Guillen suspension is wrong solution

With Jose Guillen's suspension, Anaheim management cut off its nose to spite its face.

Originally Published: October 1, 2004
By Joe Morgan | Special to ESPN.com

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At this time of year, because of the run for the division titles and wild cards, every play is magnified. So is every management decision, such as the decision by the Anaheim Angels to suspend left fielder Jose Guillen for the rest of the season and postseason (more on Guillen in a moment).

Kudos to Ichiro and Sisler
While Ichiro Suzuki's single-season hits accomplishment is impressive, we never should push accomplishments from the past aside -- because the season has more games today.

There should be two records, one for the 162-game season and one for the 154-game season. I believe baseball ought to have two record books for all records, and both sets of records should be held in high esteem.

Baseball should not diminish what George Sisler achieved with his 257-hit season. Hitters who played the same 154-game schedule came close several times but never surpassed it. And we'll never know how many more hits Sisler would have had if he'd played 162 games.

Likewise, what Ichiro has done is impressive because baseball has seen more than 30 years of the 162-game schedule and no one has come close until now. So give both Sisler and Ichiro their due.

Lots of factors influence the outcome of games throughout the season, but they are magnified even more in a playoff race. That's the way we view baseball -- that games are more important now than in April. In reality, though, a game won or lost in April counts just as much as a game won or lost in September. Good teams always realize that every game is important, from April through September.

Because of the importance placed on September games, every umpire's ruling or players' performance or manager's decision will be scrutinized more. Of course, it will be that way until the end of the World Series.

And it's understandable, because there is one difference between April mistakes and September mistakes: In April, there's time to make up for a mistake, but now there isn't the luxury of that time.

I saw two examples last weekend of umpire's mistakes in the heat of the pennant race. In a San Francisco Giants-Los Angeles Dodgers game, the third-base umpire missed a call, helping the Dodgers win.

And in a New York Yankees-Boston Red Sox game, Alex Rodriguez was called safe at third base, though he was clearly out, and the Yankees scored the go-ahead run.

I've never believed that one play wins or loses a game, but one play can and does have an impact.

Manager's decisions are also magnified. Mistaken decisions in April don't get nearly the scrutiny they receive in the glare of a pennant race. When Red Sox manager Terry Francona left Pedro Martinez in too long vs. the Yankees last Friday after Boston took a lead, visions of Grady Little floated in the heads of Red Sox fans everywhere.

Pre-Suspension: Strategy Questions
The Guillen suspension is a glaring example of a management decision that has been magnified by the late-season spotlight.

I was in Anaheim to broadcast ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball game, arriving early for Saturday's game between the Anaheim Angels and Oakland Athletics. In that game, Guillen became upset because manager Mike Scioscia removed him for a pinch runner in the eighth inning after Guillen was hit by a pitch. I didn't quite understand the move at the time myself.

Guillen
Guillen
Unless Guillen was injured by the pitch -- which he wasn't -- why would you remove your second-best hitter in a tie game? As the home team, the Angels didn't have the urgency to score to keep the game going, and they had one at-bat left. If the game had ended up tied, then Guillen's bat is out of the game in extra innings. So a weaker-hitting reserve would have been hitting fourth behind Vladimir Guerrero.

In that circumstance, how many pitches do you think Guerrero would have gotten to hit in extra innings? I didn't agree with Scioscia's move for that reason.

But I also didn't agree with Guillen's reaction to what happened -- he threw his helmet as he stormed off to the dugout -- and obviously Anaheim's management didn't agree, because they suspended him for the rest of the regular season and postseason without pay.

I have several responses to this situation. First, I don't see how the Angels can suspend him without pay for what he did. That will be determined by the Players Association and Major League Baseball in an arbitration hearing in Oakland on Friday (the Angels and A's finish the season with a three-game series in Oakland beginning Friday). I would be shocked if the "without pay" component is upheld.

