Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director Michael Weiner speak at a news conference at the headquarters of Major League Baseball in New York City. Selig and Weiner announced a new five year labor agreement between the MLB and the MLBPA. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
When are the owners and players going to get serious about drunk driving? And how serious should they get?
It's time to talk about what Major League Baseball should be doing with players arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. No, you didn't miss news of another ballplayer acting irresponsibly and endangering the lives of others. Braves relief pitcher Cristhian Martinez is the last major leaguer to be arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. That occurred on April 2, just as the season was getting under way.
Neither MLB nor the Braves took any disciplinary action with Martinez. That's because in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the players and owners agreed only that players who are suspected of having an alcohol use problem, including those arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, be "evaluated by a trained professional." No suspensions. No fines. Just treatment. And while treatment by skilled professionals is often necessary with players who drink and drive, it is hardly sufficient.
Major League players who are arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol should be suspended without pay and fined. How much? Let's review the suspensions just from this season.
MLB suspended Phillies starter Cole Hamels for five games for throwing a pitch at Bryce Harper and then bragging about it. Or he was fined for just bragging about it. It's not entirely clear. What we do know is that Cole Hamels threw a baseball faster than 90 miles an hour with the intention of hitting Harper, and that the ball hit Harper in the back. Harper wasn't injured, but he could have been. If it weren't baseball, we'd say Hamels acted with premeditated intent to hit Harper with the ball, even if he didn't have the intent to hurt Harper. In the non-baseball world, that's assault and battery, a felony that carries possible jail time. In the baseball world, Hamels gets suspended for five games and fined an undisclosed (but meaningless, to him) amount. He didn't miss a single inning of game action. The Phillies merely pushed his next start back one day.
Tigers outfielder Delmon Young was suspended seven days without pay for assaulting someone off the field, in front of a hotel in New York City, while drunk and screaming anti-Semitic epithets. Young was arrested and charged with aggravated assault for targeting someone based on his religion, a misdemeanor that could land Young in jail for up to one year. At the time he suspended Young for seven games, Commissioner Bud Selig said:
Those associated with our game should meet the responsibilities and standards that stem from our game's stature as a social institution. An incident like this cannot and will not be tolerated.
A few days after Young's drunken outburst, we learned that Giants relief pitcher Guillermo Mota tested positive for a Clenbuterol, a "performance-enhancing" drug prohibited under MLB's Joint Drug Prevention and Testing Program. It was Mota's second positive test, resulting in an automatic 100-game suspension. Mota claims, through his attorney, that the positive test resulted from taking a children's cough medicine which contained trace of amounts of Clenbuterol. Mota's excuse, even if true, is neither here nor there. MLB's Joint Drug Prevention and Testing Program doesn't punish a player's intent to gain an edge by using "performing-enhancing" drugs. Intent or not, if a player tests positive for a banned substance (and the test complies with the applicable procedures), he is automatically suspended for 50 games. On a second violation it's 100 games. After that, it's a lifetime ban from Major League Baseball.
And then there's Brett Lawrie. MLB suspended the Blue Jays third baseman for four games after Lawrie lost his cool when called on out strikes and slammed his helmet to the ground, the helmet then bouncing up and striking home plate umpire Bill Miller. Before Lawrie's suspension was announced, Joe Torre -- who is back in the saddle as MLB's chief disciplinarian -- told Danny Knobler of CBS Sports that he did not believe that Lawrie intended to hit Miller with the helmet.
So where do we stand on suspensions this season? Throwing a temper tantrum at home plate and disrespecting an umpire without intending to hit him with your helmet merits a four-game suspension. Intentionally throwing a fastball at a batter gets a pitcher suspended five games, which has no real effect on his playing time. Getting very drunk, then verbally and physically assaulting a stranger merits seven days without pay. And testing positive for the second time for a "performing-enhancing" drug results in a 100-game suspension.
We can debate whether the length of these suspensions makes sense, but that's a different post for another day. The question on the table is whether these suspensions shed any light on how MLB should deal with players arrested for driving under the influence.
The Delmon Young incident is most closely analogous, as it's an off-the-field incident involving alcohol. The difference, of course, is that driving a car under the influence of alcohol has the potential to injure or kill many more people than a one-on-one assault on the streets of New York City. Sure, yelling anti-Semitic epithets at someone, like Young did, tarnishes MLB's reputation, but more so than a well-paid player drinking too much alcohol and then making the reckless decision to drive, as opposed to calling someone for a ride?
As Bud Selig said when suspending Young, "Those associated with our game should meet the responsibilities and standards that stem from our game's stature as a social institution." Driving under the influence is, at a minimum, a criminal misdemeanor, but at worst, a felony involving substantial jail time. There is no doubt that a player's drinking and driving does not meet "the responsibilities and standards that stem from [baseball's] stature as a social institution."
If Young's drunken outburst merited a seven-day suspension without pay, a player arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol should merit at least a fifteen-game suspension without pay. The more reckless the player's conduct -- in terms of the amount of alcohol consumed, the nature of his driving and the severity of any injuries to others -- the more severe the suspension should be, with fifteen games as the starting point.
The players and owners can't wait until the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires at the end of 2016. The longer they wait, the greater the chance that a Major League player seriously injures or kills someone while driving under the influence of alcohol. Baseball is a social institution. In the case of drinking and driving, it must start acting like one. Now.