Domestic violence in sports is not new. Sports commissioners policing the conduct, on the other hand, is – particularly in Major League Baseball. Take for example, some of the following cases that went unpunished by the MLB over the years:
- In 1992, former Colorado Rockies OF Dante Bichette struck his pregnant then-girlfriend (now wife). Bichette had this to say about the incident: “It was a one-time thing. She’s not a battered wife. I just don’t feel like I belonged in that story even though it did happen, I did touch her in anger… And although it was very wrong, we joke about it now.”
- In 1995, former Braves manager Bobby Cox was arrested for allegedly of pulling his wife’s hair, calling her “a bitch”, and punching her in the face, after she made a comment about him spilling a drink on the floor.
- For years former MLB OF Milton Bradley beat his wife, threatened to kill her and even evicted her from his house. In 2013, Bradley was convicted of inflicting corporal injury on a spouse, assault with a deadly weapon (a baseball bat), and criminal threats. He is currently serving a 32-month prison sentence. His wife, Monique Bradley, died of cirrhosis of the liver three months after giving testimony during Bradley’s criminal trial.
These are just a few examples. Sadly, there are many more.
Thankfully, that era appears to be over. After NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell completely botched the Ray Rice case, the NFL started the trend by implementing a formal league-wide policy policing domestic violence among its players. Shortly thereafter, the MLB and its players association followed suit and agreed to its own domestic violence policy.
MLB and the MLBPA have announced an agreement on a Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy. pic.twitter.com/C1eTGljC6r
— MLB Communications (@MLB_PR) August 21, 2015
The key part of the MLB’s policy is that it gives Commissioner Rob Manfred complete discretion to discipline a player “who commits an act of domestic violence.” Manfred has the power to impose “appropriate discipline, with no minimum or maximum penalty under the policy.” In other words, Manfred has free reign to punish as he sees fit.
The policy clearly evidences the MLB’s desire to begin disciplining players who committed an act of domestic violence but the question becomes: To what extent?
Since the policy was implemented in August, there have been three domestic violence investigations of MLB players. New York Yankee closer Aroldis Chapman reached a settlement with the league, and Los Angeles Dodger OF Yasiel Puig was not disciplined. That leaves Jose Reyes as the sole pending investigation.
The Jose Reyes Challenge
On Halloween last year, Jose Reyes was arrested for domestic violence at a Maui hotel and ordered to stay away from his wife, Katherine Ramirez, for three days. Reyes, who allegedly appeared intoxicated, admitted to having an argument with his wife, but denies any physical contact. His wife told police that Reyes grabbed her off the bed and shoved her, then grabbed her throat and shoved her into a sliding glass door, which resulted in injuries to her thigh, neck, and wrist.
Last week, Maui County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Kerry Glen stated that she is dropping the charges because Ramirez is refusing to speak to prosecutors or return to Maui. Glen said, “at this point, I have no other avenue for prosecution.”
The Reyes case highlights one of the many difficulties in prosecuting domestic violence cases. According to a Honolulu prosecutor, only 5 to 10 percent of suspects charged with misdemeanor domestic abuse stand trial, and of those that actually make it to trial, an estimated 90 percent are acquitted.
After news broke that the charges will be dropped, the MLB released the following statement:
“[Reyes] remains on administrative leave until the Commissioner completes his investigation and imposes any discipline.”
The MLB’s investigation will not be easy. Since Ramirez refused to speak with prosecutors, there is no reason to think that she will speak with MLB investigators. The Wailea Four Seasons Hotel, where the incident took place and whose employee made the 911 call, has announced that it will not reveal any information about its guests. The MLB will likely be forced to rely solely on any information that law enforcement will give them.
MLB’s Domestic Violence Policy
After an offseason of anticipation, Manfred implemented the domestic violence policy for the first time on March 1st, when he came to an agreement with New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman to suspended him 30 games for allegedly choking his girlfriend, pushing her into a wall, and shooting his gun off 8 times in his garage, causing her to hide in the bushes outside of the house at the time police arrived on the scene.
The Chapman suspension is roughly half of what he would have received in the NFL or NBA.
While many in the media lauded Manfred for the Chapman suspension, it is relatively weak when compared to domestic violence penalties in other sports leagues. The first violation under the NFL’s policy a player is suspended 37.5% (6 games) of the season and, although the NBA has no policy, in its most recent case, then Charlotte Hornets guard Jeffrey Taylor was suspended 29% (24 games) of the season. The Chapman penalty, 18.5% of the season, is roughly half of the other Leagues.
