In August of 2015, Major League Baseball (MLB) and the MLB Players Association (MLBPA) announced the creation of their joint domestic violence policy. According to said policy, the Commissioner can choose to suspend or reinstate the player or can defer judgment until after criminal proceedings conclude. The policy does not include minimum or maximum punishments. Under this collectively bargained policy, players are provided education about domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse when they are the subject of an investigation.
With all of these cases, suspensions and violence, it’s often wondered what MLB is trying to grow when they talk about growing the game of baseball. So often, victims are being alienated from the sport altogether. With rampant sexism in the world of sports already, pushing victims — primarily women — away from the sport is a disservice.
Prior to 2015, clubs didn’t take disciplinary action against players accused of or arrested for domestic violence, with the exception of the Boston Red Sox suspending Wil Cordero in 1997. (His suspension was only eight games despite his arrest.)
In July of this past season, we saw Commissioner Rob Manfred put Trevor Bauer on leave, renewing the decision weekly as Bauer was being investigated for an alleged sexual assault. Bauer’s accuser requested a temporary “ex parte” domestic violence restraining order. Ex parte refers to motions for orders that can be granted without waiting for a response from the other side. She signed a declaration under the penalty of perjury in which she made numerous accusations against Bauer — including that Bauer choked her during sex until she was unconscious during two separate encounters at Bauer’s Pasadena home; that Bauer had anal sex with her without her consent; and that Bauer punched her in the face and elsewhere on her body during sex. She was hospitalized for some of her injuries which she alleged were a result of the encounters with Bauer.
Before the accusation in California, another woman in Ohio filed a protective order against Bauer while he was still playing for the Cincinnati Reds. The woman voluntarily dismissed the petition for the protective order on July 23, 2020.
Fans of Bauer flocked to social media with the opinion that the victim, who did not sue for financial gain and wanted to remain anonymous, was only out to get money and fame. This is a textbook example of victim shaming, especially when a high-profile athlete is involved.
While the accusations against Bauer are the most recent and high profile, they are not the only ones MLB has confronted recently. In October of 2015, Aroldis Chapman’s girlfriend told police he choked her and pushed her against the wall, and alleged that he fired eight gunshots in the garage of his Miami home. Chapman avoided charges but was suspended by the league for 30 games, which was the first time a player was suspended for domestic violence since Cordero nearly 20 years earlier. To add insult, Hal Steinbrenner was quoted saying “Sooner or later we forget, right? That’s the way we’re supposed to be in life. He did everything right, and said everything right, when he was with us.”
Since Chapman’s suspension, 12 players have faced suspension under the domestic violence policy, with suspensions anywhere from 15 games through the whole season. Sam Dyson, now a free agent, was suspended on March 5, 2021 for the entire season. Dyson’s ex-girlfriend filed a civil lawsuit against him accusing him of sexual assault, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress from incidents that have spanned several years.
Some names as of late are not included on the suspension list, as disturbing details continue to emerge regarding current and past players and coaching staff, Pedro Astacio pleaded guilty in 2000 to punching his pregnant wife. The Rockies nor the Commissioner’s office did anything and Astacio was the opening day starter that season, going on to start 32 games that season for Colorado. Other names include Julio Lugo, Brett Myers, Milton Bradley, and longtime Atlanta manager Bobby Cox.
More recently, Marcell Ozuna was arrested after he choked his wife and threw her against the wall. Yasiel Puig has also been talked about as of late when two recently uncovered claims came to light.
In January 2017, a woman showed up at a police station to report an alleged sexual assault. Puig was accused of becoming violent, striking and choking a woman during what was previously thought to be consensual sex. The woman went into shock and nearly passed out. The accuser didn’t want to pursue charges. However, another woman came forward the same week, claiming to have gone on a date with Puig that ended with him pushing his way into her apartment and sexually assaulting her. The public was not made aware of either report at the time. Puig reached settlements with both women and, according to copies of the agreements, Puig paid the women a total of $325,000.
And finally, someone currently on the Hall of Fame ballot has quite a dark past. Omar Vizquel has appeared on seven ballots despite knowledge of sexual assault and domestic violence have been known and date back to 2015. While Vizquel’s votes are finally starting to decline — he’s down a historic year-over-year amount — it’s disturbing to know that there are people still including him on their ballots despite the allegations going back at least a decade.
In 2015, a batboy for the Detroit Tigers tweeted, “Omar Vizquel told me on the first day batboys have to clean the coaches backs in the showers.”
Earlier in 2021, a former employee of the Birmingham Barons filed a lawsuit alleging Vizquel sexually assaulted him. The suit states that the plaintiff, a former batboy for the Barons, was targeted by Vizquel because of his disability. Vizquel repeatedly exposed his erect penis to the plaintiff and forced him to wash his back in the shower, citing claims that after a game on Aug. 22, 2019, Vizquel came out of a shower naked, handed him a bar of soap, and said, “Wash my damn back!”
On at least five occasions, the suit claims that a partially undressed Vizquel approached the batboy from behind while he was stocking the refrigerator and attempted to have “normal” conversations with him. Vizquel would allegedly expose his partial or fully erect penis to the batboy. Claims also state that rather than address the situation, supervisors and fellow coaches laughed at the sexual harassment and said “Everything that happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse.”
In 2016 Vizquel was taken into police custody in Sammamish, Washington after an incident at the couple’s home. Blanca Vizquel told police her husband pushed her over, injuring her shin and breaking several fingernails. She later asked prosecutors to drop charges against her husband, but she told The Athletic she did so only after Vizquel threatened her with financial repercussions. Blanca Vizquel also described a 2011 incident when Vizquel allegedly strangled her.
While the domestic violence policy the league implemented is a good start, it’s impossible to forget that past and look forward to the future when so many of these players are being lauded for their contributions on the field while they leave behind a trail of victims.
Perhaps a stronger policy needs to be put into place by punishing and rehabilitating players. A second chance is not always deserved, especially when you become aware of the horrific details being released. Instead of thinking your favorite player is completely innocent of any wrongdoing because he wins awards and has a low ERA, think about what the victim said, and reflect on why you insist they’re lying. These victims aren’t reporting their assaults for fame, but rather for justice – and perhaps your favorite player did something wrong.
Photo by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Shawn Palmer (@palmerguyboston on Twitter)