“I would lean toward yes,” Stripling said. “In the right time and in the right place. Maybe I give up two runs the inning before and I got some anger going. Who knows? But yeah, it would certainly be on my mind.”

* * * 

No active Astro player has been punished for the sign-stealing scandal, and that’s wrong. Something should happen, right? Even the kinds of cheating that baseball holds in a warm place in its heart, like scuffing a baseball, get sanctioned when the details come out in the open. 

Understandably, into that vaccum, calls for frontier justice have increased, as you can see from the Ross Stripling quote above. If Stripling, one of the most cerebral players in the game, is thinking an eye for an eye, you can imagine what a large cross-section of ballplayers are pondering — not to mention aggrieved fans out for blood.

As much as the impulse is understandable, this can’t happen.

Beanball wars are dangerous enough — yes, dangerous — when only an isolated incident is involved. Try as they might, pitchers can’t guarantee that a brushback pitch won’t hit a batter in the head.

You cannot give tacit approval to everyone who has a grievance — basically, 29 other teams — to say they each get their shot against any Astro they please, as if it were the opposite of a future Hall of Famer’s retirement tour where every team hands the legend a rocking chair.

Where does it end?  If José Altuve takes a 95 mph fastball in the small of the back, do opposing pitchers across the league decide that’s enough? If every Astro from 2017 gets plunked, will people be satisfied?  I’m guessing not. 

Basically, we’re looking at the famous scene from Airplane where one of the passengers is losing control and everyone else on the plane lines up for the beating. It’s funny because of how preposterous it is. 

It’s precisely when fury is at its highest that we need the rule of law. We cannot turn every Astros game this season into an open season for vigilantes. Baseball is supposed to be a game. 

With the consent of the MLB Players Association — which shouldn’t be hard to come by, considering the overwhelming sentiment of its non-Astro membership over the past days and weeks — MLB needs to reopen the issue of punishment for the Astros. Yes, it’s clumsy and clunky and the last thing commissioner Rob Manfred wants to do, but better late than never. 

Options on the table include suspensions for the players as well as fines, perhaps tied to their playoff shares. Members of the Astros have already begun to admit their wrongdoing this week — some better than others, to be sure. Any candor is welcome. At the same time, it’s not a leap to suggest that they should pay a price for what they have admitted to. 

Most of all, MLB cannot leave a void where the only alternative its players can turn to is corporal punishment. It’s 2020. We’re past that as a society, and for good reason. 

The Irony Committee has approved Alex Wood’s take on the situation. Few have expressed more anger about the scandal this winter than the Dodger lefty, who actually thrived in his 2017 World Series start against the Astros in part because he and catcher Austin Barnes switched signs aggressively. “I would rather face a player that was taking steroids than face a player that knew every pitch that was coming,” he tweeted in January. On Friday, he noted that the only people likely to get punished in a beanball war would be the pitchers. 

“Somebody will take it into their own hands, and they’ll get suspended more games than any of those guys got for the biggest cheating scandal in 100 years,” Wood said. “It’ll be pretty ironic when that happens, because I’m sure that’s how it’ll end up playing out.”

That’s not how it should play out. Pandora’s Box has been opened. As much as it might want to, MLB must now deal with what has flown out. Otherwise, it’s going to have a civil war on its hands.