A Deciding Moment for MLB

People who know me know that baseball is my bubble, my escape from real life, a place where I can feel like magic is real and real life is not. But every once in a while, even I have to leave the bubble and acknowledge the fact that there are some serious problems with this game that I love so much.

Yesterday, TMZ released horrifying footage that showed San Francisco Giants President and Ceo Larry Baer attacking his wife. And no, I don’t mean the New York Giants, though his behavior was very apropos of the NFL.

The video is incredibly hard to watch. It’s not silent footage, either; you can hear his wife Pamela screaming “Oh my God, no, help!” I wondered, ‘if this is how he treats her in public, imagine how he treats her when they are alone.’ It’s Ray Rice-esque, and it’s unbelievable that we’re even talking about what punishment MLB might hand down and not what kind of legal trouble he’s facing.

MLB and the MLBPA have had a joint Domestic Violence Policy in place since 2015. It covers four areas: Treatment and Intervention, Investigations, Discipline, and Training, Education, and Resources. At the time, MLBPA Executive Director and former MLB player Tony Clark said they were hopeful the policy would “deter future violence, promote victim safety, and serve as a step toward a better understanding of the causes and consequences of domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse.”

Eleven major leaguers have been investigated under the policy, and nine have been suspended since the policy took effect at the beginning of the 2016 season. I can name three players off the top of my head who were suspended around the league during the 2018 season alone. And those three do not include Addison Russell, whose ex-wife accused him of spousal abuse during their divorce proceedings last year, though he has since been suspended 40 games, to be served at the beginning of this season.

A grossly ironic side-note to this story is the fact that the franchise, and Baer specifically, bragged this year about the fact that the Giants were the first franchise in MLB “to devote a day to preventing domestic and family violence,” Strike Out Violence Day. He used that to justify principal-owner and billionaire Charles Johnson’s donation to Cindy Hyde-Smith, the Republican U.S. Senator from Mississippi who made twisted racist remarks during her reelection campaign last fall, was captured on video expressing her wish that it be harder for college students to vote, and photographed wearing a Confederate hat.

This situation, in particular, will be a key moment for MLB and Commissioner Manfred: they have video evidence of Baer’s heinous behavior, something they’ve rarely had for any of the players who have been suspended for violating the policy. Baer is a high-ranking executive, which makes him subject to a different policy, but regardless, how MLB decides to discipline him will send a message, since they claim to have a zero-tolerance policy at all levels of the business. Their football counterpart, the NFL, has already proven time and again by not enforcing their own domestic violence policy that they do not care about their players’ victims. Now, it’s MLB’s turn to decide if they will be tough on crimes with actual victims, or just when it comes to cracking down on the victimless crime of performance-enhancing drug use.

So far, the priority is PEDs and the proof is in the postseason. A player who is suspended for testing positive for a banned substance is ineligible for that year’s postseason; a player suspended for violating the domestic violence policy is not. The reason being that unlike PEDs usage, which union officials have labeled “a work-related choice that calls into question the integrity of your job and the game being played on the field,” domestic violence is viewed as an “off-the-field matter.” (Fox Sports) Therefore, Aroldis Chapman won a World Series with the Cubs in 2016, the same season he served one of the first suspensions under the brand-new policy for choking his girlfriend and firing his gun inside their home. He has since pitched in the postseason with the Yankees, as well. Roberto Osuna was suspended this past season and facing trial for domestic assault when the Astros traded for him during his 75-game suspension, the second-longest since the policy was enacted. Osuna later pitched in the postseason, too. Watching him get lit up by the Red Sox in the ALCS was one of the most satisfying moments of my life.

Even when the league disciplines players and condemns their behaviors, seeing teams who’ve employed these athletes then excuse their actions by trotting them out is a painful reminder to fans who themselves have been victims that life is often, unfortunately, supremely cruel and unfair. It sends a sad message that domestic abuse is something that can just be fixed, even though victims and their families, especially children, are often scarred for life. MLB’s tolerance for horrific behavior will hurt loyal fans, and it definitely will not make baseball appealing to new fans.

As a woman, it often feels impossible to thrive in a world in which men can get away with literally anything. I hate it, but I’m used to it; worst of all, I hate that I’m used to it. Millions of kids, myself included, grow up dreaming about playing baseball, and we idolize and look up to players who do. Part of me will always be that little girl walking up the ramp at Fenway Park, emerging into the dazzling sunlight, blinded by Fenway green and Red Sox red. I love this game more than anything, so it’s heartbreaking every time I feel like the sport has let me down, especially since I find it pretty hard to believe that teams can’t find players and employees who don’t enjoy hurting people. Because, ultimately, the choice should be an easy one, barely a choice at all, really. If you fill a team with moral people, you can take comfort and have a sense of pride in knowing that you’ve built that. Or you can show you don’t care, alienate thousands, and wait for the inevitable shoe full of legal issues and PR scandals to drop.


Photo: Mercury News

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