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Dusty Baker had a pretty bad day. Slip sliding into unforced error after unforced error, Baker was asked to opine on Aroldis Chapman and the recent revelations that domestic violence likely derailed his trade to the Dodgers. The complete transcript of Baker’s Winter Meetings comments can be found here. If I were feeling charitable, I would say the press conference served as a living, breathing demonstration of the dangers that befall those who refuse to update their priors about how the world works before speaking in public. As I’m not, I’ll say instead that Baker’s comments read like a greatest hits album for all the worst tropes of the domestic violence dialogue, from assuming the innocence of the accused while purposefully refusing to engage reported facts, to the suggestion that women might abuse men in equal measure.

Language is a tricky thing. In a business like baseball, which is so preoccupied with the place where language meets image, it is often twisted. In moments of crisis, its messengers contort themselves around it, hoping to direct and funnel narratives, and shape words into a cohesive, coherent picture of the game or those who play it. Smoothing the rough edges of baseball’s human stakeholders sits in contradistinction to the situation on the ground, which is almost always a messier, craggier reality. Allowing the mess to show is considered a bad look, a public relations problem; often, it suggests dysfunction or poor decision making. Because this language is so carefully crafted and tinkered with, when the mess shows through the imperfections are granted an assumption of sincerity. Divorced from the razzle dazzle, we’re confronted with the uncomfortable proposition that we often don’t see the truth, and that the truth is sloppy. Language, we learn, is an unreliable narrator.

Of course, the truth of many of the issues of baseball is discoverable by other means. Most of the baseball we care about takes place in public arenas. When we’re unable to account for something on the field, we develop better instrumentation and more precise metrics to understand it. We comb through public records to tabulate the cost of new stadiums. We engage in complex operations of counting and sorting. Confronted with unreliable narrators, we try to simply sidestep them altogether.

But sometimes the language offered in public is all we have. It’s the most readily available barometer by which to gauge how seriously the league takes an issue. Indeed, it might be the only one in service. The disciplinary process around domestic violence exists in the realm. Its subject occurs away from the playing field, in homes and outside restaurants. It’s handling is often clouded by contradictory accounts, and stilted cooperation. And when it moves from the public view of the crime scene or the courtroom to a league investigation, it becomes more private. That’s not an unwarranted change of condition. Indeed, treating victims and their families with sensitivity and respect likely means leaving our near-prurient interest in the horrible details unsatisfied, allowing the case to play out away from the scrutiny and censure of baseball observers. We get drips and drabs, but we are reliant on leaks and testimony from people we will never meet, all of which leaves us wondering whether we’re properly balancing our obligation as fans to demand better with our greater obligations as human beings.

Which is why bad days like Baker’s rankle. The league’s new domestic violence policy requires a faith in things unseen. It asks fans to take as given an investigative process of sufficient exactitude, to assume competence as the league throws the contours of that process into more specific relief, and a fair and appropriate use of discretion on the part of the commissioner. It asks us to believe in them getting a difficult thing right, a difficult thing for which they have shown little previous aptitude. To take their language at face value, because the only other instrument of measurement at our disposal is the courts. To believe that the razzle dazzle is a faithful copy of the scene it describes.

Ultimately, believing language in the context of domestic violence is a good thing, if that language is kept honest. We shouldn’t need to see the pictures. There shouldn’t need to security camera footage. The process ought to let the voice of the victim sing above the cacophony of nonsense presented as fact. When we see discussions of due process in domestic violence cases, it’s less about concern for the legal rights of athletes as it is a coded plea to think the woman a liar. We can believe Katherine Ramirez while also thinking Jose Reyes is entitled to a competent and vigorous defense. Learning to hold those two truths in equilibrium with one another requires we believe language to be honest, even as we acknowledge that it exists within the context of legal processes.

So it’s a problem when Dusty Baker asks, “And who's to say what you would have done or what caused the problem.” Baseball doesn’t shoulder an exclusive responsibility to dispense punishment, but it assumed some of that responsibility when it introduced its new policy. Having taken up that mantle, it’s hard not to look at Baker aghast and ask, “Isn’t it for you guys to say?” And if it is, language like this suggests an assumption of incredulity when faced with victim testimony. It suggests there might be circumstances under which Chapman’s response might be understandable, even justified. It suggests asking for it.

Sometimes language is all we have. When some of the only unvarnished language dovetails with the worst parts of the dialogue around domestic violence, it leaves us wondering how representative those sentiments are in dugouts around the league. We take it at face value, because surely if Dusty were parroting talking points, they would more deftly sidestep these landmines. Baker’s press conference felt honest, and if it suggests a fidelity to the process behind it, what else lurks for us? We’ve been asked to believe the language put forth by the League. Dusty Baker had a pretty bad day. But if we believe his language, baseball might have had a worse one.

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roarke
12/09
The "who knows if it's true" part I can understand from Dusty. I don't think you have to read that as a coded message - I think that's just a manager refusing to condemn a guy that he knows well without knowing the facts of the situation.

