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Aroldis Chapman received a 30-game suspension from Major League Baseball on Tuesday. In some ways, his case is a lot like many other domestic violence cases: Witnesses gave conflicting statements; the details were alarming, but hard to parse. It is obvious something happened, but local authorities didn’t believe whatever that was merited criminal charges. But because Chapman struck out 41.7 percent of the batters he faced last year, his case isn’t like a lot of other domestic violence cases. He was traded to the Yankees in December, at which point it became clear the Yankees had worked their way into a deplorable win-win: If MLB chose not to suspend Chapman, the Yankees would enjoy his services for a full season. If he were suspended, it might stunt his service time sufficiently to delay his free agency for another year. The 30 games avoid that question, and Chapman’s decision not to appeal avoids a potentially ugly arbitration.

I do not have a strong opinion on whether 30 games are too many or too few. But it strikes me as incredibly strange, and concerning, that Rob Manfred imbued this case with the power of precedent, because this first case is one in which the length of the punishment might be as much about other things as it was about domestic violence. The 30-game suspension seems to be as much about Chapman agreeing not to appeal, as the fact pattern of the case. It’s seems to be as much about the MLB and the MLBPA avoiding a nasty fight over service time and free agency, as it is about how many rounds were discharged in Chapman’s garage. It’s as much about sidestepping our uncomfortable squirming over a team treating two people’s darkest moment as a market inefficiency.

Domestic violence cases are hard. These are the worst moments of people’s lives. Sometimes it’s an awful aberration; sometimes it’s a terrible ritual, replicated over years. The causes for those moments stretch back over hundreds of smaller, formative frames, and reach forward into the futures of families and children. The fracture and damage abusers cause alter their victims, and the path back to normalcy, to repair, is daunting, to the extent it can ever be accomplished at all. It inspires witnesses and victims and perpetrators to lie, and rework their stories. Sometimes victims turn back to those who have hurt them. Often, confronted with the sheer tonnage of institutional failure, and societal doubt, victims remain silent.

Into all of that human complication, we have injected an employer disciplining an employee. We’ve asked an employer to do the investigative work the system often neglects, and mete out judgment for crimes society could address but often doesn’t. We’ve asked them to do so because they told us they would. And so, faced with all that dark, inherent complication, why use this case as the benchmark? Why take this already hard thing and make it harder by loading it up with so much additional, and specific, subtext? It would be one thing if this was the only case we had. We’ll have to find ways to tackle the hardest cases eventually, and doing so will involve uncomfortable conversations during which we reduce acts of violence to games served. But we didn’t have to do that on the first one. We could have waited, and sorted out the aftermath of Jose Reyes’ trial. We could have sent a much cleaner, clearer message about where we are going with all this. Not to bloviate about the moral hazard of unpunished violence, or our earnestness in the face of abuse, but to clarify. To make the next one easier to predict, and its punishments simpler to assess. Some of us would have registered complaints that it was too much or too little, but we would have been talking about domestic violence. Not service time, or the culpability of the Yankees, or market inefficiencies better left unexploited, but domestic violence.

Chapman's case doesn't really tell us that much about the practical application of the policy because, clouded as it is by pressing labor questions, it isn't representative. And this hard case, defined by its exceptions even as it is used to set the rule, will shape our expectations of discipline going forward. The League will face other incidents, and it will engage in a dance of particulars and circumstance and precedent with the MLBPA to dole out suspensions. But as fans and observers, Chapman’s 30 games will stick with us. We’ll find Jose Reyes’ punishment excessive or wanting by its terms. This murky precedent will mollify us, or inspire opprobrium. We’ll tick and tally facts and harms, and smooth out the differences so that we might compare like to like. We’ll invoke the exception, without having fleshed out the contours of the rule.

It feels like this was as much about other things as it was domestic violence. That might be honest, but it's still concerning. Not because the decision was too harsh or too lenient, but because in the face of predictable complexity, we failed to answer the relevant questions and set the relevant standard. We needed to establish what we couldn’t and wouldn’t give away, the points where compromise would be untenable, and those where we might choose to educate or advise or counsel. We could have set out a theory of punishment to inform future cases. Instead, future cases may find us frantically trying to backfill this punishment’s internal logic, so that we might arrive at more everyday applications of fairness. Chapman’s punishment seems to ask how to grapple with a team taking advantage of domestic violence as an aspect of a player’s biography, as much as how to deal with domestic violence itself. That first question is no doubt an important one to ask, but it wasn’t the one the first case needed to answer. We needed to ask what a baseball player’s violence would cost him. Not anything else, just his violence. We needed to answer that question. Instead, baseball chose to talk about other things.

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glennb
3/02
Great article, Meg and a welcome addition to a dialogue about the worrying trend in sports to treat athletes as above the law. The conflict between commerce and fairness again rears its ugly head and it's not surprising that baseball failed to address the real issues.

