Precedent has been set in Major League Baseball when it comes to domestic violence. Although no formal charges were filed against new Yankees reliever Aroldis Chapman, he will be suspended for 30 games to start this season for an incident in which he allegedly choked his girlfriend and admitted to firing his gun eight times at his garage walls.
Consider his 30-game suspension -- which comes with nearly $2 million in lost salary -- a baseline.
Baseball has had a problem with domestic violence. (If you think differently, please read this and this and this.) This is the first time a player has been disciplined by the league regarding this issue, and only three times have teams suspended players for it. Baseball is confronting a historic and embarrassing lack of action now -- later, rather than never.
The lack of criminal charges is a factor that limits MLB commissioner Rob Manfred's ability to discipline Chapman, because if he were to appeal, an arbitrator would want to know about the evidence in the case. Would the use of a gun be seen as intimidation, as baseball's investigators did? In the case of Chapman -- the first player disciplined under the new policy -- that would mean the precedent-setting number of games would be determined by a third party. And who is to say the arbitrator would have a working knowledge of domestic violence cases? Baseball's entire conduct policy, then, could have hinged on a person with unknown credentials.
Thirty games doesn't look particularly impressive next to baseball's drug suspensions, but there are a few reasons this imperfect suspension ultimately works.
Baseball communicated with the MLB Players Association to secure agreement on the number beforehand, and Chapman has agreed not to appeal while he complies with some other requirements during his suspension, including therapy. Even though baseball could have issued a longer suspension, being able to ensure that the 30 games stood is important.
The NFL issued a 10-game suspension to defensive end Greg Hardy, whose conviction by a judge in 2014 on charges of assaulting his former girlfriend was dismissed in 2015 after prosecutors said the accuser in the case couldn't be found to testify in a jury trial. But that suspension was ultimately cut to four games. So NFL fans watched Hardy play most of the 2015 season for the Dallas Cowboys.
That 10-game suspension didn't set the precedent; the four-game suspension did.
It's important to take a stand, but it's also important to make it stick -- even if that means cooperating with people who are usually negotiating adversaries.
Another important difference here is the way the case has been spoken about by baseball's front office and the players' association. There is no mitigating, no obscuring the message: Baseball isn't going to ignore this anymore.
Now, the next time that an incident occurs, MLB can add to the number of games based on the cooperation of a witness, or if charges are filed, or if there are injuries to the victim.
As for Chapman, his statement shows there is still work to be done. He apologized for not using better judgment, but only after saying that he didn't harm his girlfriend.
That may be technically true, but using a gun in anger during a conflict with an intimate partner is not without risk. The possibility that someone can be killed skyrockets when a gun is used during a domestic argument, according to statistics on the National Domestic Violence Hotline's website.
Hopefully, Chapman will have time to learn about the issue during his suspension so that he doesn't reach for a weapon in anger. New York's gun laws are very different from Florida's, and it is likely if the incident happened in his new hometown, the consequences would have been different.
With the 30-game suspension, baseball has thrown off the blinders on the way it has viewed domestic violence. Commissioner Manfred sees the issue. The players' association is on board. By moving forward together on Chapman's suspension, they have ensured a penalty that sticks.