A fan watching the Cubs' Aroldis Chapman pitch in the World Series might reasonably wonder: Why does baseball allow players who are suspended during the regular season for domestic violence to participate in the playoffs but not players banned for performance-enhancing drugs?
The difference is jarring, creating a surface impression that baseball takes a harsher stance against PEDs than domestic violence. But in the view of both baseball and the players' union, the comparison is not apples to apples.
The joint PED policy is the outlier; no other suspensions in baseball include a postseason ban. The two sides agreed to the additional penalty in March 2014 after some players expressed anger that two players suspended for PEDs the previous season, Jhonny Peralta and Nelson Cruz, returned in time to participate in the playoffs.
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One concern among players was that the benefits of PEDs extend beyond the period of usage, providing an additional competitive advantage. As one union official put it, a decision to use PEDs is “a work-related choice that calls into question the integrity of your job and the game being played on the field.”
An act of domestic violence, while a far more serious offense in the view of the average person, is not work-related. Both baseball and the union regard it as an off-the field matter.
The sport adopted its joint domestic-violence policy in August 2015. The agreement between baseball and the union allows for the commissioner to suspend a player without pay for “just cause,” even if the player is not charged with or convicted of a crime.
While some believe that professional sports leagues should not discipline players who are not penalized by the legal system, domestic-violence incidents often go unpunished otherwise. The Davie (Fla.) Police Department did not bring charges against Chapman, citing a lack of sufficient evidence, conflicting stories and a failure of witnesses to cooperate.
To illustrate how often the justice system fails to punish professional athletes accused of domestic violence, Bethany P. Withers — writing for the Harvard Law School Journal of Sports & Entertainment Law — conducted a review of 64 reported domestic violence and sexual assault incidents allegedly perpetrated by athletes in MLB, the NFL and NBA from Jan. 1, 2010 to Dec. 31, 2014.
Withers' review found that only one of the 64 reported allegations resulted in conviction for the alleged crime, though four pleaded guilty to lesser charges and five to no contest. Nine of the 64 allegations were against baseball players. Only two, Milton Bradley and Evan Reed, were formally charged with a crime. Only Bradley was convicted, receiving a three-year prison sentence.
Baseball, during the five-year period covered by the review, did not have a domestic-violence policy. None of the nine players alleged to have committed domestic violence or sexual assault was suspended by his league or respective team.
Chapman, the first player suspended under baseball’s new policy, was banned for 30 games, costing him about $1.86 million of his $11.325 million salary. He was not the only player to be suspended under the policy and participate in the postseason. Infielder Jose Reyes received a 51-game ban even after criminal charges against him were dropped, losing about $7.25 million of his $22 million salary, and later appeared in the wild-card game for the Mets.
Once both players served their penalties, they again became eligible to compete, both in the regular season and the postseason. The possibility of Chapman closing out the World Series in the same season he was suspended for domestic violence cannot be a comfortable one for baseball. But under the sport's policy, Chapman already did his time.