What to say?
Steven Baker’s season – for now – has been disposed of by an incompetent Match Review Panel, clumsily attempting to atone for questionable decisions in recent weeks and make someone pay a hefty price.
That Baker was not even properly cautioned by the field umpires – no free kicks were paid for any of his misdemeanours – is just one reason as to what makes this decision both stunning and ridiculous.
Though there were several hits that Baker landed on opponent Steve Johnson – the pair tussled all night – these hits were barely forceful and only served to annoy the Cat, rather than injure him.
Not to mention that Johnson, who laid the only hit harsh enough by either player send the other off the ground, will probably only miss three weeks if he submits a guilty plea. Baker left the ground with a bloodied face, and returned with a closed-over left eye, after Johnson collected his face with a forceful left elbow.
Chris Judd (apparently) had no case to answer after extracting blood from the face of Matthew Pavlich the week before. And how does this compare with the most dramatic on-field hit of recent times – Barry Hall’s hit on Brent Staker (watch it here, from half-time of Channel Ten’s original broadcast) in 2008?
Adding to the feeling of injustice is the extra loading of points to the penalty. Taking the original penalty from eight to twelve games, they come from Baker’s seven-match suspension handed out to him after the Saints’ Round 20 match of 2007. The tagger was suspended after Jeff Farmer crashed into the back of him well off the play and needed to be carried off the ground concussed, his nose bleeding. However, no cameras captured the incident, and the tribunal had to base their decision on the version of events described to them by Baker and Farmer. Baker’s version of events saw the tribunal judge the unseen incident as reckless, with hight contact making a high impact (you can read a report here). He had a 40 per cent loading onto this decision, and the initial sentence of four games was extended by three.
It continues what must feel like mistreatment towards the club on the part of the Match Review Panel in recent years.
In Round 1 of 2004, a young Nick Riewoldt was hit high behind play by Matthew Scarlett in the opening round, taking him to ground in an incident that was captured on cameras – but Scarlett was deemed to have no case to answer whatsoever as the footage was not deemed conclusive enough (yes, as opposed to Baker ultimately being given seven week for an incident that no footage of exists).
Not to mention the aggressive treatment Riewoldt received from Brisbane’s Chris Scott and Mal Michael upon injuring his collarbone in the 2005 season opener. Baker’s suspension of one week for hitting Johnson’s injured hand is the first of a new ruling introduced after the Riewoldt incident; then again, Scott and Michael had no action taken against them because Riewoldt had waved away trainers after hitting the ground, which the Match Review Panel took as a sign that he was fit to play – meaning there was some sort of “rule” in effect already. And no-one would dispute Steve Johnson was in a much healthier state than Riewoldt when he was set upon by the Lions.
Several weeks after the young skipper spent the rest of his first game at the helm in tears on the bench, Fraser Gehrig was given a one week holiday for his “tummy tap”, an incident which seemed rather innocuous. The issue came back to bite the Saints again cruelly later in the season; after imploding in the final term of the First Preliminary Final against the Sydney Swans, St Kilda could only look on as Swans captain Barry Hall would walk free and play in a Grand Final after delivering a blow to the midriff of Matt Maguire well off the ball (you can watch it here).
Then there was the Baker-Farmer incident, which until now punctuated the seemingly unsuccessful run the Saints have had with the game’s law-enforcers since 2004.
There was also Round 1 of this season, in which Justin Koschitzke was given three weeks for his front-on hit on Nick Malceski early in another contest against the Swans; Essendon’s David Hille was given nothing for a similar incident soon after.
And so the ghosts of that overall-awkward season of 2007 are again raised. The club will be announcing whether it will challenge the ruling or not shortly, and for the good of the club and the game it must, and it must achieve a fair result and show up the Match Review Panel for the farce that it is.