Originally Published: March 8, 2016 9:14 p.m.
“The Times They Are a Changin’” - Robert Zimmerman, a/k/a Bob Dylan
When MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred suspended Yankees’ reliever Aroldis Chapman he made a statement that resonated throughout the sports world.
Chapman was suspended without pay for 30 games for violating Major League Baseball’s new Joint Policy on Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse which had been negotiated with and agreed to by the players’ union. The suspension was unprecedented and it may be just the beginning of a crackdown on player misbehavior, or rather, to call it what it really is, criminal activity against another human being. Any time someone – anyone, not just an athlete – physically abuses another person it’s a crime.
According to a police report, last October Chapman was accused of physical abuse by his girlfriend and then proceeded to lock himself in his garage where he fired eight shots. Beyond the call to the police and the shots fired by Chapman, the facts of what happened that evening are in dispute. Chapman denies that he harmed his girlfriend in any way that night. No witnesses have come forward and no video has been released, ala Ray Rice. Yet Chapman accepted his suspension – and loss of more than $1.8 million in pay – without an appeal. For him to do that, something untoward must have happened.
Manfred was both praised and criticized for his quick and decisive action. His critics were quick to point out that MLB players could be suspended 50 games for taking a banned substance – for the first offense. But what those folks ignore is the fact that this is the first time any baseball player has ever been suspended for domestic violence. And if Chapman was in the NFL instead of MLB, he probably wouldn’t have lost a game or a day’s pay.
Chapman is unlikely to be the last MLB player to be suspended under the new policy. Colorado Rockies’ shortstop Jose Reyes is currently on paid leave as he awaits an April 4 trial for allegedly assaulting his wife in Hawaii last October. Manfred will wait until the courts conclude their case against Reyes, but if he’s found guilty, his suspension could dwarf Chapman’s. Some estimates run as high as 100 games.
When it came time for Manfred to impose an appropriate penalty for Chapman, baseball’s new policy was silent on recommendations, other than specifically instructing the Commissioner not to use precedent as a guide. That may have worked against Chapman, given baseball’s long history of ignoring such incidents or sweeping them under the rug. The Commissioner made it clear that will no longer be the case.
There were reports that MLB’s lawyers and Chapman’s counsel negotiated for a week before the suspension was announced. No surprise there, as both parties had a lot at stake. Chapman will be a free agent at the end of year, thanks to the fact that the penalty was less than 45 games. Had it reached that level he would not have been eligible for free agency until 2017, perhaps costing him millions of dollars. So both parties had something to gain in avoiding an appeal. MLB doesn’t risk the suspension being overturned and Chapman remains on track for free agency.
The Yankees took a risk when they traded with the Reds for Chapman. The Dodgers apparently had agreed on a trade but pulled back when news of the domestic incident surfaced. At the time, no one knew if or for how long the gifted lefthander would be suspended. Thirty games are barely more than 18% of the season. Had it been double or triple that figure, and with no guarantee that they would be able to sign Chapman before or during free agency, most teams were unwilling to give up much in trade for him. Now, with Chapman available beginning May 9, the Yankees look prescient. Chapman will take his place in New York’s already strong bullpen.
So the Yankees won, as did Chapman, who in addition to being eligible for free agency after the season will earn $9.5 million this year despite his suspension. And thanks to Manfred, maybe we all win. Domestic violence is everywhere, not just in sports. Manfred’s decision sent a clear message that, to quote Bob Dylan, “The Times They Are a Changin.’”
Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is a Professor and the Chair of the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland. Jordan maintains the blog: http://sportsbeyondthelines.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.