Major League Baseball, Players Union To Consider New Domestic Violence Policy

The Seattle Mariners suspended pitcher Julio Mateo (left) after he was charged with domestic abuse in 2007. But other incidents of discipline for similar cases are rare in Major League Baseball. CREDIT: AP

By Travis Waldron

Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association will meet this week to begin discussing a new league-wide domestic violence policy in the wake of the ongoing Ray Rice scandal and other incidents of domestic violence in the NFL, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported Monday.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell instituted a “new” domestic violence policy amid criticism of his original two-game suspension for Rice, the now-former Baltimore Ravens running back who was arrested after allegedly punching his wife in an Atlantic City casino in February. The Rice scandal reignited last week when TMZ published video of Rice knocking his wife out with a punch in the casino’s elevator. The role of football’s union in the new policy, which expanded the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy, was unclear, but any new punishment for baseball players requires amending the Collective Bargaining Agreement and needs union approval.

“I constantly say that baseball is a social institution with very important social responsibilities,’’ Selig told USA Today in a statement. “Domestic violence is one of the one worst forms of societal conduct. We understand the responsibility of baseball to quickly and firmly address off-field conduct by our players, even potentially in situations in which the criminal justice system does not do so.”

“We are meeting with the Players Association this week to thoroughly discuss the issue of domestic violence, and how it should be addressed under our Basic Agreement going forward,” Selig added.

Selig said last week that the league and union had previously discussed instituting a domestic violence policy, but nothing had come of it.

“We haven’t had any cases I’m happy to say for a long, long time. I can’t remember when the last time was,” Selig said in San Francisco last Thursday. “I’m grateful for that. But we deal with situations as they occur. The only thing I want to say, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, we are a social institution and I’m proud of our record in dealing with a myriad of subjects, and we deal with them, I think, quite effectively.”

Despite Selig’s assertions, it isn’t hard to find cases of domestic violence involving baseball players and coaches. Former Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame this year, was accused of domestic violence in 1995. Pitcher Josh Lueke was charged with rape while pitching in the Texas Rangers organization in 2009 and pleaded to a lesser charge; he was never disciplined by the team and has pitched in the majors and minors since. In 2005, police came to outfielder Milton Bradley’s house three times on calls of domestic abuse (Bradley was later charged with nine counts of domestic assault in 2011, when he was on his way out of the league). Pitcher Brett Myers started a game the day after smacking his wife in the face in a Boston restaurant in 2006.

Cincinnati Reds pitcher Alfredo Simon is currently facing rape accusations but has not been suspended. Sexual assault charges against Detroit Tigers pitcher Evan Reed were recently dismissed. And there is a long list of Major League ballplayers involved in domestic violence or sexual assault incidents since the beginning of Selig’s tenure in 1992.

Incidents of discipline for those incidents are much harder to find. The Boston Red Sox briefly suspended first baseman Wil Cordero after he was arrested on domestic violence charges in 1997. Cordero continued playing until 2005. The Seattle Mariners, who partner with a local organization for their Refuse To Abuse campaign, suspended pitcher Julio Mateo for 10 days in 2007 after he was charged with domestic assault, then shipped him to the minors and cut him that same season. The Minnesota Twins canceled a July ceremony to induct former second baseman Chuck Knoblauch into the team’s Hall of Fame after he was arrested and charged with domestic abuse.

Selig’s reign as commissioner ends in January, when current MLB chief operating officer Rob Manfred will take over. Hammering out an agreement that involves the union and gets everyone in baseball on the same page won’t be easy. But involving the union, getting players, owners, and the league on the same page, and crafting a policy that makes it clear that Major League Baseball is taking the issue seriously — much more seriously that it has in the past — is the right approach.