Frank Robinson went to the movies all day Wednesday.
Actually, Robinson watched the same flick "over and over and over and over," sometimes from different angles and at different speeds.
When Major League Baseball appointed the Hall of Fame outfielder as its senior vice president for on-field operations, it was a fancy way of announcing that Robinson gets to clean up messes like the one that spilled behind home plate Tuesday at Great American Ball Park.
Robinson and vice president for on-field operations Bob Watson assigned discipline for the seven-minute fracas that transpired between the Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds. The action included a seven-game suspension for Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto, two games each for managers Tony La Russa and Dusty Baker, and fines for Cardinals Chris Carpenter and Yadier Molina and the Reds' Brandon Phillips and Russ Springer.
"What we want to do is try to be fair," Robinson explained Saturday. "We don't want to punish anyone who doesn't deserve to be punished .We try to keep the players on the field. When it's warranted, we suspend. There is a lot of back and forth and a lot of time involved."
There typically exists a gulf in perspective as well.
The Reds saw Molina instigate a verbal exchange with Phillips at home plate and heard Carpenter challenge Baker in a profane exchange that extended the incident.
The Cardinals insist Phillips baited Molina by twice tapping his shin guards after making public, unflattering comments that had sharpened an edge within the showdown of two NL Central contenders.
The visiting clubhouse also became enraged over Cueto wildly kicking Carpenter and backup catcher Jason LaRue, raising scars on Carpenter's back and leaving La Rue with a mild concussion and severely bruised ribs that sent him to the disabled list Friday.
Robinson and Watson determined the incident would not have escalated without the heated rhetoric that arose between Baker and La Russa. Baker at one point told Cardinals third-base coach Jose Oquendo to 'shut up." La Russa forcefully told Baker not to yell at his coaches.
"We hold the managers and coaches to a higher standard," Robinson said. "They aren't supposed to say or do anything to incite the situation. Clearly the managers did that in this case."
When Carpenter dropped a string of obscenities on Baker, tempers flared even hotter. Baker engaged Carpenter in a cluster of F-bombs as Reds third baseman and former Cardinals teammate Scott Rolen rushed at Carpenter. Rolen was both protecting his manager and trying to defuse the situation. "We're not going to let this happen! We're not going to let this happen!" Rolen yelled while grabbing Carpenter and pushing him toward the backstop.
Many on both sides interpreted Rolen's sudden rush at Carpenter as a hostile move and sprinted toward the pair. The ensuing crush of humanity pinned Carpenter against the screen within easy kicking distance of Cueto, who claimed self-defense while being restrained by teammates.
"We're trying to determine who is being aggressive, very aggressive and who physically escalates an incident with force," Robinson said.
Robinson defined those who may have verbally incited the situation as aggressive.
"What separated Cueto was he was kicking and he continued to kick and made physical contact with two players," Robinson said. "He was the No. 1 culprit."
Cueto's role remained at least partly hidden to Jeff Kellogg's umpiring crew, which received high marks from Robinson as well as both managers for not ejecting players. Indeed, the Cardinals would have faced an untenable predicament had an overly zealous crew decided to evict Molina and Phillips, since LaRue's injuries would have left them without a catcher.
Umpires are told to take notes during such a scrum rather than act as bouncers. "They did an outstanding job showing good judgment and restraint," Robinson said.
Molina and Phillips "kind of disappeared after their initial situation," Robinson said. "The reason they only got fined, there were no punches thrown. Nothing got out of hand."
Robinson classified Carpenter as "very aggressive" but withheld suspension because "he made no physical contact until Rolen kind of tackled him to get him out of Dusty's face."
Carpenter on Friday reiterated his displeasure with Cueto but also admitted his own actions likely fed Tuesday's escalation.
"He had something to say. I had something to say," Carpenter recalled of his heated exchange with Baker. "Unfortunately, it got out of control.
"The hard thing was trying to explain to my son, who saw it 17 times, why is Scott Rolen attacking me? Why is everyone pushing me into the net? Why were they doing that? Why is your back messed up? Why is that guy kicking Mr. LaRue in the face? And you can't explain to a 7-year-old that at a baseball game that happens."
Cueto, an 11-game winner this season, did not appeal his suspension and fine, immediately leaving the Reds to play a man short for its duration. Cueto, in essence, misses one start.
The Cardinals argued strenuously for stronger discipline against Cueto. Asked what he thought about MLB's ruling, LaRue responded Friday with a terse "no comment." La Russa offered little more.
Robinson underscored that his office acts within a narrow framework intended to be both thorough and expeditious while relying heavily on precedent. Robinson spoke with the umpiring crew, Watson with both managers, and the commissioner's office was forwarded interviews conducted between the Players Association and some of those players involved. (MLB may not directly interview players without union consent.)
Robinson and Watson used as precedent a 1999 incident in which Texas Rangers pitcher Chan Ho Park launched a flying kick at Anaheim Angels pitcher Tim Belcher.
In that instance, Belcher remained in the game, relatively unscathed; Park was ejected and eventually received a seven-game suspension.
"We did what we could to Cueto," Robinson said, noting even an eight-game suspension would have been "pushing the envelope."
(San Francisco Giants ace and future Hall of Famer Juan Marichal received an eight-game suspension and was heavily fined for clubbing Los Angeles Dodgers catcher John Roseboro twice in the head with a bat in August 1965.)
The process worked against stiffer action against Cueto as Robinson admitted he was unaware of the extent of LaRue's injuries before announcing discipline. La Rue did not see team medical supervisor Dr. George Paletta until almost 24 hours after MLB levied the suspensions and fines. An agreement between the commissioner's office and Players Association stipulates punishment for on-field incidents should be handed down within 48 hours.
"Sometimes we may miss something like (LaRue's case) because of that," Robinson said. "If we had not acted, it would probably have been more severe. But as is, we really can't take a starting pitcher beyond five, six or seven days because this individual may hurt himself being laid off for a longer amount of time. We didn't know the extent of LaRue's injuries until later on."
Added Robinson: "We may have added another game and gone against precedent. It's more likely we would have increased the fine."
Robinson and Watson played a combined 40 seasons in the major leagues and believe any comparison of MLB's code of justice to other leagues such as the NBA and NHL is inappropriate.
"The fans aren't there to see us. They're not there to see the umpires. It's about the players," Robinson said. "Players have to understand that they should play baseball. This is our sport. People don't come to the ballpark to see fights."