Major League Baseball suspended the Houston Astros hitting coach Alex Cintron for a third of the season on Tuesday for his role in a benches-clearing altercation with the Oakland Athletics.
Cintron was suspended for 20 games for inciting and escalating the incident on Sunday in Oakland. A’s outfielder Ramon Laureano, who had exchanged words with Cintron and then charged the dugout after Cintron moved toward him, was given a six-game ban.
Cintron and Laureano also were fined. Cintron’s suspension is one of the longest ever imposed on a coach by Major League Baseball for an on-field incident.
When M.L.B. established its health and safety protocols to help limit the spread of the coronavirus for the 2020 season, it indicated that fighting would not be tolerated because of the increased chance of transmitting the virus during an altercation. The operations manual issued before the season prohibited fighting and instigating fights, and said M.L.B. had the authority to impose “severe discipline consistent with past precedent.”
The ruling on the Astros-A’s incident, which was made by Chris Young, the former pitcher who now serves as M.L.B.’s senior vice president for operations, came two weeks after Dodgers pitcher Joe Kelly was suspended for throwing at several Astros batters and sparking another benches-clearing incident. Kelly was banned for eight games.
Cintron’s suspension set a new bar for penalties for violations of the league’s safety protocols. His punishment was more severe in part because he instigated the fight, but also because of his position of responsibility as a coach.
“I just thought they threw the book at us big time,” Astros Manager Dusty Baker said in a video call with reporters. “What can you do? The rule is the rule.”
A 20-game suspension would be severe in any season, but the impact of the punishment is far greater in a pandemic-shortened season of only 60 games. Laureano, who was drafted by the Astros in 2014 and spent time in their minor league system before being traded to Oakland in 2017, has appealed his suspension and is allowed to continue playing until M.L.B. makes a ruling. Coaches do not have the option to appeal.
The altercation began after Laureano was hit for a second time in Sunday’s game. After walking to first base, Laureano and Cintron began shouting at one another.
Cintron stepped out of the dugout, yelling at Laureano and gesturing for him to come and fight. Laureano charged the dugout but was tackled by Houston catcher Dustin Garneau before he could get to Cintron, who stood behind other Astros while players poured out of both dugouts and began shoving and grabbing one another.
Laureano told ESPN that Cintron had yelled a derogatory comment about Laureano’s mother, which Cintron denied.
“I accept M.L.B.’s suspension and will learn from this,” Cintron said in a statement released by the Astros. “Although I never referenced Ramon’s mother, my actions were inappropriate. I apologize for my part in Sunday’s unfortunate incident. As coaches, we are held to a higher standard and should be an example to the players. Hopefully, other coaches will learn from my mistake so that this never happens again in the future.”