May 5, 2006

Mesa - Vizquel

Until today I had somehow missed the latest chapter in the Jose Mesa - Omar Vizquel saga, which took place on April 23 when Mesa threw at Vizquel in the Rockies-Giants game. It's being called a "feud" by reporters, but that really isn't the right word for it, since a feud normally requires that both parties harbor animosities. This has long been nothing but a vendetta by Mesa against Vizquel.

Three years ago, in one of this blog's first posts, I argued that it was time for Mesa to get over it. "It" was what Vizquel wrote in his book about going to the mound to talk to Mesa in the 9th inning of Game Seven of the 1997 World Series with the Indians up by one run. Here's the offending text:

"The eyes of the world were focused on every move we made. Unfortunately, Jose's own eyes were vacant. Completely empty. Nobody home. You could almost see right through him. Not long after I looked into his vacant eyes, he blew the save and the Marlins tied the game."

As's Jayson Stark explained, Vizquel had qualified his remarks many times over by acknowledging that the team would never have been in the World Series without Mesa, but Jose has never come around to forgiveness. In Spring Training in 2003 Mesa threatened to kill Vizquel, and never backed down from the threat, repeating it several times:

"I will not forgive him," Mesa told Phillies reporters at the time. "Even my little boy (Jose Jr.) told me to get him. If I face him 10 more times, I'll hit him 10 times. Every time. I wanna kill him." Mesa later added, "And if he charges me, I'll kill him."

And since that time, Mesa has drilled Vizquel three times, by Omar's count. So I guess he means it. And with the two players now in the same division, their next meeting is not a question of if, but when.

For Vizquel's part, he refuses to enable the man who wants to kill him by charging the mound, and he has tried to remain above the fray off the field too. After the latest assault he said "I'm a little tired of it. It's just stupid that he can still remember and still hold that grudge...There's not much you can do but charge the mound." Vizquel knows that would result in a suspension, and he's not about to let that happen. He's hitting .341, and is ranked in the top five NL players in hitting at the moment. Like the pro he is, he's not going to let Mesa's pettiness hurt his team's chances to win. Oh, and on top of that he doesn't want to get snapped in two.

So where the hell was Major League Baseball on this? How can the umpires not have been prepared for this latest confrontation. In the April 23 incident, Mesa was not even ejected from the game. I guess Mesa's repeated threats on Vizquel's life slipped the minds of the folks who run this game? Those threats three years ago bordered on the criminal, and every time since that Mesa has thrown a baseball at Omar Vizquel's head, he has committed an assault with a deadly weapon, as far as I can see.

This most recent Mesa attack set off a beanball war between the Rockies and Giants that carried over into the next day's game, and resulted in several ejections. But not one for Mesa. Brad Marchand of wrote a piece titled "Criminal Intent" that has it about right:

So now tensions between the two teams are boiling, there's a beanball war beginning, and it's all because of one coward's personal vendetta against another player. And he can be as brash as he wants because he's a relief pitcher. He never takes an at-bat. One has to wonder if he'd choose to control his words -- and pitches -- a little more carefully if he might have to ponder some 95-mph gas under his chin from time to time.

If the umpires are going to do nothing to stop Mesa from carrying out his threat each and every time he faces Vizquel, the league has to. So far, Mesa has received only one $500 fine for his rather serious threats and three times hitting Vizquel. Ouch. If Major League Baseball doesn't crack down on Mesa through suspension, or at the very least instruct the umpires to toss him out of the game on the spot if he hits Vizquel again, eventually someone is going to get seriously hurt. It could be Vizquel if he charges the mound or Mesa decides to aim for the head with his next beanball; it could be Mesa if one of Vizquel's larger teammates gets hold of the pitcher; or it could be one of either man's teammates during the brawl that is surely coming. It certainly doesn't appear Mesa will stop his crusade anytime soon, so someone has to do it for him. Otherwise the players will take care of this themselves. And it will get ugly. Very ugly.

It's already ugly. How about a season-long suspension if Mesa ever hits Vizquel again? That sounds more like the kind of step that MLB needs to take to prevent this insane thuggery from continuing. He got four games for this one. That's ridiculously lenient, given the history and the threats and the previous beanings.

This is a dangerous game, even when pitchers aren't trying to hit batters with 95 mph fastballs. Mesa needs to get over himself, or he needs to be banned from the game. If we can get over what happened in Game Seven, surely he can.

I'll let you know if that ever happens.

Posted by dan at May 5, 2006 3:20 PM