• Emily Rollo

Trevor Bauer's Fate in MLB Commissioner's Hands


[1]

Trevor Bauer has a long list of victories over the last year. In November 2020, he was named the National League’s CY Young Winner for his phenomenal pitching performance for the Cincinnati Reds and leading the team to its first post-season appearance in seven years.[2] He was the first pitcher in the history of the Reds organization to garner this award.[3]


Four months later in February 2021, he signed one of the highest paying contracts in all of Major League Baseball (MLB).[4] Bauer’s agreement with the Los Angeles Dodgers is a three-year $102 million contract.[5] It includes several opt-out options, which if implemented, would make him the highest paid player in the 2021 and 2022 seasons.[6]


Halfway through the 2021 season, Bauer continued to impress. He was 8-5 with a 2.59 ERA and led the National League with 137 strikeouts in 17 starts at the mound.[7] He was positioned to be at the helm of the Dodgers’ pursuit for another championship, until his career was suddenly in the hands of the MLB’s Commissioner and the Los Angeles County Superior Court.


On June 28, a San Diego woman obtained an ex parte temporary restraining order against Bauer, alleging that he choked and injured her during two sexual encounters earlier in the year.[8] The MLB Commissioner, Rob Manfred, took immediate action by placing Bauer on paid administrative leave and launching the league’s investigation.[9]


During a four-day court hearing in late August, Bauer planned to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights if he were called to testify.[10] Under this constitutional right, no person “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness” against themselves.[11] After the female accuser and other witnesses gave their testimonies, the court ended the temporary restraining order finding that Bauer did not pose an immediate threat to the woman.[12]


While the judge’s denial of the restraining order rules in favor of Bauer, the hearing only focused on proving whether Bauer was a future risk to the woman.[13] There is still an active criminal investigation into the alleged assault, which could result in criminal charges against Bauer.[14]


If Bauer was not a professional athlete, let alone an accomplished one, this decision would be a victory for him, even though criminal charges are still looming. However, as a professional baseball player, Bauer is not relieved from consequences because of this ruling. He is still subject to discipline by the MLB. The league’s domestic violence policy does not require criminal charges to suspend a player.[15] The policy allows lack of consent in sexual assault cases to be inferred “when a person uses force, harassment, threat of force, threat of adverse personnel or disciplinary action, or other coercion, or when the victim is asleep, incapacitated, unconscious or legally incapable of consent.”[16]


Manfred’s has no problem issuing consequences over domestic violence issues before any legal action is taken. Since the policy’s inception in 2015, there have been 14 players suspended for violating it and many of them were not criminally charged with sexual assault before being disciplined.[17] Julio Urias served a 20-game suspension for shoving his girlfriend in a parking lot, but was never criminally charged.[18] Domingo German received an 81-game suspension for an incident with his girlfriend, but law enforcement was never involved.[19] Sam Dyson was suspended for an entire season for verbal and emotional abuse of his girlfriend, but was never criminally charged.[20] The common theme throughout these suspensions in the MLB is that the league’s threshold for what is considered domestic violence appears to be much lower than that of most state and federal laws.[21]


As of early September, Manfred extended Bauer’s administrative leave through the postseason, ending his season and asserting his power over the pitcher’s immediate future on the mound.[22] His administrative leave had been extended several times throughout the summer, so this decision was inevitable and likely an easy one for Manfred.[23]


The Commissioner’s power to discipline players is commonplace in the sports world. Players, owners, and fans accept the large amount of discretion a league’s policy grants the Commissioner, regardless of whether they agree with it. It is not to say that professional sports leagues are above the law, but they certainly have lower thresholds for unethical behavior. While society may criticize the disciplinary decisions made by Commissioners, society does not question why they hold such immense governing authority. A push to mitigate a Commissioner’s authority to discipline would likely disrupt the entire structure of a professional sports league. A league needs governance just as much as society needs governance in everyday life.


Bauer’s opportunity to be one of the best pitchers in history now rests in the hands of Manfred. This decision will arguably be one of the most influential in baseball in recent years. While Bauer is also waiting for any legal ramifications, his fate as a professional player may be decided much sooner.




References

[1] Photo: Wagner, J. (Aug. 19, 2021). Judge Rejects Restraining Order Against Trevor Bauer. Retrieved from www.nytimes.com/2021/08/19/sports/baseball/trevor-bauer-restraining-order.html [2] Nightengale, B. (Nov. 11, 2020). Trevor Bauer becomes first Cincinnati Reds pitcher to win Cy Young Award. Retrieved fromwww.cincinnati.com/story/sports/mlb/reds/2020/11/11/trevor-bauer-national-league-cy-young-first-cincinnati-reds-mlb-baseball-pitcher-win-award/6222364002/

[3] Id.

[4] Young, J.(Feb. 12, 2021). Why Trevor Bauer’s $102 million deal with the Dodgers is unique. Retrieved from www.cnbc.com/2021/02/12/trevor-bauers-102-million-deal-with-the-dodgers-is-unique-heres-why.html

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Digiovanna, M. (Jul. 25, 2021). 2021 hindsight: Inside the Trevor Bauer disaster and how the Dodgers got here. Retrieved from www.latimes.com/sports/dodgers/story/2021-07-25/trevor-bauer-dodgers-timeline

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Gonzalez, A. and Thompson, T. (Aug. 19, 2021). Trevor Bauer will not testify in restraining order hearing. Retrieved from www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/32050583/trevor-bauer-not-testify-restraining-order-hearing

[11] Id.

[12] Ardaya, F. (Aug. 20, 2021). What the Trevor Bauer decision means and what could come next for the Dodgers. Retrieved from www.theathletic.com/2781998/2021/08/20/what-the-trevor-bauer-decision-means-and-what-could-come-next-for-the-dodgers/#

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Hagen, P. (Aug. 21, 2015). MLB, MLBPA reveal domestic violence policy. Retrieved from www.mlb.com/news/mlb-mlbpa-agree-on-domestic-violence-policy/c-144508842

[16] Ardaya, supra.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Digiovanna, M. (Jul. 8, 2021). MLB punishment precedent doesn’t bode well for Trevor Bauer, even if he isn’t charged. Retrieved from www.latimes.com/sports/dodgers/story/2021-07-08/mlb-punishment-precedent-doesnt-bode-well-for-trevor-bauer-even-if-he-isnt-charged

[21] Id.

[22] Gonzalez, A. (Sept. 10, 2021). Source: Los Angeles Dodgers P Trevor Bauer’s season is over as MLB administrative leave extended through postseason. Retrieved from www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/32183542/source-los-angeles-dodgers-p-trevor-bauer-season-administrative-leave-extended-postseason

[23] Digiovanna, M. (Jul. 25, 2021). 2021 hindsight: Inside the Trevor Bauer disaster and how the Dodgers got here. Retrieved from www.latimes.com/sports/dodgers/story/2021-07-25/trevor-bauer-dodgers-timeline