TORONTO – Major League Baseball handed down an unusually harsh 14-game unpaid suspension to Toronto Blue Jays hitting coach Brook Jacoby after an ugly post-game exchange with the umpiring crew inside the narrow dugout walkway they shared at Fenway Park.
While the team refused to comment on the ban – for context’s sake Kelvin Herrera of the Kansas City Royals got five games for throwing at Brett Lawrie’s head recently – they are appealing the punishment, which started in Monday’s 3-1 win over the New York Yankees.
The incident took place following the Blue Jays’ 4-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox last Wednesday, and while the exact details aren’t clear, multiple sources described a tense and angry exchange between team coaches and crew chief Bill Miller and Doug Eddings, who engaged in the confrontation.
At Fenway, visiting teams and umpires exit the field through a tunnel that connects the dugout to both the visitors’ clubhouse and a corridor that leads to the umpires’ dressing room. At the end of the tunnel is a stairway and a landing where there are separate doors that lead to each, with teams heading into the pathway behind umpires, who are typically escorted by security personnel.
As they left the field Wednesday, some members of the Blue Jays coaching staff, Jacoby included, yelled about Adrian Johnson’s strike zone that night – Russell Martin was called out on strikes to end the game in one of many disputed calls. Rather than continuing up the stairs and out their door, Miller and Eddings turned back in the tight passageway to engage the argument, said the sources.
The report filed by the umpires is believed to have said Jacoby initiated physical contact with the umpires, said the sources, some of whom said things never escalated beyond nose-to-nose yelling.
Major League Baseball dropped the hammer on Jacoby, who will forfeit nearly nine per cent of his salary for 2015 unless the penalty is reduced on appeal, for “his post-game conduct toward the umpire crew.” Unlike players, whose suspensions get held in abeyance until their hearing is heard, coaches must begin serving their punishment immediately.
It’s unclear if the umpires faced any sort of discipline for their part in the incident. Miller was the umpire struck by Lawrie’s helmet when the third baseman, then with the Blue Jays, threw it to the ground angrily following a called third strike in May 2012.
Assistant hitting coach Eric Owens took Jacoby’s place in the dugout Monday, with Martin crediting him for a tip that Dellin Betances had thrown more breaking balls in recent outings. Martin delivered the game-winning single off the right-hander in the eighth inning.
Hall of Fame baseball writer Peter Gammons tweeted about an incident between the Blue Jays and umpires over the weekend while Sportsnet’s Jeff Blair reported Sunday that visiting teams at Fenway must now wait for umpires to come off the field before entering the tunnel.
Even with the change, the area remains a potential flashpoint, and perhaps a more foolproof approach would be for umpires to use an exit in the left-field corner at Fenway that connects to the service hallway that leads to their dressing room.