Better Solution: Fine
Beyond that, I wouldn't have suspended Guillen at all. Instead, I would have given Guillen the biggest fine possible. In fact, I can't recall this type of suspension ever happening with one week to go in the season.

My rationale has nothing to do with consideration for Guillen, because I have no respect for the way he reacted. What needs to happen is a punishment for Guillen.

But by suspending the 28-year-old through the postseason, the Angels are punishing his teammates more than Guillen himself. The Angels have endured lots of adversity this season and fought hard to be in a position to win the AL West. I believe they deserve a better fate. Why punish the entire team for what Jose Guillen did?

I can't recall this type of suspension ever happening with one week to go in the season.
The Angels are also punishing their fans, who have come out three million-plus strong this season. They're telling fans that it's more important for management to make a statement by punishing Guillen than to win a division.

I go back to something that Spock of "Star Trek" fame often said: "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." In this case, the few are those in management who feel the need to send a message to Guillen, while the many are his teammates (who are fighting for the pennant) and the fans (who have supported the organization all season).

If this had happened in June and the Angels had suspended Guillen, I would have agreed with the decision wholeheartedly. But there was only a week left in the season when the incident occurred. After the season is over, you can trade him if you want.

Anaheim's management said the suspension came because of an accumulation of incidents throughout the year. If that's the case, why didn't they suspend him earlier? If they had put up with Guillen's issues since April, they should be able to handle him for seven more days (and into the postseason as needed).

At this juncture, I wouldn't penalize Angels players or my fans just because I want to penalize one player. I'm disappointed mainly for the players, who have played their hearts out.

Other Options: Outright Release
All the Angels players will say the right thing. They're not going to say publicly that management made a mistake. No one wants to get on the wrong side of management.

One player, though, did say that the Angels wouldn't be where they are today without Guillen. That's true, because he's second on the team (behind Vlad Guerrero) in RBI and home runs. Guillen is batting .294 with 27 homers and 104 RBI.

I was in the broadcast booth Sunday night, and no one on the Angels knew Guillen had been suspended when the game started. In the booth, we didn't know he'd been suspended until the fourth inning. So the news went public during the game without the team knowing about it. Most players found after the game. How do you think that made them feel? I'm still trying to figure out what went into that decision-making process.

Make no mistake: I would have disciplined Guillen. He was absolutely wrong.
I talked with Scioscia before Sunday's game -- before the suspension had been announced -- and everything seemed fine. Clearly, GM Bill Stoneman could have handled this situation better. It seems that Angels management is cutting off its nose to spite its face.

Management took this personally, but it should be about business -- and the Angels are in the business of winning championships.

If you're trying to send Guillen a message, release him. But the Angels want to hold on to him because he's an asset they hope they can get something for via a trade over the winter.

The bottom line is, don't say you're sending a message when you didn't utilize the biggest message you could have sent. When Cleveland Indians manager Eric Wedge had a serious confrontation with Milton Bradley in spring training, the Indians sent Bradley to the minors and then traded him to the Dodgers. I respect that.

In an interview on Sunday Night Baseball with reporter Sam Ryan, Stoneman said Guillen's incident occurred on national TV in front of their fans, so they had to do something. That wasn't the case, though. The game wasn't on national TV, because Saturday's FOX telecast was a regional game.

Make no mistake: I would have disciplined Guillen. He was absolutely wrong. There's no defense for what he did.

But there are other ways to deal with it. How any times have you seen guys get mad when they're taken out of a game? I've seen it 100 times. And what do you do for discipline? You fine him and bench him for the next game.

The Angels management should have considered the rest of the team and the fans before making a knee-jerk decision that hurts the team more than the individual.

It can't be just about management, and it can't be just about one player -- there are fans and teammates involved. Again, this is an example of a decision that becomes magnified because we're going down the stretch.

An analyst for ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball, Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan won back-to-back MVP awards with the Reds in 1975 and '76 (the Reds won the World Series both years).

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