Tuesday, 31 July 2012

UPDATE to include discussion of Bryce Brentz injury; Ryan Sweeney and injuring hand by punching door: is it grounds for Disqualified List?

Bryce Brentz
UPDATE Feb. 9 2013: we're learning today from WEEI.com's Alex Speier that the Red Sox now have another player who has been injured outside of playing the game and in questionable circumstances: about a month ago, prospect Bryce Brentz accidentally injured himself while cleaning a hand gun.  A bullet went into his leg.  

Brentz is lucky.  It doesn't appear the injury will hurt his baseball career.  But if it does for a period of time, it would be interesting to see if Red Sox disqualify him instead of disable him.  My guess is they disable him rather than disqualify him, since this was an accident and not a result of him losing his temper.  For more analysis of these two lists, please read the post below on Ryan Sweeney.

And, yes, Brentz is making his second appearance on Sports Law Blog.  He was  the player we talked about in our post "Bryce Brentz and Teams Requesting that Players Use Medical Devices for Abnormally Good Health"

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In the eight inning of last night's Red Sox -Tigers game, Red Sox outfielder Ryan Sweeney became upset after grounding out. So angry that after returning to the dugout he let a door feel the brunt of his frustration, which caused a hand injury:

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Ryan Sweeney will need X-rays after he punched a door in the dugout following a groundout in the eighth inning of the Sox' 7-3 win over the Tigers. Sweeney injured the knuckle on his left pinkie and had to come out of the game when he couldn't make his warm-up throws in the top of the ninth inning.
According to a team source, the outfielder -- who is hitting .260 with a .303 OBP and .373 slugging mark in 63 games -- is likely to require a DL stint for the injury.
From: Mike Petragalia, WEEI.com
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Should Sweeney be placed on the disabled list -- or the disqualified list?

The seldom-used disqualified list is for players who, according to the CBA, "fail to render services to his club." While disqualified, a player is not paid his salary and is removed from the roster, though the player can workout with his team and receive healthcare benefits. On behalf of a disqualified player, the Major League Baseball Players' Association can file a grievance to fight the disqualification. The grievance procedure may eventually lead to a hearing before three-arbitrators.

The disqualified list is purposelessly defined in vague terms, since its definition gives teams flexibility in interpreting it. Teams are hesitant to use it, however, because it likely damages the team's relationship with a player. It may also damage the team's relationship with the player's agent, which in some instances may be a big deal.

Because of these downside for teams, few players have been placed on the disqualified list in recent years. Two years ago the Mets placed Francisco Rodriguez on the disqualified list after he injured his hand in a fight with his girlfriend's dad. Last year for SI.com, I wrote about the Cubs placing Carlos Zambrano on the disqualified list for 30 days after he bizarrely walked out on his team and claimed to be retiring. Earlier this month the Cleveland Indians placed minor league pitcher Nick Hagadone on minor league baseball's disqualified list for a self-inflicted injury to his pitching hand after he pitched poorly in a game. Teams sometimes use the disqualified list as a threat - in 2006 the Nationals threatened to disqualify Alfonso Soriano after he refused to play the outfield. The threat worked.

Should the Red Sox use it for Sweeney?

Reasons for Yes

Punching a door or any wall shows terrible judgment, if for no other reason than the fact that it is completely predictable that you can, and probably will, injure your hand by doing so. It isn't like Sweeney threw his bat in frustration and it somehow hit a wall and bounced back at him, or that he suffered some other freak injury. He punched a door.

Sweeney didn't act in the heat of the moment - there was at least 30 seconds between his ground out and his punching for him to cool down. The fact that he had time to think about what he was doing, and still did it, makes it worse.

Sweeney, who Baseball America called the White Sox's No. 1 prospect in 2006, is not new to the game. He's in his 7th MLB season and is 27-years-old. Punching a wall might be more excusable for a rookie, but not for a seasoned vet.

Sweeney's injury makes it much harder for the Red Sox to trade him before today's deadline. He's been rumored to be on the trading block (see NESN.com). If he's placed on the disabled list or disqualified list, he can't be traded absent the commissioner's approval. Even if he's not put on any list, his already low trade value (he's a corner outfielder who has 0 home runs in 204 at bats) has likely plummeted even lower. On today's Dennis and Callahan show on WEEI, it was even discussed that Sweeney may have intentionally injured his hand to not be traded - if so (and that seems unlikely and would also be hard to prove), the disqualified list would be even more appropriate.

Reasons for No

Unlike Carlos Zambrano, who had a long history of strange behavior, Sweeney has never attracted controversy and seems to be a good teammate. His temper just got to him and he did a foolish thing. To his credit, Sweeney has acknowledged responsibility and fault. He admits he let his team down (see Boston.com). It isn't like Sweeney is refusing to acknowledge he did something wrong.
If the Red Sox disqualify Sweeney, they will almost certainly have to deal with a grievance filed by the MLBPA, which will argue that the penalty is excessive, especially for a player without a track record for misbehavior. Keep in mind, the MLBPA does not want a precedent of teams disqualifying players, since other teams could do the same in the future. They would fight for Sweeney, if not so much for him than for their collective membership.

Moreover, as sports attorney/professor and MLBPA certified agent Jim Masteralexis tells me on Twitter, Kevin Brown and Doyle Alexander were not disqualified after they punched walls and were injured. While the Red Sox could argue those instances do not preclude them from punishing Sweeney, they are still persuasive precedent.

Although Sweeney is a free agent at the end of the season, the Red Sox would damage its relationship with him going forward by disqualifying him. The same is probably true of the team's relationship with Sweeney's agent, Larry Reynolds, who has a pretty impressive list of clients. Along those lines, would free agents be less likely to sign with the Sox because of how it treats Sweeney?

Verdict: I doubt the Red Sox will disqualify Sweeney, but if they did, I believe they would have sufficient grounds.

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