• Villanova Sports Law Blog

Astros AGM’s Outburst: The Latest Example of the MLB’s Indifference Toward Domestic Violence

By Danielle Bland

Major League Baseball (MLB) front offices use the league’s domestic violence policy to sign talented players for cheap. The MLB enacted its domestic violence policy in 2015 with goals to hold players accountable and prevent future violence [1]. The policy itself is vague, but provides an avenue to punish players for domestic abuse [2]. The director of the MLB Players Association supported the policy stating, “Players are husbands, fathers, sons, and boyfriends. And as such want to set an example that makes clear that there is no place for domestic abuse in our society” [3]. An incident following the ALCS involving the Houston Astros’ Assistant General Manager sheds light on how front offices abuse the policy.

On October 19th, the Astros clinched the pennant, earning their spot in the World Series. It was a close one, with Astros’ closer, Roberto Osuna, giving up a game-tying, two-run homer in the top of the ninth inning [4]. José Altuve would save the day with a walk-off solo-homer in the bottom of the inning [5]. Despite Osuna’s lackluster performance, Brandon Taubman, the Astro’s assistant general manager, shouted “Thank God we got Osuna! I’m so f------ glad we got Osuna!” six times to a group of female reporters in the clubhouse [6].

This is both an odd and problematic remark. First, Osuna almost blew the game, which would have caused a winner-take-all game seven. If anyone should be praised in this moment, it should be Altuve. Second, the comment was entirely unprompted. Nobody was asking about Osuna [7]. He arguably put up the poorest performance of the team on the day [8]. Finally, the comment was directed at a group of all-female reporters, and it was shouted six times.

Context is important. Roberto Osuna was acquired the prior year while serving a seventy-five-game suspension for violating the league’s domestic violence policy [9]. Osuna’s suspension was the result of his physical altercation with the mother of his child [10]. Yet, the Astro’s front office is saying how happy they are that they signed Osuna. The only reason they “got Osuna” is because his price tag plummeted due to his domestic violence suspension. Osuna is an Astro because he physically abused a woman. Remarks such as Taubman’s show that the Astro’s front office does not care. The Astros fired Taubman days later but that was more about damage control, however, and does not erase the circumstances under which Osuna was signed.

Despite the appearance that the MLB is combatting domestic violence, some front offices are actually using the policy to prioritize talent over character by signing talented, abusive players for cheap. A domestic violence suspension drops a player’s price tag due to public relations issues they will inevitably present to whichever organization signs the player. Many teams take the risk because they can get top-tier talent for a lower price. These organizations are focused on talent and disregard the character of their players. They care less about reputation and more about winning games.

Another example of an MLB front office using the domestic violence policy to their advantage was when the New York Yankees signed their star closing pitcher, Aroldis Chapman, who ironically was the one to give up Altuve’s ALCS-clinching homer in this year’s ALCS. The MLB handed Chapman a thirty-game suspension in 2015 for domestic violence when he was a member of the Cincinnati Reds [11]. During his suspension, the Yankees signed Chapman at a discount because no one else wanted him [12]. Hal Steinbrenner, a co-owner of the Yankees, commented on Chapman’s signing at the time saying, “Sooner or later, we forget, right?” [13]. This shows that Taubman’s outburst is not just a one-off occurrence but is indicative of a more systemic indifference in MLB front offices to the violent propensities of their players.

Teams using the domestic violence policy to their advantage gives the impression that it is okay to be an abuser as long as that individual is talented enough to be an asset to a team. The player will take a pay cut at first but there will still be a roster spot available to them. One of the reasons the league enacted its domestic violence policy was because it wanted its players to be good role models for kids [14]. They hoped that punishing domestic violence would deter players from committing future violence. The way front offices abuse the policy circumvents this purpose.

Front offices need to take the moral route instead of the business one on this issue. Teams need to stop valuing talent over character and jumping at every chance to sign talented players for cheap. There are plenty of equally talented, nonviolent players, and they are well worth the price that entails. While winning and profit are important, there are some things that matter more. To be fair, many teams avoid signing players involved in any sort of violence but it only takes a few organizations abusing the policy to counteract its positive effects. In order for the MLB to set the example that “there is no place for domestic abuse in our society,” [15] they need to uniformly instill this idea in front offices across the league.

[1] Paul Hagen, MLB, MLBPA Reveal Domestic Violence Policy, MLB (August 21, 2015), https://www.mlb.com/news/mlb-mlbpa-agree-on-domestic-violence-policy/c-144508842

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Stephanie Apstein, Astros Staffer’s Outburst at Female Reporters Illustrates MLB’s Forgive-and-Forget Attitude Toward Domestic Violence, Sports Illustrated (Updated October 22, 2019; Original October 19, 2019), https://www.si.com/mlb/2019/10/22/houston-astros-roberto-osuna-suspension

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Aaron Rupar, The Houston Astros’ Self-Created Domestic Violence Controversy, Explained, Vox (October 24, 2019), https://www.vox.com/2019/10/23/20928466/houston-astros-roberto-osuna-domestic-violence-sports-illustrated-controversy-explained

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Des Bieler, Yankees Owner: People Will ‘Forget’ Aroldis Chapman’s Domestic Violence Incident, Washington Post, (February 2, 2017), https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/early-lead/wp/2017/02/02/yankees-owner-people-will-forget-aroldis-chapmans-domestic-violence-incident/

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Paul Hagen, MLB, MLBPA Reveal Domestic Violence Policy, MLB (August 21, 2015), https://www.mlb.com/news/mlb-mlbpa-agree-on-domestic-violence-policy/c-144508842

[15] Id.

Picture: https://nypost.com/2019/10/23/the-astros-are-really-screwing-this-up/