than that with their statement Sunday morning.


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