The MLB’s suspension also represents a smaller financial penalty than the other leagues. When a player is suspended, they forfeit the percentage of salary that they would have earned during those games. Because the Chapman penalty is for a smaller percentage of games, the hit to his pocket book is also smaller (Chapman will lose approximately $2,095,125).
Chapman had other financial interests in mind when agreeing to the suspension. If he were suspended 46 (28.3% of the MLB season, still less than the NFL & NBA standards) or more games, he would remain under Yankees control for the 2017 season and, presumably, miss out on a free agency payday. You have to imagine that Chapman had money on his in mind when he decided to “settle” with Manfred, instead of rolling the dice by not agreeing, letting Manfred rule, and then appealing.
Even after he accepted the penalty, Chapman refused to take responsibility and in a statement said: “I did not in any way harm my girlfriend that evening.”
It is troubling that Manfred decided to pursue a settlement with Chapman after he threatened to appeal any penalty. The point of collectively bargaining this kind of policy is to put in place a system to discipline players. By negotiating a settlement, Manfred essentially circumvented the policy, just to avoid an appeal and a potential legal fight in federal court. Unlike the NFL’s domestic violence follies, the MLB policy was agreed on by both sides and clearly in effect when the Chapman incident occurred. Thus, if a suspension were to be challenged, the MLB would have been on much sturdier legal grounds.
When asked about the pending Reyes investigation after the prosecutor dismissed the case, Manfred said that he “do[es] feel some pressure on this one.” And he should. He will be working off a limited amount of information and – because he “settled” with Chapman – this may be the first real unilateral suspension under the domestic violence policy. A successful legal challenge would act as the only legal precedent under the policy and could curtail his powers moving forward and/or set up an environment where every suspension is challenged until every appeal is exhausted (see, the NFL).
What will Manfred do? If Ramirez testified, and Reyes was convicted of a crime, this would be easy. Reyes would be suspended for 50-60 games and everyone would give Manfred another pat on the back.
When you think about it, does the fact that charges were dropped change anything? The answer is a resounding no. Ramirez still walked away from the Maui hotel with injuries inflicted by Reyes. Whether or not the criminal justice system failed her, or is just inherently flawed, makes no difference at all. Heck, it is not difficult to argue that since the legal system did not (or was unable to) punish Reyes, the victim is in an even worse position. She is forced to live with the consequences of the alleged crime, knowing that the assailant, a person who she continues to live with, got away with it.
Remember when Roger Goodell upped Ray Rice’s suspension from two games to an indefinite suspension once the second TMZ video was released? Nothing changed in that scenario either. Goodell knew that Rice knocked Janay unconscious in that elevator before the video was released and he still only suspended him two games. Goodell even admitted(!) he “got it wrong.” Rice’s criminal charges were also inexplicably dismissed despite the videos.
Manfred is left with three choices:
- No Suspension. If Manfred clears Reyes because the evidence gathered by law enforcement (assuming all other avenues of obtaining evidence are exhausted) does not show that he did anything, no suspension is obviously the right move. However, this scenario is unlikely. Although we do not know what is in the police file, if prosecutors decided that they had enough information obtained by police to charge Reyes, it is likely that they have a statement from Ramirez and/or medical records detailing the abuse. If Manfred clears Reyes for other reasons, for example: because criminal charges were dropped, that would unequivocally be the wrong decision (for the reasons detailed above). Based on the way Manfred has handled the case thus far – continuing the investigation after charges were dropped – this scenario is also unlikely.
- “The Chapman” 30-game Suspension. There are some parallels between the cases. Both players were involved in a domestic violence incident that did not end up in a conviction. Will Manfred set 30-games as the rule for this scenario? This would likely be the “safe” suspension from a public relations and potential for appeal perspective. If the evidence in tenuous, he avoids the media backlash of no suspension and would have a relatively strong case in an appeal since he followed the Chapman “precedent”.
- “Send a Message” Suspension. If Manfred wants to send a clear message that the MLB will not stand for domestic violence, he will go above and beyond the 30 games. A 60 game suspension would put the MLB on par with a first violation in the NFL. You could even argue for a larger penalty – first time violators of the MLB’s PED policy are suspended 80 games.
No matter which option he chooses, the Reyes case will determine how domestic violence is disciplined by the MLB moving forward. Rob Manfred will also be tested. He was given complete discretion to disciple players for domestic violence, how he handles this case will write one of the first chapters in his legacy as MLB Commissioner.