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Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2018 — No. 14: Roberto Osuna shows how flexible baseball ethics can be

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We’re a few short days away from 2019 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2018. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were more akin to tabloid drama. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

On April 10, 23-year-old Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna became the youngest pitcher in Major League history to record his 100th career save. Less than a month later he was arrested and charged with assaulting his girlfriend in Toronto. Osuna was placed on administrative leave by the Jays on May 8 and, on June 22, he was suspended for 75 games.

While the precise details of Osuna’s assault on his girlfriend have not come to light, they were likely serious, as those 75 games represented the second-longest suspension to be handed down since the advent of the league’s Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy.

Assault charges were, eventually, withdrawn against Osuna, but not because the incident was less serious than thought. Rather, they were withdrawn because his victim would not return to Canada from Mexico to testify against him. As it was, Osuna was subjected to a one-year peace bond, which is akin to a restraining order, combined with probation. That itself is a pretty major sanction given a lack of on-the-record evidence against Osuna. Something pretty bad appears to have gone down.

In between Osuna’s arrest and his sentencing, he was acquired in a trade by the Houston Astros. This is where, for our purposes, things get interesting.

Purely on the baseball merits, Osuna came cheaply to the Astros, costing the team only Ken Giles and two minor league pitchers. This exposed the Astros to criticism that they viewed his domestic violence as some mere market inefficiency, allowing them to get a bargain. The sense was that they did not mind having a bad egg on the team as long as the bad egg didn’t cost too much. No doubt sensitive to such criticisms, Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow offered a statement defending the team for the move. Among his comments included a reference to the Astros’ belief — based on what Luhnow called “unprecedented” due diligence — that Osuna was “remorseful.”

Except there seemed to be no basis for his statements whatsoever. Osuna was still fighting charges in court at the time, denying wrongdoing. Indeed his lawyer specifically said Osuna was not remorseful. Who told Luhnow tha Osuna was remorseful? It certainly wasn’t Osuna’s legal team. Was it Osuna? Doubtful, because lawyers of criminal defendants tend not to let their clients talk to people about the crimes for which they are still being prosecuted, especially in order to say stuff that implies their guilt. Doing that runs the risk of creating new witnesses for the prosecution to call.

Whatever the case, Luhnow’s comments came off like empty platitudes, aimed at giving the impression of Osuna’s redemption in order to cover for the fact that Luhnow acquired a domestic abuser because, hey, domestic abusers come cheaper than other, comparable players. No matter what you think about the “remorseful” talk, Luhnow was already being disingenuous, as he referenced the team’s alleged “zero tolerance” policy toward domestic violence which, by simple virtue of acquiring Osuna, was transformed into a “some tolerance” policy.

The entire episode made it crystal clear that, in Major League Baseball, the ethics of employing or acquiring men who beat or abuse women is purely situational. If the player in question is not valuable on the field — such as Hector Olivera, who was suspended for 82 games after assaulting a woman — his big league career is over. If the player is valuable, like Osuna, the player is treated like anyone else. If the player’s value going forward is not yet crystal clear — say, like Addison Russell‘s — he’ll be given a conditional chance. If he plays well after given that chance, he’ll have been magically “redeemed.” If he doesn’t, he’ll be cast aside.

On a certain level this is defensible. There is nothing in the league’s domestic violence policy that calls for a total ban on offenders from playing. There are set penalties and, once a player serves his suspension, he is eligible to play and a team is free to sign him.

It’s telling, however, that team officials won’t simply come out and say that. It’s telling that, when fans and the media observe that it is troubling to see teams acquire such players and that their doing so may bother people — especially people whose own lives have been affected by domestic violence — that they claim the player has learned their lesson and has turned the other cheek, regardless of whether or not such claims are plausible.

It’s troubling to hear disingenuous claims like Luhnow’s. In some ways it’s worse than if we were to hear someone in his position simply say “he’s probably a bad guy but he’ll help us win games and that’s what we’re all paid to do.” At least that would carry with it the benefit of honesty.

Phillies-Mets could get contentious tonight

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As the Mets were wrapping up a 9-0 shellacking of the Phillies on Tuesday night, reliever Jacob Rhame threw a pitch up and in to first baseman Rhys Hoskins with two outs in the ninth inning. The pitch sailed behind Hoskins’ back. The slugger wasn’t happy about the scare, understandably. Players began to trickle out of their respective dugouts, but a fracas was avoided.

Hoskins was skeptical that Rhame simply missed his spot. Per MLB.com’s Thomas Harrigan, Hoskins said, “He didn’t miss up and in the rest of the inning, so I’ll let you decide. I would assume teams are pitching me in because that’s where they think they can get me out, and that’s fine. That’s part of the game. Again, I think most guys are capable of pitching inside and not missing that bad.”

Teammate Bryce Harper said, “I don’t get it. I understand that two of their guys got hit yesterday. But, I mean, if it’s baseball and you’re going to drill somebody, at least hit him in the [butt]. Not in the head. You throw 98, it’s scary now. You could kill somebody. Lose your eyesight. That’s bigger than the game.”

Indeed, two Mets were hit by pitches on Monday night. José Álvarez hit Jeff McNeil in the seventh inning, which advanced a base runner. In the very next at-bat, Juan Nicasio hit Pete Alonso with a first-pitch fastball. It was obvious neither was intentional as the Phillies were only down two runs and hitting both batters advanced base runners and led to runs scoring. It is less obvious that Rhame’s pitch to Hoskins was unintentional, but he showed empathy in his post-game comments. Rhame said, “When you accidentally sail one, it’s probably pretty scary. I’d get [angry], too.”

Will Wednesday night’s series finale be contentious? Despite being “fairly upset,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said, “We do not retaliate, and we do not throw at anybody intentionally,” Jake Seiner of the Associated Press reports.

Mets manager Mickey Calloway didn’t give as straight an answer. Per MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo, Calloway said, “I think at this point, you just go out there and beat people, and win. … For now, I don’t feel like anything has been intentional at us that has warranted anything from our side.” If that changes, however, Calloway said, “They’re going to have each other’s backs.”

Hopefully, neither side decides to take justice into their own hands. But, welcome to the NL East in 2019. The Mets lead the Phillies by one game, and the Braves and Nationals by 1.5 games. It’s going to be a knock-down, drag-out division fight all year long.