Jim Bowden has some ideas about DUIs in baseball

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When I saw Jim Bowden’s post over at ESPN’s Sweet Spot about how to deal with baseball’s DUI epidemic, my first thought was to tackle it on the merits. But then I saw this tweet from Will Leitch:

Jim Bowden is writing about how to curb DUI arrests in baseball on ESPN. Somehow, he didn’t mention this.

UPDATE:  Bowden’s post has been updated with reference to his 2006 arrest for DUI, rendering the following Paul O’Neill/Roberto Kelly joke moot. Yet I shall leave it here for posterity. In any event, good for ESPN for updating it.

Yeah, that’s something.  It’s enough to make me think that Bowden’s next post will be about how baseball should step in to stop teams from trading Paul O’Neill for Roberto Kelly.

But let’s leave that aside. Only Nixon could go to China, only Kirk could make peace with the Vulcans and maybe, just maybe, Bowden’s past doesn’t disqualify him from weighing in on this stuff. Indeed, it may make him better suited to talk about it because he, unlike most of us, can actually relate to the mind of a man about to climb behind the wheel drunk and consider what might make him not do it.

Judge for yourself if his ideas have merit: He proposes (1) identical punishment for steroids and DUIs, including 50 and then 100-game suspensions; (2) bringing parents of kids killed by drunk drivers in to talk to major leaguers; (3) providing players with the phone numbers of cabs, town car or limo services in every city; and (4) making teams implement a rule that says “No drinking and driving period. No exceptions.”

The 50 game suspension thing seems extreme to me. While there are some baseball implications to player behavior, unlike PEDs, players drinking and driving is not primarily a baseball issue. I get that the consequences of drunk driving are far more dire than that of PED use, but it seems to me that you have to line up penalties and behavior better. Bowden doesn’t explain his rationale here so I’ll grant that there could be a good reason to go 50/100 games, but I’d think a much greater fine-to-suspension ratio is in order. Big money, a handful of games.

As for number two: I have no problem with teams bringing home the notion of the dangers of drunk driving, and if they feel that it’s best to do so via some scared straight program, hey, let them.  It’s not the kind of thing that makes sense as a formal policy though. Specialized programs and speakers should be a team-by-team kind of thing and would be best handled in conjunction with local anti-drunk driving groups. The idea is the same as that which held for high school assemblies: the less rote and expected the programming, the better it is, and clubs would be better able to handle that kind of thing on their own in conjunction with a more broad-based anti-alcohol abuse program.

Providing phone numbers for car services is a good thing — I know teams already do that in spring training and may do so in the regular season — but let’s also keep in mind that most of the incidents that have happened lately have happened when the players were at home, not on the road, where guys tend to drink closer to hotels.  Many players live 20 or 30 miles out of the city or more, and while even the suburban bars will call you a cab, I’ve been around people under the influence in those kinds of places, and the idea of waiting on a cab or a Town Car to head out that far is one of the reasons people don’t call them already.

Here’s kind of a nutty idea: give players a designated driver who lives in the area. Not someone who goes out with the player, but just a name on a card, in addition to a cab service, who the player can call if they need a ride. A team employee. A volunteer. someone who agrees ahead of time that, sure, they’ll go out at 2AM to bring Derek Lowe home if he needs it. Maybe that’s logistically weird — and the kid gloves handling is a bit awkward — but whether we care to admit it or not, these are VIPs and between the proper incentives and a well-executed confidentiality agreement, I bet you could find a person willing to take that call for the greater glory of the ballclub in suburbs north, south, east and west.

As for the last one: given that drinking and driving is against the law already, I’m not sure what a club rule to that effect accomplishes. Rather than passing rules, let’s have clubs make a more broad and concerted effort to discourage alcohol abuse via education, punishment and overall team culture.

I’m not sure how you do that last part, exactly, but it could begin with education and simply discouraging after-game drinking. Maybe over time it could be done via teams incorporating a player’s partying tendencies into overall evaluation.  I don’t mean scoring his sobriety on a scale of 80 like you would his glove, really, but by taking such things into account and being less-willing to sign or pay top dollar for guys who are known to booze it up and by not hesitating to bring such things up in negotiations.  Over time this would send a message to players that there are costs to their drinking.

