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Budig should suspend N.Y. appeals process


Barring a change in an antiquated procedure, outgoing president Bobby Brown is going to leave the American League in a state of suspension. But at least his successor, Gene Budig, won't have to deal with the corking issue involving Cleveland Indians outfielder Albert Belle.

Brown's final weeks in office have been marked by a rash of suspensions, most significantly the 10-day banishment levied against Belle for using a doctored bat. The Kansas City Royals' Bob Hamelin got five games for charging the mound after being hit by a pitch, and the Detroit Tigers' Tony Phillips and Chicago White Sox's Ron Karkovice were given three-game suspensions for altercations with umpires.

As per custom, because there is no absolute authority in baseball anymore, all of the suspensions were appealed, which means Budig will inherit the cases involving Hamelin, Phillips and Karkovice. Belle's hearing will take place on Brown's last scheduled day in office, a week from Friday.

But there is an underlying factor in all of these cases that should be one of the first orders of business for Budig. An appeal is nothing more than a "let's talk about it the next time you're in New York" process.

In many cases, that can be months later, and by dropping the appeal at any time, teams often can manipulate the penalties to their advantage. For years, when the appeals were heard, the suspensions began on the first day in New York, which caused teams to complain about the Yankees (and Mets in the National League) being the real beneficiaries.

That practice has been altered enough that most of the time those involved play against New York before serving their time. But either way, there is a tinge of unfairness.

In Belle's case, his appeal means he will be able to play this weekend against the White Sox, the team against whom he committed the alleged violation, and next week against the Orioles -- games he would've missed had his suspension begun immediately.

In the unlikely event he is forced to miss the games against the Yankees, the Orioles would have a legitimate complaint. Brown probably will take that into consideration and suspend Belle for series against Detroit, the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays.

All that does is lessen the impact of a suspension. If Belle's act is worthy of a 10-day penalty, then it should come at a time most disadvantageous to him and his team. If there has to be an appeal, it should be heard immediately, and if it's upheld, the expenses incurred should be part of the penalty.

If Belle is guilty as charged, he shouldn't be allowed to play in the four-game series against the White Sox this week. And in cases involving pitchers throwing knockdown pitches or hitters charging the mound, those suspensions should be invoked the next time the teams involved play against each other.

Such a policy, at the least, would reduce the risk of retaliation, which is the primary reason it should be adopted. But then again, it makes sense, which is probably the reason the status will remain quo.

Welcome to major-league baseball, Mr. Budig.

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