By Jon Weisman
The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres will have only three days to cool off from their damaging Thursday night brawl before they meet again, Monday at Dodger Stadium. When they do reunite, it will be on a night that honors, among other things, a ballplayer who turned the other cheek when much more than an 89-mph fastball came flying at it.
Monday is Jackie Robinson Night at Dodger Stadium, celebrating the anniversary of the Hall of Fame ballplayer and human being shattering baseball's color line. The occasion will gain particular attention this year thanks to the almost simultaneous release of the movie "42," exposing millions to the details of what Robinson battled.
Rachel Robinson and members of her family will attend and be honored before the game, along with pioneering Dodger greats Don Newcombe and Roy Campanella and members of the Tuskegee Airmen. Kelley Jakle, the great-granddaughter of Branch Rickey -- general of baseball's upright citizens brigade -- will sing the national anthem.
It is a night when everyone in a baseball uniform will pay tribute by wearing the same digits that Robinson wore. A night, in effect, when the Dodgers and Padres will have each other's number.
Against this backdrop and much more, the Dodgers will face a quandary: whether to retaliate against Carlos Quentin for what they -- and most of the baseball world -- feel was an unprovoked attack by the Padre outfielder on Dodger pitcher Zack Greinke after being hit by a pitch.
It is not the purpose of this article to debate the details. A 3-2 pitch in a 2-1 game hit the majors' most-plunked player of the past two years in the shoulder. It was the 13th pitch between the two principals on the evening. Filled with preexisting animosity toward Greinke over past HBPs, Quentin took a slow step toward the mound. Greinke spit out an undisclosed word in response. And then Quentin burst forth.
Even if you find Quentin's actions defensible, rest assured that the Dodgers do not. And therein lays their dilemma. The codes of baseball dictate that the Dodgers retaliate, but the perils of doing so are rather extreme.
The franchise of Robinson is also the franchise of Don Drysdale, a man who took pride in laying down the law from 60 feet, 6 inches away. But retaliation, and the potential of another ensuing brawl, threatens to spoil what should be one of baseball's shining hours, a legacy the Dodger franchise cherishes exceptionally.
More bluntly, the national spotlight will be on Dodger Stadium and its fans, barely two years after the ugliest incident in their shared history: The nearly fatal beating by two renegade locals of Giants fan Bryan Stow for the sin of wanting to enjoy a baseball game in San Francisco colors. Though the incident served as a wakeup call for fans of all uniforms, tensions figure to be high as Monday's game begins. If the Dodgers retaliate, it would seem to send tacit approval to their fan base of an eye for an eye, that violence can beget violence.
There is nothing that the teams, the sport or the city needs less.
There is even a backstory within the backstory. The Dodgers' scheduled starting pitcher Monday is Chad Billingsley, whose reputation as a softie has endured ever since he failed to fire back at the Phillies during the 2008 National League Championship Series, after Philadelphia's Randy Myers had thrown high and tight at Russell Martin and Manny Ramirez. Billingsley will be under close scrutiny from those with long memories as well as those who simply expect frontier justice.
The cost of throwing at a batter would almost certainly be a suspension of the Dodger pitcher, further harming a Dodger pitching staff that opened the season with an overflow of starting pitchers on its 40-man roster before surrendering two of them in the past week alone, Aaron Harang in trade to Colorado, Greinke to the disabled list.
Quentin himself will not be in uniform Monday after dropping the appeal of his eight-game suspension, but that is almost beside the point. Quentin understands that the suspension is protocol, and there's no better time or place for him to serve it surrounding the intense Los Angeles series, but anything beyond baseball's well-established precedent for charging-the-mound punishments will likely vex his sensibilities. In any case, the Dodgers might be just as likely to target a Padres pitcher, even if it's their former teammate, scheduled starter Eric Stults.
The Dodgers could postpone avenging Greinke until Tuesday, when his replacement in the rotation (likely Chris Capuano, Ted Lilly or Stephen Fife) takes the mound. Putting aside the detail of the perception of Billingsley it would leave people with, it would only make the entire enterprise seem sillier. Certainly off the table is waiting until Wednesday, when none other than super-ace Clayton Kershaw starts. In July 2010, Kershaw earned a five-game suspension for hitting Giants outfielder Aaron Rowand in what was deemed a revenge-motivated hit. Losing Kershaw for that length of time or possibly longer, when the team has already taken such a blow with Greinke's injury, is unacceptable.
So it comes down to Monday. The Dodgers have something to gain by throwing at the Padres: team spirit, manhood, gratification. On the other hand, they have much more to lose. They showed plenty of backbone after Greinke's injury Thursday -- including the most important detail of all, winning the game -- and can only further harm themselves if they opt for the tempting but temporary salve of street justice.
On this night of No. 42, the question the Dodgers most likely will ask of themselves, consciously or unconsciously, is this: What would Jackie do?
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