I don't want to let the Yankees off the hook here. They profited from Chapman's deplorable behaviour, and stood to profit even more if the suspension made him ineligible for FA at the end of the year. Neither Cashman nor Girardi want to address the issue.

American public society is characterized by an increasing disconnect between public figures and coarseness or excuses for poor behaviour (see Trump, The Donald).

Its time we hold public figures to a higher standard.
LlarryA
3/02
I hope you didn't mean to sound like Manfred should have let this one pass while waiting for a better, more clear-cut precedent (Reyes?). Sure this case has it's messy complexity, but most will, even after our neat and tidy model case appears. The main takeaway is that even if the result might not be perfect (but what if it is?), it's SOMETHING. Sure Chapman's lack of appeal probably contains a degree of relief that it wasn't more strict, but we can at least hope that there's some acceptance that he did something wrong. Not sure what more we can ask for.

Unless you have some idea to break apart the case and address the various questions raised individually, I don't see any other way to have dealt with this.
swarmee
3/03
I believe her point was about timing; announcing Reyes suspension or the Puig? one first would have made it about the crime, whereas this one was as much about the service time/impending free agency.
tearecrules
3/03
If that is her point then I believe that Ms. Rowley is trying to have her cake and eat it too; to complain that Chapman's alleged crime is being overlooked by the other issues surrounding it while also being able to complain if his punishment was delayed until a "better" case is resolved at some unknown point in the future.

As another commenter said, there is no chance MLB could delay handing out Chapman's punishment pending the resolution of Reyes' case, and Puig's case makes Chapman's look like a slam-dunk.
tearecrules
3/02
I'd imagine some the reasons for Chapman's case coming before Reyes' is that's closed and that it was something the League, Player, and Union could all come to an agreement on which lets the commissioner get a precedent set for future cases.

And of course the player being willing to accept the punishment is important for the Commissioner. Rob Manfred has seen The Ginger Banhammer get overturned quite a few times on appeal. Manfred doesn't want that, it weakens his office and his ability to be seen as protecting the MLB brand.

Finally, the precedent set is a player can lose almost 1/5th of the season for an argument with his significant other which results in the police being called. That doesn't strike me as an insignificant punishment.
harrypav
3/03
"argument with his significant other"

That's absurd to the point of dishonesty.
tearecrules
3/03
Mr. Pavlidis, you can read the same accounts of the incident I have. Chapman and his girlfriend have two versions of the events that night and each has a witness supporting their respective version. The only thing they agree on is there was an argument and the police were called.

You might not agree with it, but it is not an absurd or dishonest statement of the events of that night as-known.
Ogremace
3/02
I guess I'm confused about what the alternative is. Don't you run into similar problems with every case, extenuating circumstances and specific defails that can cloud the role of the policy itself? How will the Reyes or Puig cases be more clear cut? I don't necessarily disagree with anything you've said, but I do think that the flip side is coming into the season with no decision and the issue looking and lingering for no apparent reason. Certainly I think Manfred wanted to exercise his power and show that MLB is not going to beat around the bush, which does seem an admirable goal.
WaldoInSC
3/03
This is some beautiful writing, Meg. Point taken and noted. And to traipse a moment where you dared not go, the suspension is almost exactly the equivalent of three-game NFL games, which would precipitate howls of anger. Evidently the real crime is getting caught on video.
tearecrules
3/03
The minimum sentence for someone convicted of domestic violence (which covers everything from assault to murder) in Florida is 5 days in prison and a year on probation with mandatory counseling.

Even if there had been video, or any recording, supporting Chapman's girlfriend's version of events, his suspension by the MLB was always going to be harsher than what he'd have received for the actual battery. So many people always seemed surprised to find out our justice system doesn't treat first time offenders as harshly as they expected; at least for anything short of a several felonies.
yibberat
3/03
Sometimes you can't really pick your precedents. I can't imagine any scenario where Reyes can be disciplined before his trial is concluded since facts can't even be gathered outside that setting without affecting the court setting. So if Reyes is the proper 'first case', that would mean Aroldis would be allowed to play ball - without punishment but with a future indeterminate punishment hanging, maybe, over his head. From a pure PR perspective for the league - that just sucks. Like the league isn't taking the issue seriously at all.
aquavator44
3/06
Didn't Reyes receive his suspension first? Or is it that his is with pay and not a definitive length of time, and therefore isn't an "official" precedent?
tearecrules
3/07
Reyes has been put on of non-punitive "administrative leave" and is being paid. The current MLB DV policy allows the league to put a player in such a status pending the resolution of any criminal case or other investigation. Basically, it allows them to get a suspected player off the field while not incurring the full wrath of the MLBPA because it isn't punishment so the players still are paid (and accrue service time?). Although, at least in the excerpt I'd seen released, the admin leave was limited to 7 days. Not sure if there's some difference for penalties during the season and off-season.