Gallardo's DUI raises issue of how MLB should handle these matters

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Yovani Gallardo

Yovani Gallardo will start for the Brewers against Matt Cain and the Giants this afternoon. On Monday, I picked that game as one of the best pitching matchups of the week, but in the wake of Gallardo's arrest for drunk driving in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, I'm not sure that matchup should be happening at all.

There are two schools of thought on this issue, each recently expressed by colleagues I respect. Back on April 1, my Strike Zone partner Jay Jaffe included the following in his list of "20 ways to improve baseball right now:"

Suspend players for DUI and domestic abuse. In contrast to their progress on the PED front, baseball has done nothing to penalize far more dangerous and destructive behaviors such as driving under the influence of alcohol or abusing wives and girlfriends. The league may be content to let law enforcement handle such offenses, but it could have far more impact if it took additional action in such cases by suspending guilty players without pay for similar lengths of time as PED violators, and donating their salaries to programs oriented towards awareness, treatment and prevention.

Yesterday, over at The Platoon Advantage, my SB Nation colleague Bill Parker countered (indirectly) with this:

An employer has a right to be concerned about how its employees make it look in the community at large, but those employees have a competing right to have their employers stay the hell out of their personal lives, too. The judicial system exists to catch and punish things like DUIs; by and large, I don't think it's baseball's responsibility to pile punishments on top of that (and you might think the judicial system isn't harsh enough, particularly on professional athletes, but that's not a problem that it's baseball's job to fix). I just don't think a sport can go around meting out punishments for things that happen outside the sport.

Parker isn't suggesting in any way that drunk driving isn't a despicable act worthy of heavy punishment, he's just saying that it's the legal system's job to hand down that punishment.

Parker makes a strong point. Having MLB act as morality police can be a slippery slope, and he does well to argue in favor of consistency by pointing out that if baseball doesn't suspend players for drunk driving arrests, then it shouldn't suspend them for other recreational drug use. For example, Astros prospect Jonathan Singleton smoked marijuana too close to a drug test and has to sit out the first 50 games of this season, one in which he was expected to make his major league debut, while Gallardo got behind the wheel while heavily intoxicated (his 0.22 blood-alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit), but is pitching in the major leagues two days later. That's an indefensible inconsistency, particularly when one considers that Gallardo's actions were far more dangerous to himself and others.

Still, as Parker himself allows, there is something lacking in the legal system's punishments as they pertain to multi-millionaire professional athletes. Gallardo, whose DUI was a first-offense, received a $778.80 fine plus 10 points on his license. The combined financial impact of those citations, once increased insurance premiums are factored in, would be devastating to some, myself included, but Gallardo will make $7.75 million this year, which, if he makes 33 starts as he did in each of the last two years, works out to nearly $235,000 per start. Simply suspending Gallardo long enough for him to miss one turn in the rotation would have a far greater impact on Gallardo both financially and in terms of accenting just how reckless his behavior was. It would also allow Baseball to hold its head higher in terms of being a model for the community, showing that it won't simply turn a blind eye to the drunk driving that is all too common among its athletes (Todd Helton and Red Sox minor leaguer Drake Britton were both arrested for DUIs during spring training) and which claimed the lives of two of its players -- Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart, killed by a drunk driver in 2009, and Cardinals pitcher Josh Hancock, who died in 2007 -- in the last six years.

Encouragingly, public pressure seems to be building on this issue. Still, I'm reminded of the incident in late June 2006 in which the Phillies' Brett Myers was arrested and accused of punching his wife in Boston. Myers took the mound on national television the next day, but outrage over the still-pending case prompted Myers to take a leave of absence through the All-Star break. Domestic abuse and drunk driving are not the same thing, but both are abhorrent,  illegal and occur with problematic frequency among professional baseball players, such that many, including Jaffe above, have lumped them together as off-field incidents for which baseball should show no tolerance. The outrage over Myers' post-incident start and his subsequent leave of absence provided some hope that a precedent was being set for players to step away from the game, be it via a suspension or their own conscience, after an egregious off-field incident.