Red Sox knckcle-baller Steven Wright has been suspended for 15 games under the MLB-MLBPA Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy. Fifteen games is a lot: that’s three starts for a starting pitcher like Wright, and almost 10% of a player’s salary. Wright’s salary is about a million dollars for the upcoming season, and unlike an established star, he isn’t a multi-millionaire. Losing about a hundred grand will hurt, and not just him, but his whole family.
The suspension relates to a mid-December incident in Tennessee in which Wright was arrested and charged with domestic assault and prevention of a 911 call. Wright was not charged with physical abuse to his wife or any other household members; this was apparently “verbal abuse”—the pitcher’s conduct was so emotional and threatening that his wife was frightened. A plea deal has the charges on the road to being discharged if Wright does not commit any infractions in the next year. He has told reporters that he and his wife are being counseled.
Never mind: Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred suspended him anyway, under this policy:
“Domestic violence includes, but is not limited to, physical or sexual violence, emotional and/or psychological intimidation, verbal violence, stalking, economic control, harassment, physical intimidation, or injury. Notwithstanding this definition, a single incident of abusive behavior in any intimate relationship, or a single incident of abusive behavior involving a female member of a Player’s family who is domiciled with him, may subject a Player to discipline under this Policy.”
Manfred is vested with broad authority to issue punishments based on his own assessment of investigation results, even if the legal system goes in another direction. I understand the theory, which has generally served baseball well: the players are representatives of the sport year round, and are paid cultural heroes. They aren’t permitted to have warts and scandals that undermine baseball’s image. Thus we have seen players punished for, in one case, being overheard using the term “faggot” on the field.
Wright’s punishment for a verbal rampage, and the policy that backs it. are perverse. however. The victim of the conduct is fined as much as the alleged miscreant. With a better-payed star, the monetary motivation for a spouse not to report such an incident could play a role in how an incident was handled by a couple. Moreover, this policy crosses a line that employers shouldn’t cross, reaching into communications between a husband and wife. Physical abuse should always trigger a professional sport’s discipline. Verbal abuse and emotional abuse should not: does baseball want to monitor divorce actions and punish players for being bad husbands? In an infamous scandal in the Eighties, Red Sox star and AL batting champion Wade Boggs, who was married at the time, was revealed to have transported his mistress along with the team on road trips. I can see MLB fining a player for that, because it brings a seamy personal life into the season and involves the team.
Boggs was not fined for the fiasco, however.
And, of course, the fact that the domestic abuse policy is limited to female members of a Player’s family who are domiciled with him make it archaic and absurd. A father can scream at his son, or spank him, but not his daughter, apparently. Gay players, meanwhile, can be as abusive to their partners as the want.