The first suspension handed down under Major League Baseball’s new domestic violence policy was announced Tuesday afternoon with MLB commissioner Rob Manfred suspending Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman without pay for the first 30 games of the 2016 regular season for his involvement in an incident at his Davie, Fla., home on Oct. 30 of last year. Chapman has agreed not to appeal the suspension. Given that charges were not filed against Chapman by the aggrieved party in the incident nor by local law enforcement, Manfred’s suspension sends a strong message that baseball will have a very low level of tolerance for domestic violence incidents and will act independently of any criminal proceedings with regard to domestic violence incidents. It also suggests that a far longer suspension is to come for Rockies shortstop Jose Reyes, who, unlike Chapman, was arrested in connection with an incident with his wife on Oct. 31 of last year and will stand trial for the incident starting on April 4.
An accompanying statement on the Chapman decision released by Manfred on Tuesday appears to largely verify the version of events that has become public knowledge, in part via the publication of police reports. According to the reports, Chapman was accused by his girlfriend of pushing her during an argument, then retreated to his garage, where he fired eight shots from a pistol, seven of them into the wall and one through a window into a field. Accounts of the physical altercation between Chapman and his girlfriend, both from the parties involved and eye witnesses (the incident took place during a party at Chapman’s home) were inconsistent, but Chapman admitted to firing the gun in the garage, which is something Manfred focused on in his statement. Here is that statement in full:
“I asked my staff to conduct a comprehensive investigation of the incident involving Aroldis Chapman on Oct. 30, 2015. Much of the information regarding the incident has been made public through documents released by law enforcement. Mr. Chapman submitted to an in-person interview with counsel present. After reviewing the staff report, I found Mr. Chapman's acknowledged conduct on that day to be inappropriate under the negotiated policy, particularly his use of a firearm and the impact of that behavior on his partner. I am gratified that Mr. Chapman has taken responsibility for his conduct, that he has agreed not to appeal the 30-game suspension, and that he has agreed to comply with the confidential directives of the Joint Policy Board established under the parties' policy to ensure that a similar incident does not occur in the future.”
For his part, Chapman released a statement on Tuesday denying harming anyone but admitting that he “should have exercised better judgment with respect to certain actions” and claiming to have learned from the incident. Again, the firing of the gun, not the alleged physical altercation, appears to have been the motivation for both the suspension and Chapman’s decision not to appeal it.
Chapman will not be paid nor accrue service time during his 30-game suspension, but the time missed will not impact his free agency eligibility at the end of the season. It would have taken a suspension of 46 days or more to delay Chapman’s free agency. Chapman will miss just 35 days as a result of his 30-game suspension. He will be allowed to remain in spring training with the Yankees and to participate in exhibition games prior to the season and will be eligible to return on Monday May 9 for the Yankees five-game home series against the Royals. As a result, the impact on both Chapman and the Yankees should not extend beyond those 30 games and the roughly $1.86 million in lost salary (which author Molly Knight has sagely suggested the Yankees donate to Joe Torre’s Safe At Home Foundation).
Chapman will still be able to prepare for the season over a full spring training and will have a full five months after his suspension n which to build his value for free agency. Meanwhile, with April’s many off days (only once during Chapman’s suspension will the Yankees play more than six consecutive games without his services, that being a nine-game stretch near the end of the April) and their still impressive bullpen duo of Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances, the Yankees are unlikely to be significantly harmed by the loss of what likely would have been less than a dozen one-inning appearances by Chapman. Indeed, the Yankees released a statement of their own on Tuesday, supporting Manfred’s decision expressing approval of Chapman’s decision not to appeal.
As for Reyes, he was placed on administrative leave by Major League Baseball last week pending the results of his trial and will thus not be with the Rockies for the remainder of spring training given that his trial is scheduled for Opening Day. It now seems likely that Reyes could miss a far more significant portion of the 2016 season. As the Chapman suspension makes clear, Manfred does not require a conviction to hand down a suspension, and with Reyes missing spring training, he may require several weeks to get up to regular season speed after the conclusion of a suspension, no matter the length. By that same measure, Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, who is also being investigated by MLB over an argument with his sister that reportedly turned physical in late November, seems likely to receive an even more lenient punishment than Chapman, if any at all, given that the Miami police contradicted that report. With Chapman’s suspension having now been decided, a decision on Puig shouldn’t be far behind.
As to the appropriateness of Chapman’s suspension, it is impossible to say in terms of length, and a legitimate argument could be made that one’s personal life is, quite literally, not the business of one’s employer. However, Major League Baseball is not your average employer. It is one of our society’s leading institutions. If baseball wants to continue to embrace and celebrate that role, which it does often, particularly when citing Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s recommendation that baseball continue during World War II and the leadership role it took in the civil rights movement by integrating seven years before Brown v. Board of Education and eight years before the Montgomery bus boycott made Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King household names, it needs to continue to take a leadership role on relevant social issues.
Domestic violence, the mistreatment of women and the unsafe use of firearms are all significant issues relevant to the Chapman case, and baseball cannot simultaneously claim a leadership role in our society and turn a blind eye to such incidents. Thankfully Manfred and Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark, who collaborated on the new policy, have recognized that fact and taken action. The message sent to not only other players, but to fans of baseball, both men and women, by the Chapman suspension is far more important than the precise appropriateness of the suspension itself to Chapman’s case. The message is clear. Baseball will no longer tolerate such incidents involving its players, just as society should not tolerate such incidents, period.