It's the "who's to say what you would have done or what caused the problem" part that is inexcusable. As you said, that implies that there are circumstances where it would be ok for Chapman to do what has been alleged.
lipitorkid
12/09
I really liked this. I think I'm going to need to read it a few times to figure out what I want to take from it, but are you ultimately saying that baseball has more to lose from what Dusty said or that Dusty is an older male so he will be given more of a pass for what was said?

There were a ton of good points and well thought observations in here, including some nice phrasing, but I was a bit confused about the ultimate point of the piece.
lipitorkid
12/09
PS that confusion might just be reading this in the morning pre-coffee, I'm not saying it's the writer's fault for me being confused.
cmaczkow
12/09
I don't disagree at all with the author's main points here about language and the attitudes and issues around domestic violence. However, I'm not sure this interview is the best example to point at. I read it (as Roarke alluded to above) as Baker being increasingly annoyed about questions concerning a player he was very close to.

I guess my point is that I think there is a big difference between the attitudes of someone who is emotionally connected to the accused (and perhaps somewhat in denial) and those of an unbiased observer, and I'm not sure that painting the former's words as indicative of the problem is a really strong platform.
megrowler
12/09
It's an interesting point, but the problem I see is there likely aren't any "unbiased" observers. Every player has relationships with managers and league officials. Sometimes those folks are in their current clubhouse and sometimes they're more removed, like Chapman and Baker. If Baker were still a broadcaster, his stance would be still be problematic, but wouldn't carry the same potential weight. I think he still has an obligation as a person to check that bias, but that responsibility is even greater in his current position. He's not acting as Chapman's former coach, or an analyst. He's the manager of the Nationals. Every player accused will have a Dusty Baker. If the policy is going to work, those in positions of authority will have to make a concerted effort to examine these cases with an objective, dispassionate eye. Sadly, seemingly nice guys engage in violence against women. Being willing to acknowledge that and act from the facts of the case, rather than an official's prior interaction with a player is central to a rigorous process. Because the next time, it might be someone he knows in his own locker room. And then what?
cmaczkow
12/09
This is true - even though there are thousands of players/coaches/employees in the major leagues (and they certainly tie into those with their affiliates as well), there is enough commonality and movement that there will always be a lot of connections.

As with nearly everything, though, it comes down to a matter of degree, and in this case - especially given the background between the two - it seems like Baker's relationship with him is much closer than a typical manager and player's.

I'm not trying to defend Baker here at all, because you're right about his responsibilities as someone in an authority position within the league. I just think (hope?) it's dangerous to assume that his response reflects anything more within the industry than that of a person too close to a too recent situation.
cmaczkow
12/09
So...after reading some of his other comments (in particular the one about needing to get Latin Americans to add some speed to the team), I am even more hopeful that this is more of a "Dusty Baker" issue than a "most authority figures in baseball" issue...
tearecrules
12/09
Dusty Baker is not in a position of authority as regards the investigation into Ardolis Chapman's domestic violence accusation. There is no need for him to have a reasoned, unbiased assessment of the case against Chapman because he is not, and will not, be involved in the process of investigating, or punishing, the player. Baker's stance, as stated in this Q&A is, figuratively "We don't know what happened," "You shouldn't hit women," and "I'm glad MLB has a policy on domestic violence". The first is demonstrably true as this is an, honest-to-God "She said, he said" case where no evidence contradicts either party's story, and the second two are exactly what you want him to say.
tearecrules
12/09
I'm really struggling to identify how comments from a manager of a team not involved in the aborted trade, and who has nothing to do with how MLB investigates players accused of domestic violence, implies anything about said policy or investigation. I'm guessing the first draft of this titled "Old man doesn't immediately condemn person he had prior cordial relationship with based on initial reporting of wrong-doing" was just not that hard-hitting. And probably too long. THis will have some bearing in a couple months when Rob Manfred comes out and says "In accordance with our new policy of handing out punishments for accusations of domestic violence, and after consulting with Duty Baker, we fully reinstate Mr. Chapman and offer our sincere apologies for doubting him."

Also, the actual facts, as-known, about the accusations against Chapman aren't exactly conducive to Ms. Rowley's concerns. The people not fully believing the alleged victim in this are the police and the prosecutor. And they are not fully believing her because she and her brother (a witness to the fight) refused to cooperate, she lacked any visible signs of the injury she said Chapman inflicted upon her, and a third witness (Chapman's driver) disputes the girlfriend and brother's events. The worst thing it is known Chapman did was fire a handgun at the cinderblock wall of his garage (which is, apparently, not illegal in Davies, FL).
MikePemulis
12/09
As a Nats fan this creates a tough situation if they don't fire him. He's historically not been an analytics-driven manager and was ostensibly hired for his ability to relate to players and serve as a role model. My problem is, if he's successful at this and is in fact a role model to his team, do I want to route for a team that views him as a role model after these comments? The alternative is a crappy manager without the respect of his players.
blue911
12/09
I think when a person is accused of a violent crime it is probably a bad idea to praise their character. However locker rooms live on an Us vs The World mentality so I can see how a person could easily slip into that trap.