Welcome to the eleventh edition of Around the Horn, a recurring op-ed with a satirical slant that riffs on whatever’s recently noteworthy in baseball. Think of it as a stripped down Last Week Tonight or Daily Show in a column format with recurring segments about the good, bad, and ugly in the world of America’s pastime. Additionally, as often as possible, we’ll end with an interview as well.
There’s a lot to discuss, so let’s get right to our first segment:
Our Main Story
Domestic violence isn’t something that’s commonly associated with baseball. The NFL, home to a few hulking rage monsters that give it a bad name, has found itself embattled by this issue in recent years, but baseball has largely avoided highly visible controversy outside of steroid use, seemingly more content abusing their own bodies over others. After all, why attend classes for anger management issues when you can shrink your scrotum instead?
However, a disturbing trend has emerged off the field with domestic violence accusations and charges being levied against players. The domestic violence saga surrounding former Toronto Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna, and the Houston Astros, who acquired him in a controversial 2018 trade for their playoff run, called into question where baseball truly stands on the issue.
Many fans were upset with Houston for bringing Osuna into the fold, seemingly in direct violation of their “zero tolerance” stance after previously releasing prospect Danry Vasquez for backhanding his girlfriend three times in a stairwell. Houston would not go on to win the World Series that year despite acquiring Osuna to fortify the backend of their bullpen.
Addison Russell and his initial denial and apparent lack of remorse, as well as the Chicago Cubs‘ subsequent handling of the situation, has further exacerbated the issue. As if that weren’t enough, we just saw prized Los Angeles Dodgers‘ prospect Julio Urias conditionally evading charges of domestic violence last week.
The latest incident involves Odubel Herrera being arrested on charges of domestic violence. Herrera has since been put on administrative leave by the Philadelphia Phillies, and he becomes the 13th player investigated for this type of inexcusable behavior since MLB enacted a domestic-violence policy in August 2015.
I urge you to consider that number.
No, not 13. I’m talking about the year… 2015.
MLB apparently did not even have a policy for how to handle domestic violence situations involving its players before then. As recently as 2000, former Colorado Rockies pitcher Pedro Astacio pleaded guilty to striking his pregnant girlfriend at the time. Neither MLB nor Colorado imposed any suspension, and Astacio pitched over 196 innings for the team that year.
Justice and truth are not a game, even if baseball is. Invariably, scroll through social media and you’re sure to find fans who are instantly outraged upon hearing a player on their favorite team has been accused of domestic violence, demanding that player’s immediate release. You’ll also find some fans that don’t give much credence to players’ off-field behavior, so long as they perform well on it. And there are those, too, who remain somewhat ambivalent.
As for the policy itself, the Commissioner’s Office can investigate at will, and there are no real objective guidelines. A careful look at MLB’s policy reveals how unsatisfactory it is in its current form. It’s not clear whether the policy makes education about domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse in both English and Spanish mandatory. If a player isn’t required to subject himself to such education, what’s the incentive for a player like Russell who seemingly has not learned from his choices? Suspensions and lost salary are certain—that much we know. Yet, the emphasis on punishing the player does nothing for the victim, nor does it hold the team accountable in any way.
Consider, suspended players lose millions in foregone salary and are required to make a donation to an anti-domestic violence charity (in most cases, nowhere near a million dollars). Since there is nothing in the CBA or domestic violence policy that dictates where that foregone salary should go, it essentially amounts to salary saved on behalf of the team. The team can then choose to spend the saved funds however it wishes—on other players, for example, or salary relief.
However, what if the policy mandated that the money saved due to domestic violence suspensions must be allocated to abuse treatment and prevention? That seems like one small step for MLB to spread awareness on this issue and do something proactive to help victims.
If you still don’t think the league has its priorities backward, think about the fact that in 2018, Boston Red Sox prospect Michael Chavis was suspended 80 games for violating the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. Aroldis Chapman, the first player actually disciplined under MLB’s newfangled policy, was suspended 30 games for allegedly choking his girlfriend and firing a gun eight times in his garage. The implication here seems to be that MLB values the sanctity of the game more than victims of assault.
Look, I know these cases are rarely simple. Even the allegations against Addison Russell ran into a roadblock when his wife refused to speak to MLB investigators, halting a suspension, before eventually detailing her abuse in an interview. However, victims often choose not to implicate their abusers for many reasons, including fear of more abuse.
The fact remains, MLB is flush with cash and more resources and funds should be directed at helping the victims in these cases rather than solely punishing the player. And if you’re going to punish the player, at least weigh domestic violence as heavily as taking PEDs. Broadening the focus should the first step in updating the policy.
Granted, the team didn’t cause the abuse, but if there was a system of accountability in place, teams would be active in prevention and treatment as well as more diligent when taking on players with domestic violence charges on their record. Ultimately, unlike winning and losing on the field, there is no winning in cases of abuse. The sooner baseball realizes this and strengthens its policy and support for victims and prevention, the better the league and its culture will be.
Out of the Park
A Look Beyond the Boxscores for the Best in Baseball This Week
There has been so much focus on Byron Buxton‘s career trajectory and whether he will or will not live up to the lofty expectations he must undeservedly bear. But I will say, the man’s speed alone makes him an attraction to behold.
