Major League Baseball
Alcohol policy needs more study
Major League Baseball

Alcohol policy needs more study

Published Apr. 19, 2013 1:00 a.m. ET

The legal and intellectual arguments for baseball’s alcohol policy actually make sense, should anyone care to consider them.

Of course, the legal and intellectual arguments against steroid testing also made sense, until baseball decided that they didn’t make sense anymore.

That’s where we are now, at a point when the sport needs to change the perception that it does not care when a player gets arrested for driving under the influence.

That perception is wrong. But baseball should penalize players for drunk driving to hammer home the point.


When Yovani Gallardo gets arrested for drunk driving, acknowledges he made a mistake and takes the mound for the Brewers two days later, it sends the wrong message — just as baseball once sent the wrong message when it did not test for performance-enhancing drugs.

Those are two different issues, apples and oranges, actually. Baseball needs to discipline PED use because the drugs affect the integrity of the competition. Drunk driving is off-field conduct, regulated by criminal law — and unlike illegal steroid use, vigorously enforced.

I’ve spoken about baseball’s alcohol policy with both the head of the union, Michael Weiner and the chief labor attorney, Rob Manfred. The policy is not the handiwork of people saying, “Let’s turn a blind eye to drinking. Boys will be boys. Bottoms up!” But the policy is a legal, intellectual response to an issue that is rightly emotional.

Banning PEDs to fortify the integrity of the game — and to mollify Congress — was important. Acting to enhance public safety would be even more important — even if, under traditional labor law, an employer can not discipline an employee for off-duty misconduct.

If convicted in Wisconsin as a first-time offender, Gallardo will not face jail time, but will pay fines totaling $778, according to reports. Baseball’s latest collective-bargaining agreement will require him only to meet with a treatment board.

A player’s actual participation in any treatment program is voluntary. However, the CBA states that participation “shall be considered as a mitigating factor in any discipline imposed by either the Club or the Office of the Commissioner.”

“We think that the (CBA) reflects the appropriate balance for dealing with the issue of alcohol,” Manfred said. “The things you balance are discipline and treatment.

“For a repeat offender, it becomes clearer and clearer that discipline is appropriate. Our experience with first-time offenders has been that a treatment program is more effective in dealing with underlying problems and changing behavior than simply suspending a player for a few games.”

I can’t argue with that, and I seriously question whether a five- or even 10-game suspension for a DUI conviction would reduce the number of players arrested. Players continue to drive drunk, undeterred by the risk of criminal charges and public embarrassment. Players with drinking problems are even less likely to be deterred by the threat of discipline from baseball; that’s just not how they’re wired.

So, when Weiner says, “The situation is one that both the union and the commissioner’s office take seriously. We think that the manner it was dealt with in collective bargaining is the best way to deal with it,” he is not trying to avoid the issue. To the contrary, he believes that the sport is addressing the issue, fairly and sincerely.

Players, however, routinely get suspended for other offenses, with baseball officials splitting hairs to explain why those wrongdoings merit discipline and drunk driving does not.

Kenny Rogers sending a TV cameraman to the hospital, Yunel Escobar writing a homophobic slur on his eyeblack — those incidents happened at the workplace, and thus are subject to punishment.

John Rocker making racist remarks — that violated baseball’s standards as a social institution. Delmon Young getting charged with third-degree assault and aggravated harassment hate crime while drunk — those misdeeds went far beyond his misuse of alcohol.

In fairness, all of these situations are indeed dissimilar. But in the end, baseball is either a social institution or it’s not.

By failing to discipline convicted drunk drivers, the sport appears to be condoning their actions, same as it did with steroid users before it started testing. Different issue. Same thing. You’re either on the right side of the argument, or you’re not.

This is a sport that had a promising young pitcher, Nick Adenhart, killed by a drunk driver in 2009, a sport that lost another pitcher, Josh Hancock, in a fatal car accident when he was driving while intoxicated in ’07.

To put it in the harshest possible terms, how would baseball react if one of its players killed another person while driving drunk? You can bet there would be an uproar, and that commissioner Bud Selig would push the union to adopt a tougher position.

The legal, intellectual argument for baseball’s policy on alcohol is not wrong.

It’s just not enough.


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