On March 4, the San Francisco Giants announced that CEO Larry Baer would voluntarily “take personal time away” from the team just days after TMZ released video of him physically assaulting his wife in a public square in broad daylight. In the video, Baer’s wife grabs his cellphone before he appears to push her off a chair. It’s an ugly scene for a league that has largely flown under the national radar when it comes to domestic violence incidents. But while the NFL’s problems have sparked mainstream outrage, Major League Baseball should not escape scrutiny.
In 2014, the Ray Rice incident forced the sports world to confront its longstanding tendency to ignore domestic violence. This spotlight on the NFL allowed other leagues to quietly revamp their policies while mostly avoiding a lot in-depth examination of past mistakes.
While the NFL’s problems have sparked mainstream outrage, Major League Baseball should not escape scrutiny.
Enacted in 2015, MLB’s policy applies to all league employees, and has since been tested in a few high-profile cases, all involving players.
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In 2016, New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman became the first player disciplined under the policy, receiving a 30-game suspension after his then-girlfriend accused him of choking her and brandishing a gun. That same year, then-Colorado Rockies shortstop Jose Reyes was suspended 51 games after his wife said he grabbed her by the throat and threw her into a sliding door.
Unlike the NFL’s personal conduct policy, which calls for a minimum six-game suspension for a first-time offense — allowing for “aggravating and mitigating factors” — the MLB’s Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy dictates no minimum or maximum penalties. (For reference, the NFL regular season is 16 games long, while the MLB regular season runs through 162 games. The MLB equivalent to a six-game NFL suspension is thus around 60 games.)
This past year has seen some of the longest penalties levied against players accused of domestic violence. In June, San Diego Padres reliever José Torres was suspended 100 games after police say he pointed a gun at his girlfriend. That same month, then-Toronto Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna was suspended 75 games after being charged with one count of assault.
The Osuna case in particular caused a stir in baseball circles; neither police nor the league released any details of their investigations, causing massive media speculation of what MLB found and whether it was able to interview the accuser. Then in July, the Houston Astros traded for Osuna, a move that was seen as opportunistic and morally suspect.
Most recently, in October, MLB suspended Chicago Cubs shortstop Addison Russell 40 games for violating the domestic violence policy after a blog post by his former wife detailed years of physical and emotional abuse. (In December, a second woman, the mother of Russell’s child, accused Russell of mistreatment and failing to pay court-ordered child support, though so far that has had no bearing on the agreed-upon suspension.)
Given this history, the MLB would make the case that its domestic violence policies are better than most, and that’s not necessarily untrue.
Given this history, the MLB would make the case that its domestic violence policies are better than most, and that’s not necessarily untrue: The league has done a better job of immediately placing players on paid administrative leave and conducting its own investigations outside of law enforcement when compared to other leagues. Under the policy, the league has seven days after placing a player on leave to render discipline.
But frankly, comparing MLB’s recent record with domestic violence cases to other leagues is a low bar to clear. Advocates agree that MLB’s policies are largely ineffective at preventing future assaults, focusing more on punitive measures that play well in the press but do little to educate league employees or the public on domestic violence. It’s also worth noting that baseball’s pre-Ray Rice history of ignoring domestic violence was arguably worse than then NFL’s.
A few particularly striking examples: Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox, inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014, was accused of punching his wife in 1995. In 2000, Rockies pitcher Pedro Astacio was accused of punching his estranged wife, who was pregnant at the time, during the offseason. Astacio was not suspended and went on to be the team’s Opening Day starter. In 2005, police were called multiple times to the home of then-Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Milton Bradley. Later that year, Bradley was the Dodgers’ nominee for the Roberto Clemente Humanitarian Award. (Bradley’s history of domestic violence was extensively detailed in 2015 by Sports Illustrated.)
Outside of players and coaches, we have little history to go on to judge how the league might act in a case like Baer’s. Executives and all other personnel fall under MLB’s domestic violence policy, which doesn’t require criminal charges for the league to pursue its own independent investigation. Immediately after the video went public, MLB released the following statement: “Major League Baseball is aware of the incident and, just like any other situation like this, will immediately begin to gather the facts. We will have no further comment until this process is completed.”
It’s also unclear if Baer’s decision to voluntarily step down will have any impact on MLB’s investigation. Commissioner Rob Manfred is certainly within his rights to enact further discipline under the domestic violence policy. As often happens when owners and management are accused of wrongdoing, it will be interesting to see how the league treats Baer compared to players. MLB and the players’ union have worked hard in the last two decades to forge what is probably the most mutual relationship between labor and management that exists in professional sports — and even that is in danger of deteriorating. The league has an opportunity now to set a singular standard — tangibly, not theoretically — and avoid being accused of unevenly enforcing its policies against players.
The NFL is currently facing similar questions of how the league handles cases involving front-office officials — questions that, at their core, should reveal just how even the ground is beneath players and management. MLB has thus far managed to hide behind the NFL’s arguably worse example, both regarding domestic violence and labor equality. Here’s a chance for it to step into the light on both.