Yesterday, Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball announced that it was making the hardest throwing pitcher of all time, Aroldis Chapman, the recipient of another historical distinction: the first player suspended under MLB's new domestic violence policy. For allegedly choking his girlfriend, and for admitting to shooting a gun recklessly in his garage, Chapman will be suspended for the first 30 games of the regular season, and will forfeit $2 million of his 2016 salary.
At once it seems like not enough and just. Not enough because domestic violence is a scourge and those that perpetrate it scum. No penalty truly seems appropriate. And yet, Chapman is going to miss a month of the season, just shy of 20 percent of his team's games. That's a significant penalty, and one that demonstrates how seriously the league takes domestic violence.
Chapman suspended for 30 games
My friend Meg Growley, of Baseball Prospectus and Lookout Landing, sees it differently. First, Meg is brilliant, and I'm often angry (at myself for not being better) when she writes things far more eloquently than most humans can. Which I think is an important thing to say before I take issue with her latest piece at BPro, where she finds it strange that the commissioner chose to make his first ruling on this particular case.
After all, this was a case where there wasn't a great deal of evidence. There were conflicting statements by witnesses (something that happens in a lot of domestic violence cases) and no charges were filed. Meg is also concerned that the looming issue of Chapman's service time, which could have been manipulated to prevent him from reaching free agency after the year ends. Yet MLB still used it to plant its flag. Meg writes,
"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."
Personally, I'm glad that Major League Baseball chose this case as the first test of its new policy for the very reasons that Meg finds it strange. It is complicated. It is difficult. It is unclear exactly what happened. But what we know happened is this: A woman and her child were terrified and hid in the bushes until the police showed up, and Chapman fired a gun in anger. Little else matters, to be honest. By taking a complicated case and saying, "the various complications don't matter as much the fact that something happened, and we will not allow it to go unpunished," Major League Baseball sends a clear message to other potential abusers.
And I don't think Major League Baseball artificially shortened the penalty so that the Yankees wouldn't benefit from keeping Chapman out. After all, a month of games is a potentially huge amount of time, especially for an incident that didn't result in charges being filed or physical evidence of abuse.
It was also important to make this decision before the season started, so that the penalty wouldn't be an unanswered question bleeding into games that counted. The legal process in Chapman's case was done and it was entirely appropriate to act based on the information the Commissioner had in hand. If he had waited until Reyes's court date on Opening Day, or perhaps the end of a trial, the policy would be in limbo for another month, as would Chapman and the Yankees. Plus, with Chapman's penalty on the books (and unchallenged), it leaves open the possibility for an even stiffer penalty for Reyes.
A number of times this offseason, I expressed doubt that we'd get to this point. I worried that the league and the Commissioner would be unable or unwilling to handle domestic violence incidents with the seriousness they deserved. I am something like happy to have been absolutely wrong. It's impossible to feel good about anything associated with domestic violence, but I finding myself satisfied with how they decided the Chapman incident. I'm proud to support a league that actually seems to give a damn about people who suffer at the hands of domestic violence, and who is willing to hold their abusers responsible. May it ever be so.