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Friday, May 13, 2011

Why Jim Bowden is Wrong About DUI’s in Major League Baseball

I read with great interest Jim Bowden’s May 10, 2011 article on ESPN in which he expressed his thoughts on increased penalties for MLB players convicted of DUI. In his article, Bowden cited the fact that since January 1, 2011, 6 current MLB players, Miguel Cabrera, Coco Crisp, Austin Kearns, Derek Lowe, Shin-Soo Choo and Adam Kennedy have all been charged with DUI (keep in mind that to my knowledge, none of these players have been convicted). Without expressly stating so, Bowden intimates that there appears to be a DUI epidemic affecting Major League players.

True to his provocative nature, Bowden proposed the following draconian penalties for MLB players convicted of DUI as a means of “curing” the “epidemic”:

1. If convicted of a DUI, you receive the same punishment as testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs: a 50-game suspension without pay the first time; 100-game suspension for the second violation; and if there’s a third offense, you are banned for life. That is more than fair in an effort to save lives.

2. Bring parents who have lost their children to drunken driving accidents into each of the 30 clubhouses. Show the players pictures and videos of the 8-year-old children playing baseball the night before they were killed. Let the players see the parents crying while telling the story. Let them feel the lifetime of pain and agony that they have to live through.

3. Provide players with the phone numbers of cabs, town car or limo services in every city.

4. Implement a club rule: No drinking and driving, period. No exceptions.

I have a great deal of respect for Jim Bowden, having had a number of dealings with him while he was in the baseball industry. Baseball is in his blood and he cares deeply for the game, having served as general manager for both the Cincinnati Reds and the Washington Nationals. However, on this subject, he’s injudicious.

As an initial proposition, there are 1200 players on MLB teams’ 40-man rosters, and 750 players on MLB teams’ 25-man active rosters. 6 DUI’s among 40-man rosters equates to .05% of 40-man players who have been charged with DUI, and 6 DUI’s among 25-man rosters equates to .08%. According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study, 1 in every 139 licensed drivers in the United States is arrested for DUI, or .07%. Therefore, the number of recent arrests of MLB players for DUI is right in line with the national average. 6 arrests does not an epidemic make.

With respect to Bowden’s proposed penalties, I highly doubt that even the most hawkish owners and/or MLB Labor Relations Department attorneys would agree to anything like Bowden’s structure. A 50 game suspension for a 1st time DUI, 100 games for a 2nd DUI and life for a 3rd? Simply preposterous. Bowden attempts to link these penalties to the performance-enhancing substance penalties. The performance-enhancing substance penalties are in place (at least in theory) to maintain a competitive balance among players and to, in theory, protect the integrity of the game of baseball. A DUI is an off-field matter that does not directly affect the competitive nature of the game of baseball (and thus the “integrity” of the game), and any linkage between performance-enhancing penalties and DUI penalties is nonsensical.

With respect to his point 2, bringing parents “who have lost their children to drunken driving accidents into each of the 30 clubhouses . . .". I was almost at a loss for words. Does XM Radio, ESPN or any other employer require such a program? Is this Bowden’s version of a “scared straight” program? In fact, there is little evidence that DUI scared straight programs work. I don’t take issue with Bowden’s points 3 and 4, and in fact, players are already given the names of car services.

I would agree that a DUI (or any MLB player arrest for that matter) does generate unwanted negative publicity for the player, his club, and MLB in general. However, that is the nature of the MLB beast. MLB players are in the spotlight 24/7, and their mistakes, gaffes and legal transgressions get a significant amount of attention in our controversy-hungry society compared to the mistakes and gaffes of the general public. However, the accompanying negative publicity of a DUI arrest does not warrant Bowden’s proposed discipline.

Bowden also seems to disregard the legal penalties that are customarily imposed by courts upon a finding of guilt in a DUI. Generally, a 1st DUI results in entry into a 1st time offenders program, wherein the person must attended alcohol awareness classes, pay significant fines and court costs, and have his license suspended from 30 days to 1 year. A 2nd DUI almost always results in some type of incarceration (jail, house arrest, electronic monitoring), usually from 30 days to 6 months, and a more significant license suspension. A 3rd DUI will certainly result in incarceration, usually 90 days to 5 years in jail. If a MLB player misses a game (or games) as a result of DUI-related court appearances or incarceration, he can be docked pay under his current Uniform Player Contract. These are stiff penalties, and are growing stiffer every day as a result of successful lobbying by groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

According to published reports, MLB and the MLBPA are currently discussing an alcohol policy as part of their new Collective Bargaining Agreement. A more reasoned approach (from both a player and a club perspective) to a new MLB alcohol policy would be to utilize the evaluation and treatment protocols already set forth in the existing MLB Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. Under this approach, any player who is convicted of a DUI would be evaluated by a medical professional with respect to his alcohol use, and based upon that evaluation, treatment would be provided (if warranted). Subsequent violations could also be dealt with under the Treatment Program, and discipline, if warranted, could be meted out in accordance with the discipline structure already in place under the Drug of Abuse section of the Treatment Program. In fact, the Program is ALREADY utilized to evaluate and treat players who have alcohol-related issues.

Bowden’s media-driven and reactionary DUI penalty proposition is untenable, from both a club and a player perspective. It disregards some very simple facts: 1. Major League Baseball players are arrested for DUI at the same rate as the American public, and thus there is no “DUI problem” limited to baseball; 2. Penalties imposed by courts in the United States for DUI offenses are sufficient (at least in the minds of our elected lawmakers) to punish transgressors and prevent recidivism; and 3. MLB and the MLBPA already have a program in place to deal with players who have issues with alcohol abuse. Bowden’s DUI proposals make for good headlines and copy, but they are gelastic.