In case you missed it last week (and MLB went out of their way increase the chances you did), Jose Reyes was finally suspended for his role in a domestic violence incident last October in Hawaii.
For his actions, Reyes will remain on the sidelines through the end of May, resulting in either a 51 or 52 game suspension, depending on if you count the rained out game against the Pirates which got moved from April to June. His pay will be docked in a prorated fashion (costing him about $7 million of the $22 million he was set to earn this season), and he will get credit for the time he's already missed while MLB took their sweet time coming to a decision. This means he's already served the majority of the suspension, and he'll be eligible to return two weeks from Wednesday (but don't expect to ever see him in a Rockies uniform again).
The decision to suspend Reyes for only 31 percent of the season after his wife told police that he grabbed her by the neck and slammed her into a sliding glass door is disappointing to say the least (he probably should have gotten at least a half season for this behavior), but what's just as troubling is how MLB reached this conclusion.
Last August, MLB and the MLB Player's Association agreed to a new domestic violence policy that gave Rob Manfred unprecedented power. Here's a snippet from the linked article under the discipline section:
The Commissioner will decide on appropriate discipline, with no minimum or maximum penalty under the policy.
In short, this new policy gives Rob Manfred permission to be the judge, jury and executioner when it comes to dealing with despicable behavior from his athletes off the field. He doesn't need a criminal case and he doesn't need a court ruling. He and the MLB offices alone now have the power to inflict justice as they sees fit within the game. However, that's clearly not what happened here.
Instead, we waited seven months for MLB to hand down a rather soft ruling that clearly reached its conclusion only after negotiating with the player's association. As the operation remained tangled in its "final stages" for weeks, multiple sources throughout the process reported that Manfred was waiting on information from the player's association. This isn't how this policy was advertised to work.
When it was sold to the public last summer, Manfred boasted that "MLB and its Clubs [were] proud to adopt a comprehensive policy that reflects the gravity and the sensitivities of these significant societal issues." He went on to add that they "believe these efforts will foster not only an approach of education and prevention, but also a united stance against these matters throughout our sport and our communities."
That all sounded nice, but when the biggest test for the system so far came around in the Reyes case, bringing down the hammer on domestic violence seemed to take a back seat to appeasing the player's association, which is pretty revolting. The entire process felt like a collaborative effort to figure out the smallest number of games they could possibly suspend Reyes while avoiding public outrage on a very sensitive topic.
If MLB was really proud of this decision and wanted to send a clear message that domestic violence isn't going to be tolerated under any circumstance in their sport, the suspension would have been longer (probably at least 80 games), it wouldn't have taken until mid May to come up with a ruling since there would have been no bargains made under the table with the player's association, and the announcement might not have been stored away for a late Friday afternoon news dump (hard to tell for sure on that last point).
That's not even close to what we got. Instead of a swift hard line ruling, we were given a suspension just long enough to prevent a total public outcry (I feel like 40-50 games was that threshold), and were handed it just late enough on a Friday to push the news to the back of our brain by the time the next week of news rolled around, which is by the way the reason I waited until Monday to post this piece. This topic is serious and doesn't deserve to be buried under the Friday evening news flush game.
How MLB handled this process is completely dependent on what barometer you use. If the top goal was to make it fade into the background as quickly as possible, they did a tremendous job. However, if the top goal was to provide a proper penalty and create an environment in the sport where these types of incidents are less likely to occur in the future, I think MLB failed. (You can decide for yourself which one of those two things MLB placed at the top of their priority list.)
Perhaps the most frustrating part of this entire ordeal is the painfully obvious negotiations that took place with the player's association. When you have Manfred making comments about waiting on information from the player's association and then get a paltry suspension that Reyes agrees not to appeal, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to connect the dots. That's a huge problem here because the player's association represents the abuser in this case, and that makes it almost impossible for them to have the victim's best interest as their top priority. As a result, it also puts them in a position where it's hard for them to have the best interest of future victims in mind.
This isn't really their fault; it's part of the way the business is set up. However, with the player's best interest and the victim's best interest generally not lining up, this group shouldn't be involved in any part of the decision making process when it comes to individual suspensions, and Manfred publicly stating he's waiting on information from the player's association is ludicrous. MLB needs a policy where Manfred works independently from the player's association, and on paper, that's how this was sold publicly last August.
We'll never know the exact details that were discussed behind closed doors, but it's pretty clear that MLB's decision was heavily influenced how many games they could suspend Reyes before he would appeal. There was without a doubt some sort of agreement in place that he wouldn't appeal if he got off with a sentence on the lighter side of the spectrum.
This can't be how the system operates going forward if MLB truly wants to foster an environment where they reduced the likelihood of future domestic violence incidents in their sport. If Reyes and the player's association didn't like the idea of 80 or 100 games, that should have been too bad.
Let them appeal it! Let them walk through the cesspool of explaining to the public why grabbing your wife by the throat and shoving her into a glass door doesn't deserve suspension of that length. Let the player's association see how that goes. If Reyes somehow won? Fine. The court of public opinion would take care of whoever made that ruling.
MLB had a chance to stand with the past, present and future victims here, and instead they cratered under the fear of an appeal process and showed that they're not quite in touch with how serious the public is taking this issue now. That's not good enough for a prominent organization that doubles as a major piece of the American culture. It comes off as both cowardly and a failure to properly prioritize off the field interests.
There's also another major problem with how MLB handled this that's not getting enough attention: How does this slow as molasses suspension timeline work if a player commits the crime during the spring instead of the fall?
The only reason Manfred was able to suspend Reyes for two months a full seven months after the incident without him ever appearing on the field is because he had the entire off season on the front end of the process. How in the world is this going to work when a player can't keep his hands off a woman in March? There's no way you can take this long, only suspend the player for two months, and prevent the player from being on the field while he waits for his court date, which in that scenario could easily be in something like September. The math for what MLB just did only works for a domestic violence incident that occurs in October (and maybe November).
This isn't the NFL, which is always a reason to celebrate when it comes to handling off field matters. However, it's pretty clear that MLB's policy still leaves plenty to be desired, and some holes that need to be addressed if they're truly trying to, as Manfred put it, "foster not only an approach of education and prevention, but also a united stance against these matters throughout our sport and our communities."