When the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office decided not to file charges against Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer in February, it exonerated him legally after a Pasadena woman says she was sexually assaulted during a pair of otherwise consensual encounters in 2021.
Bauer took the opportunity to issue a statement acknowledging his imperfections and “poor choices” he made, striking a rare, partially contrite tone after assuming a defiant stance since Major League Baseball placed him on administrative leave in July.
To the casual observer, then, Friday’s news that MLB suspended him for two full seasons – which could keep him out of the league until 2024 – was startling. How, if the D.A.’s office did not believe it could prove his accuser’s allegations beyond a reasonable doubt, did his employer see fit to banish him for what could end up being two and a half seasons, two without pay?
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Yet that dissonance is a feature of MLB and the MLB Players’ Association’s joint domestic violence, sexual assault and violence policy, which is designed to punish and deter acts of violence despite the notoriously challenging nature of proving such allegations in court.
A look at how the policy has worked – and how it played out in Bauer’s case:
Why did Trevor Bauer get suspended?
It might be popular for Bauer’s defenders to note he was “proven innocent” by virtue of the district attorney failing to press charges. Left unsaid is the massive difference between a prosecutor believing they can prove charges beyond a reasonable doubt, and conduct that runs afoul of MLB’s domestic violence policy.
And the vast majority of MLB’s domestic violence suspensions have fallen within that lane.
Just two players – outfielder Hector Olivera and pitcher Jose Torres – were arrested and convicted; Olivera was convicted of assaulting his girlfriend in an April 2016 incident and was suspended for 82 games. Torres brandished and pointed a gun at his wife in December 2017.
In the other 13 suspensions, just one other player – reliever Roberto Osuna -– was charged, and prosecutors in Canada eventually dropped the charges. Many other cases fell apart when the players’ partners opted not to cooperate with authorities or testify against the players.
For that reason, MLB broadly drew the guidelines of its policy to state that a player “may be subjected to disciplinary action for just cause by the Commissioner for a violation of this Policy in the absence of a conviction or a plea of guilty to a crime involving a Covered Act.”
With previous cases involving spouses, girlfriends or current or former partners, it is a crucial facet of the policy, in that victims often are reluctant to proceed with criminal complaints, particularly given the breadwinner status of well-paid players.
Bauer’s case presents different dynamics for MLB’s investigators and disciplinarians.
Bauer has multiple accusers
Rather than a wife or girlfriend, Bauer’s alleged misconduct involves casual partners, all who consented to sexual acts with the pitcher. His suspension came after one of them alleged she was beaten and sexually assaulted after falling unconscious and unable to consent.
While his original publicly-known accuser testified at a hearing to determine if she’d receive a protective order against Bauer, two others have since emerged in separate Washington Post reports. The first detailed a woman who sought a protective order, since sealed against Bauer in Ohio in 2020. Another, published just hours after Bauer’s suspension was announced Friday, details a Columbus, Ohio woman’s longer-term relationship with Bauer and, like the previous accusers, claims that he choked and struck her without her consent.
Bauer denied the women’s allegations in a statement released Friday, saying their encounters between 2013 and 2018 were “wholly consensual,” and did not involve any non-consensual acts.
Both Ohio women have cooperated with MLB investigators, according to the Post. That puts Bauer’s case in a different realm than previous suspensions – multiple alleged victims, two of them willing to detail ongoing patterns of alleged abuse.
What’s next for Bauer?
For now, Bauer’s case will stand alone for one reason: He is the first player to appeal a suspension rather than agree to a suspension.
So what happens now?
There remains the possibility of a settlement, though that seems unlikely given Bauer’s strident denials and determination to fight any suspension. Barring a settlement, the sides will proceed to a three-person hearing, with lawyers from MLB and the Players’ Association (and any of Bauer’s representation agreed upon by the MLBPA), along with an arbitrator.
The arbitrator’s ruling will ultimately be binding and can conclude in numerous fashions: Upholding the suspension, overturning the suspension or reducing it.
Bauer was paid during his nearly 10 months on administrative leave, but his MLB suspension is unpaid. He stands to lose around $60 million of the three-year, $105 million contract he signed with the Dodgers in February 2021.
The ruling will also set a new precedent for MLB’s domestic violence policy, after seven years in which punishment was always agreed upon, with or without definitive guidance from the legal system.
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