Obviously this isn’t an easy nut to crack. If it were, we wouldn’t still have drunk driving.  But it strikes me that a multi-level approach is better than merely posting a policy, bringing in a guest speaker and ratcheting up the penalties, even if those things are part of the solution.

MLB managers weigh in on anthem protests

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No other Major League Baseball player has taken a knee during the National Anthem since Athletics’ catcher Bruce Maxwell‘s protest on Saturday night. The demonstration was sparked by President Donald Trump’s call for the boycott of the National Football League and the firing of any player who chose not to stand during the anthem. The comments drew harsh criticism from many NFL players, coaches and owners and more than a few in MLB have also lended their support. There is still one game left to play on Sunday, but it’s unclear whether any of Maxwell’s league-mates will show their solidarity by refusing to stand as well.

Given a baseball culture that tends toward conformity more often than not, it seems unlikely. But it’s something league managers are prepared for — even if they don’t all agree with the demonstrations themselves.

White Sox’ skipper Rick Renteria specifically addressed Maxwell’s protest on Sunday, speaking to the league’s policy of inclusivity:

None of the White Sox knelt prior to their series finale against the Royals. Neither did members of the Pirates or the Cardinals, though St. Louis manager Mike Matheny and Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington both weighed in on the situation.

Matheny called the president’s comments “hurtful” and, like the Cubs’ Joe Maddon, appeared content to leave the decision to protest up to each player.

The Pirates, meanwhile, took a firmer tone. “We appreciate our players’ desire and ability to express their opinions respectfully and when done properly,” GM Huntington told Elizabeth Bloom of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “When done appropriately and properly, we certainly have respect for our players’ ability to voice their opinion.”

Just what the Pirates consider “appropriate and proper” protocol was left up in the air, and club president Frank Coonelly offered no further insights in a separate statement to the press. Setting strict parameters for players to voice their opinions kind of puts them in a gray area, one they’ll have to clear up should someone elect to protest in the days to come, either with a bent knee and a hand over their heart or in some other fashion.

Equally ambiguous were comments from Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts, who claimed to oppose the movement for personal, if misguided reasons, but also respected the right of his players to make an “educated” statement in protest.

The Indians’ Terry Francona took what was perhaps the most balanced approach of the entire group:

“It’s easy for me to sit here and say, ‘Well, I think this is the greatest country in the world,’ because I do,” Francona told MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian. “But, I also haven’t walked in other people’s shoes. So, until I think, not just our country, but our world, until we realize that, hey, people are actually equal — it shouldn’t be a revelation — and the different doesn’t mean less. It’s just different. We’ve got work to do.”

These may all be moot points. Maxwell may be the only player to formally protest Trump’s comments, despite the good intentions of his teammates and fellow players around the league. Others may feel too ambivalent, threatened or uncomfortable to protest what the A’s catcher referred to as a “racial divide,” especially in a way that is routinely perceived as unpatriotic.

Even if the protests made by NFL players and Bruce Maxwell fail to gain momentum, however, the underlying issues they speak to are not going away anytime soon. Here, then, is where MLB managers can help foster a more inclusive environment throughout the league, not only by showing respect for a player’s decision to stand against racism but by actively partnering with those who do so. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s a start.

Nationals plan to activate Bryce Harper on Monday

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The Nationals are planning to activate Bryce Harper from the 10-day disabled list on Monday, Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post reports. Janes adds that Harper has been taking his knee injury on a day-to-day basis, so if he experiences pain ahead of tomorrow’s series opener in Philadelphia, then the Nationals won’t activate him.

Harper, 24, suffered a knee injury running out a grounder last month against the Giants. The Nationals hope to get him into some game action before the end of the regular season just so he can get acclimated in time for the playoffs.

When Harper returns, he’ll look to improve on his .326/.419/.614 slash line with 29 home runs, 87 RBI, and 92 runs scored in 472 plate appearances.