DUI cases continue to embarrass Major League Baseball. Now the players’ union is negotiating a policy that will discipline players for DUI & alcohol-related arrests.
But, for the remainder of 2011, professional baseball players can get arrested for DUI with minimal threat of punishment.
So Shin-Soo Choo, Derek Lowe, Adam Kennedy, Coco Crisp, Austin Kearns, and Miguel Cabrera) suffer no professional consequences for their DUI arrests this year.
For a sport that a little more than two years ago lost Los Angeles Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart when the car he was a passenger in was broadsided by a drunken driver baseball’s willingness to let DUI offenders walk sends the wrong message – again and again and again and again and again and again this year.
While the union has every right to defend its players from undue workplace reprimand for off-field activities, drunken driving is injurious enough to the sport and teams’ reputations that any hard-line stance in bargaining won’t come off well to MLB or the public. One union source said the MLBPA is on board with discussing a progressive punishment policy but would not commit to suspensions for first-time offenses until negotiations necessitate it.
For the new policy to have any teeth, suspensions are a must. Even if MLB can’t prove with concrete numbers that player DUIs harm the business, sports remain a public trust and drunken driving remains a public cause. Baseball can’t claim to be the wholesome sport of old without a laugh track roaring in the background. It also doesn’t want a reputation as NFL 2.0, where you haven’t officially arrived until you’ve got a rap sheet.
Unlike in the NFL, where commissioner Roger Goodell’s personal-conduct policy is unilateral and inconsistent, MLB and the union would negotiate proper discipline. There is precedent for off-field activities causing suspension, whether via the cocaine trials in the ’80s or John Rocker’s ban for racist, bigoted and homophobic comments, and the good working relationship between baseball and the union should facilitate the new rules.
It also upholds the loophole that will allow a period of relative DUI amnesty. MLB could pursue a suspension against a player for “just cause,” though the ill will it would engender with the union, as well as the shaky legal grounds of such a maneuver, make it highly unlikely.
The onus, in the meantime, is on the players to cure themselves of remarkable stupidity. The six arrested this year have earned more than $200 million combined in their careers. Any could get a taxi. Not a fare. The whole vehicle, medallion and all.
The extreme nature of Choo’s BAC is frightening. So was the entirety of Cabrera’s arrest, his second that followed a heavy bout of drinking. His car broken down, a bottle of scotch in his hand, asking police officers to “shoot me, kill me,” Cabrera was hauled off to jail and seemed headed toward rehabilitation. Instead, MLB and the union agreed to let him play as long as a sponsor traveled with him and he attended counseling.
There is no easy fix. Alcohol, whether it’s a sustained problem or a one-time slip-up, is so pervasive in baseball that it’s not going away any time soon. Part of the solution is a union-sponsored education and prevention program that encourages responsibility.
One source said the union has discussed an on-demand car service, and the logistics can make sense: If the union retains a limousine company in each of the 28 major league cities, it can give players a safety valve while keeping any possible indiscretions anonymous from the team. Club-sponsored limos are fine, but call often enough and it could ruin a player’s reputation.
By upping dues slightly, the MLBPA could run a one-year pilot program to test usage and efficacy, relying on union representatives and veterans to use the service when out with teammates. If received well, it could become a standard part of every player’s night out.
Not every player is going to be so conscientious. Some will be too stubborn or too drunk to care, and all baseball can hope is that nobody gets hurt. Batting 1,000, the league is lucky this year, 6 for 6.