In the wake of Mets closer Jeurys Familia’s 15 game suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s Domestic Violence Policy, a lot of people are going to say it’s not enough. That, after severe penalties to the first violators of its Policy, MLB is going soft on spousal abuse. That there’s no consistency from the league. That Major League Baseball has failed Familia’s family.
But what is the right penalty for a violation of baseball’s Domestic Violence Policy? I’m actually asking, because I don’t know. I don’t know what the right penalty is for physically or emotionally abusing a smaller or more vulnerable person, who an abuser claims to love. I suspect it’s high. Personally, I would prefer that Major League Baseball err on the side of longer and more aggressive punishments for anyone who abuses their partner or their children. But I can’t tell you what the right penalty is.
No matter how long the penalty is, it’s never enough.
And yet, we live in a society that is supposed to value second chances. Our justice system is supposed to be premised on the notion than people can get better. That they can learn from their mistakes. And that permanently banning a player from earning a living playing ball denies the victims he traumatized with the financial stability they need to rebuild their lives. There has to be an answer, then. And lifetime bans aren’t it.
So what’s right? What’s the magic number?
The truth is there is no magic number. Domestic violence is a problem that is too complicated to reduce to some kind of set penalty. First offense: 30 games. Second offense: 60 games. Third offense: Full season. Fourth offense: Banned. The notion is offensive. It’s too easy. We don’t deserve that convenience and nor do the offenders. And the victims deserve so much more. A set penalty means we don’t have to sit with what an abuser did. We don’t have to think about it. The punishment is automatic. It implies that one incident equals another and all families suffer the same. That what Brett Myers did 2006, punching his wife on the street in Boston, equals what Milton Bradley did, systematically abusing and terrifying his former wife, likely contributing to her early death, and what Familia did.
We know Familia and his wife had an argument that concerned their neighbors enough to get the police involved and we know that he smashed a bedroom door in anger. We also know that he barricaded himself inside his bathroom after the argument. But Commissioner Rob Manfred tells us that there’s no evidence Familia attacked his wife.
“Mr. Familia and his wife cooperated fully throughout the investigation, including submitting to in-person interviews with MLB's Department of Investigations…. The evidence reviewed by my office does not support a determination that Mr. Familia physically assaulted his wife, or threatened her or others with physical force or harm, on Oct. 31, 2016.
“It is clear that Mr. Familia regrets what transpired that night and takes full responsibility for his actions. Mr. Familia already has undergone 12 90-minute counseling sessions with an approved counselor specializing in the area of domestic violence, and received a favorable evaluation from the counselor regarding his willingness to take concrete steps to ensure that he is not involved in another incident of this type. Further, he has agreed to speak to other players about what he has learned through this process, and to donate time and money to local organizations aimed at the prevention of, and the treatment of victims of, domestic violence.”
Is 15 games the right amount for that kind of behavior? I suspect it’s close. The suspension is ten percent of the regular season, and more than a player receives for any on-field incident. Familia has convinced the league he’s genuine in his remorse and is taking steps to prevent this from happening again, not just in his own life but in the lives of others. But, again, I don’t know. And I definitely don’t feel wise enough to thread the needle of finding the exact right punishment for any offense I find so odious. But the Commissioner’s sentence is certainly understandable given the information we have, and the punishments doled out to other players for what seem like “worse” offenses.
Not that this is a contest. It’s not. All of it is awful. Every incident of domestic abuse should be taken unbelievably seriously and deserves immense scrutiny, and every punishment should be meted out deliberately. And I don’t see any reason to think that that didn’t happen here. Maybe Familia “deserved” to be punished more severely. Maybe they all did, everyone who has been suspended under Baseball’s Domestic Abuse Policy. But, unlike other sports, what’s become clear to me is that Major League Baseball has treated each allegation with the respect it deserves, and, more than any other sports league, is willing to hold its players accountable to a higher standard.
So did the league get Familia’s penalty right? I can’t say. But I can tell you Major League Baseball is doing the right thing. And that’s what, to me, counts more.