— Aaron Gleeman (@AaronGleeman) June 8, 2019
It’s almost hilarious how the center fielder casually cut the ball off, fully expecting Buxton to round first and grind to a halt. Mr. Hustle Double had other ideas. The Dodgers will probably send that clip to Manny Machado as a Christmas gift.
Buxton’s elite defense always made him a treat to watch for any fan, save for Minnesota Twins fans with visions of sugarplum MVPs dancing in their heads and fantasy baseball owners who have been burned year after year hoping for the breakout to happen. I guess you could argue it’s happening right now. In addition to leading all of baseball in doubles, Buxton is currently slashing .267/.320/.518. He’s on pace for a 20/30 season.
It’s no coincidence that this sustained production is happening at the same time as Minnesota emerging as one of the best teams, and offenses, in the entire league. No longer shouldering the pressure of being the only reason to come see the team play, Buxton came into the season more mentally prepared and jacked than ever before. He’s playing loose with confidence, even if there may always be too much swing and miss for him to win an MVP award. Just being part of a winning culture with new leadership rather than a losing one with so much of the blame placed on him seems to have made at least some difference. No question, Buxton is a big part of why the Twins are winning this season.
In fact, Buxton’s hustle is precisely the sort of thing MLB should be promoting. I’ve been saying for weeks that baseball is full of personalities and exciting, young players to market the game. I’ve even featured Trevor Bauer‘s dinner table viral chats frequently in this space. Glad to see I’m not the only one noticing and plugging that kind of content.
Trevor Bauer is doing some really interesting stuff with his video/media endeavor. @MLB ought to be promoting this type of player-driven content (Instead of having associated social media accounts mock him). https://t.co/fMFJnjzzmM
— Travis Sawchik (@Travis_Sawchik) June 8, 2019
Bauer thinks so, too.
Thanks, Travis. Blame is placed on the players for the game’s declining popularity. Then when a player goes massively out of his way to try and make the game more popular he’s mocked for it. It’s quite odd. It’s not at all surprising. https://t.co/sXEU9nfr4B
Where Baseball Got Caught Looking
First, what’s with Jon Heyman throwing shade like this…?
Don’t feel sorry for us. Really fun, young team to cover. The guys are all really thankful to have an opportunity in the majors. 99 games to go and ya girl isn’t mad about it 🤷🏼♀️ https://t.co/CmVqvjVI6m
— Sara Perlman (@saraperlman) June 7, 2019
Jon, to imply a professional baseball team has no “redeeming qualities” is just bad form. Yes, the pitching for the Baltimore Orioles is atrocious this season (5.56 team ERA), but Heyman’s going full killjoy here.
He might as well have just said, “I feel sorry for the guys/gals covering the Orioles. At least other bad teams have some redeeming qualities. There is just nothing to say there now that the draft is over. But if you read between the lines, what I’m really saying is this team sucks ass, and US Special Forces are probably using full Orioles games as torture for captured jihadists if they haven’t already, taping their eyes shut while wearing Gleyber Torres jerseys over their uniforms. If you bought season tickets to this sh*%show, you can cry yourself to sleep knowing that trading your car in for a three-legged donkey with hoof fungus would have been a better investment. You deserve all 99 games left of this hot, steaming bird poop. At least you can say it came from an oriole. I hear they make nice songbirds when they aren’t taking a dump all over the baseball field.”
I mean, relax Jon. Not everybody gets to cover the New York Yankees or have your own baseball column. Well… I do, but that’s beside the point! Kudos to Sara Perlman for dignifying a job she undoubtedly worked hard to acquire and takes a lot of pride in doing. And Heyman should probably apologize not just to her, but also to Orioles fans and the many young players on that roster trying to establish themselves.
And while we’re at it, how about this from one of the best teams in baseball, Jon:
Nobody has to catch the ball. That’s how it works, right? pic.twitter.com/GfnuTP6R7I
— Chris Dixon (@cdixon25) June 6, 2019
Ok, we have all wondered what this would look like. So, here you go…
Matt Lipka breaks up this no hitter with a bunt in the ninth inning.
What do you think of his move? Agree or disagree with it? pic.twitter.com/J8QEPtS7Yz
— Chris Dixon (@cdixon25) June 6, 2019
Oh, you better believe benches cleared following the final out. Believe it because it’s true.
Here’s the thing, though. If you really think Matt Lipka crossed the line with that bunt and violated some “unwritten rule,” I have to wonder if you’re missing the point of his job: to get on base.
Before you call it bush league or cheap, think about this—it was a 3-0 game. If Lipka gets on, perhaps the pitcher’s focus becomes so broken after losing the no-no that he allows the next guy to reach. Now, one big swing of the bat and you have a tie game. Unlikely? Yes. Impossible? Hardly.
Isn’t the point of the game to win? Shouldn’t a batter’s job be to get on base? It’s not like Lipka leaned into an inside fastball here. And since when is a bunt an automatic hit? He laid that thing in there with textbook precision and put a Buxton hustle in his step to beat the throw.
In short, Lipka competed. If you don’t like the way he competed, breaking up a combined team no-hitter, that’s your prerogative. I say Lipka did what he had to for his team. And who among you hasn’t wondered, even expected, a player to try that strategy literally every time a no-hitter is in progress? If it’s the bottom of the ninth during a no-hitter, you should expect anything because they’ve already tried everything else for eight innings anyway.
And that’s the ballgame for this week!
(Photo by David John Griffin/Icon Sportswire)