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.

Must-Click Link: Remembering Eddie Grant the first major leaguer to die in combat

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As you get ready for Memorial Day weekend and whatever it entails for you and yours, take some time to read an excellent article from Mike Bates over at The Hardball Times.

The article is about Eddie Grant. You probably never heard of him. He was a journeyman infielder — often a backup — from 1905 through 1915. If you have heard of him, it was likely not for his baseball exploits, however: it was because he was the first active baseball player to die in combat, killed in the Battle of the Argonne Forest in October 1915.

Michael tells us about more than Grant’s death, however. He provides a great overview of his life and career. And notes that Grant didn’t even have to go to war if he didn’t want to. He was 34, had the chance to coach or manage and had a law degree and the potential to make a lot of money following his baseball career. He volunteered, however, for both patriotic and personal reasons. And it cost him his life.

Must-read stuff indeed. Especially this weekend.

The Indians are unveiling a Frank Robinson statue on Sunday

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The Cleveland Indians will unveil a Frank Robinson statue at Progressive Field on Saturday.

Robinson’s tenure in Cleveland was not long, but it was historic. On April 8, 1975, he became the first African-American manager in Major League history. He was a player-manager. One of the last ones, in fact. He spent two years in that role and then a third year — a partial year anyway — as a manager only. Robinson would go on to manage the Giants, Orioles and the Expos/Nationals, compiling a career record of 1065-1176 in 16 seasons. He is now a top MLB executive.

Robinson was, of course, a Hall of Fame player as well, lodging 21 seasons for the Reds, Orioles, Dodgers, Angels and Indians. He won two MVP awards and hit for the Triple Crown in 1966. Overall he hit 586 home runs – 10th all time – and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982. For an inner-circle Hall of Famer with that kind of resume he is still, strangely enough, underrated. I guess that happens when your contemporaries are Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Mickey Mantle.

Anyway, congrats to Frank Robinson for yet another well-deserved honor in a career full of them.