Reese Kaplan -- Morality Finally Trumps Winning


Back in 1973 an unusual baseball trade of sorts occurred which is probably unthinkable in today’s new baseball morality.  Then Yankees pitchers Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich swapped wives and the scandal was a major headline for the team most considered a model for professionalism.  Yes, the Yankees did dispatch Kekich to the Cleveland Indians to put some distance between the men and their spouses, yet ironically in 1974 Fritz Peterson wound up going to Cleveland as well. 

Player behavior was always something people tolerated due to the celebrity status of the individual.  If the person in question could hit or pitch, chances are there would be someone willing to grant a new lease on baseball life.  The late Steve Howe was suspended seven times for drug related issues (as well as carrying a loaded handgun in his luggage), drunk driving on a motorcycle and then killed a rollover crash.  The fact that in between he had a 47-41 career record with a 3.03 ERA said that personal demons took a back seat to winning when it came to clubs making roster decisions.

Another example was the five-time All Star and former MVP Josh Hamilton whose career was derailed several times due to substance abuse issues.  Still the Angels and Rangers felt that what he could deliver when he was straight and sober was worth the risk.

Speaking of the Rangers, they currently feature pitcher Matt Bush in their bullpen.  He’s been highly effective.  A rookie at age 30, he’s delivered a 10-6, 3.29 ERA out of the pen.  Those are nice numbers for sure, but one might question why the club would bank on a player who was jailed for three drunk driving incidents in the same day, including running over a 72 year old motorcyclist.  It was just one of a long line of behavioral incidents that included throwing a baseball at a woman’s head, getting into a fight before he ever played a professional game and various other drinking incidents. 

Sexual improprieties are nothing new in baseball as the drunken exploits of Mickey Mantle and others were chronicled in Jim Bouton’s books in the 1970s.  Poster child Steve Garvey was taken down a few notches when his ex-wife’s book detailed his multitude of affairs and out-of-wedlock children.  Wade Boggs apparently had Margo Adams accompany him on road trips while married and faced a multi million dollar palimony suit.  Speedster Maury Wills had an affair with actress Doris Day.  A-Rod had all kinds of personal peccadilloes above and beyond his PED usage.  Pete Rose, already banned by baseball for gambling, was revealed to have had multiple encounters with underage women in spring training. 

Domestic violence is finally getting lip service attention as players like Aroldis Chapman, Jose Reyes and Jeurys Familia faced some suspension time as a result of their inappropriate behavior.  However, they went right back to work, earning their tremendous paychecks. 

However, this past week baseball may have finally turned a corner morally, when highly regarded pitcher Luke Heimlich went undrafted.  As a senior in high school he went 11-0 with a 0.66 ERA and signed to pitch for the Oregon State Beavers.  There his success continued with a 2017 national leading ERA of just 0.81 and named Golden Spikes Watch List and the Pac 12 Conference Pitcher of the Year. 

However, when OSU found out he had not registered as a sex offender, an incident from his past surfaced.  Apparently starting at age 15 into age 16 he started sexually molesting his then 4-5 year old niece.  He had missed a mandatory update to his sex offender record and the incident became public.  OSU immediately suspended him as sex offenders are prohibited from living in student housing and he missed the remainder of the 2017 season.  He went undrafted.

In 2018 he continued his pitching career and the draft that just concluded had all 30 teams once again passing on the talented lefthander.  In a private conversation between staff writers this incident came up and praise was heaped upon MLB for ignoring this player due to his previous egregious behavior.  I suggested that it was something of a double standard in which players who are already under contract are readily forgiven for whatever transgressions occur.  The same level of disdain and intolerance for untoward behavior should exist for any immoral and/or criminal activity regardless of contract status.  However, baseball has always adopted the, “I’m not paid to be a role model” philosophy espoused by Charles Barkley.

Don’t get me wrong.  I applaud baseball for passing over the troubled Heimlich, but it’s the exception rather than the rule.  Let’s hope it’s a beginning, ensuring that the folks who have the privilege of doing for a living what only 600 others get to do is appreciated and respected, and that winning no longer trumps morality.    


Thomas Brennan said...

Heimlich will show up somewhere, somehow. If he is not banned, some desperate team will someday grab him...no, not like that.

Gary Deming said...

He'll sign with an independent league. His past will be reported by local media and protests will follow him at home and on the road. The team will argue that "he was a kid" when his transgressions happened, he's "truly sorry" for his actions, been a "model citizen" since, and that "everyone deserves a 2nd chance". Whether he pitches well or not, a child molester is too much of a liability for any club in organized ball to chance. He retires and never pitches professionally again.

Thomas Brennan said...

Gary, that is probably it. Sometimes, consequences follow actions.

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