When we marvel as Kelvin Herrera unleashes a 100-mph heater or Alex Gordon dives into the second row of the stands to snag a fly ball, how can we help but regard them as almost superhuman? Professional athletes are capable of feats mere mortals can only dream of.
At a press conference last week, Royals general manager Dayton Moore brought fans back down to earth. He discussed a recent incident when workers at an Overland Park Burger King summoned authorities after finding ace pitcher Danny Duffy passed out across the console of his SUV. Police arriving on the scene cited him for DUI.
Sitting stony-faced beside Moore, Duffy convincingly expressed contrition. He was especially cognizant of his status as a role model, clearly worried that he had let down “every kid out there that looks up to me.”
The pitcher’s fate with the justice system is still unknown, but Major League Baseball’s response is even more uncertain. The league treats its players unfairly with an inconsistent and insufficient patchwork of policies on alcohol-related misconduct. MLB rules state that either the team or the league can mete out punishment, but not both — and teams take priority. There is no unified disciplinary code across clubs. Each acts on its own.
The team could take a pass and hand the reins to the league, but the policies there are toothless. A two-page attachment to the Major League Baseball Players Association’s 2017 collective bargaining agreement outlines the league’s maddeningly vague Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. It mandates that any player arrested or charged with a crime related to alcohol be referred to a board to evaluate if he should enroll in a treatment program. The guidelines betray the lenient hand of the powerful union that drafted them: “A Player’s participation in any Treatment Program is voluntary.”
The pressures on pro athletes are extraordinary. Their prospects are only as good as their last performance, and they know their careers are likely to be short under the best of circumstances.
Extraordinary, too, are the perks that come their way. A player’s job is to perform at the peak of his abilities, and the league provides a vast support system to that end. Athletes don’t have to waste time on the mundane details of everyday life such as booking travel or preparing meals. They enjoy luxe accommodations on the road, lucrative contracts — even fancy espresso machines in the clubhouse.
But they’re still people. “I’m reminded constantly, we all understand this, that these guys are human beings,” Moore said. “They make mistakes.”
MLB has a chance to fix its mistake. It should work with the players association to adopt a comprehensive, league-wide alcohol discipline and treatment program.