Cincinnati Reds starter Trevor Bauer said Wednesday that he was told by Major League Baseball he could be subject to discipline and removal from a game if he wears custom-made cleats that say "FREE JOE KELLY" on one shoe and have a pouty-faced illustration of the suspended Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher on the other.
Kelly was banned for eight games after the league said he intentionally threw at Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman and shortstop Carlos Correa in a late-July game. Kelly appealed, and the suspension, which will begin when he comes off the injured list, was reduced to five games.
Bauer, who has been one of the National League's best pitchers this season, tweeted a video of the shoes and said he planned to wear them during his start Wednesday night in the second game of a doubleheader against Kansas City.
In a second tweet, Bauer said he planned to give away the cleats to a person who purchases a T-shirt on his website of a goat with Kelly's sad face that said "DEAL WITH IT." In the tweet, Bauer said all proceeds would go to Kelly's charity of choice.
Regardless of footwear, Bauer's dominance continued on the mound. He allowed just one hit in a complete-game victory over the Royals. The 5-0 win followed Cincinnati's 4-0 loss in the doubleheader's opener. Bauer struck out nine and walked three, then spoke to the media.
"MLB told us that they had a new cleat policy this year, where they're allowing us to put kinda whatever we want on the cleats, as long as it wasn't offensive or political," he said. "Apparently that's not the truth; apparently that's just ... if they agree with it or not."
Unfazed on the mound, Bauer improved to 3-0 on the shortened season.
"They threatened to eject me from the game and suspend me if I wore them, so that was the deal," he said. "I don't think they have grounds to do that; it certainly would be completely unprecedented for, I guess, what would be considered a uniform violation by them, even though it's not really a violation, given the rules this year.
"But I just didn't want to put my teammates in a situation like that. I did wear them pregame warming up and stuff like that, so they're authenticated; they'll still be available, per the rules I put on Twitter. But I guess in the future, I just won't announce them, so that MLB can't freak out about me following the rules."
MLB contacted the Reds and said the cleats are against the footwear regulations bargained by the league and the Major League Baseball Players Association, sources said. When a team official suggested Bauer intended to wear them, sources said, the league said that if umpires saw him sporting the shoes, he could be removed from the game.
The footwear regulations state that "MLB and the Player's Club will each have discretionary rights to deny any proposed design" and that "approval will not be unreasonably withheld." Players' cleats, the regulations say, "may contain writings, illustrations, and messages." While Bauer said he believes the shoes fall within the regulations, wearing them could lead to punishment, according to the regulations: "Players will be subject to progressive discipline for wearing designs that were not submitted for approval or for wearing footwear during a game that was denied approval by MLB or the Player's Club."
Bauer has been an outspoken critic of the league's marketing and the Astros, who used a sign-stealing scheme during their 2017 World Series-winning season. While Kelly wasn't a member of the Dodgers team that lost to the Astros that season, Houston did knock out his team, the Boston Red Sox, in the division series.
Following the inning in which his fastball buzzed behind Bregman and a breaking ball nearly hit Correa, Kelly walked toward the Dodgers' dugout, turned toward Correa and offered his now-famous pouty face. The teams' benches cleared, though no fight materialized.
On his teammate Ross Stripling's podcast last week, Kelly said Astros players, who were not disciplined by MLB for their involvement in the scheme, "snitch[ed] like a little b----" and that "they cheated. Everyone knows they're cheaters. They know they're cheaters." Kelly added that he was not intentionally throwing at the Astros players.