|MLB Needs Stricter Off-Field Rules||| Print ||
Written by Matt Trueblood (Contact & Archive) on February 21, 2011
Miguel Cabrera still is not in camp with the Detroit Tigers and, in all likelihood, he will not be back until mid-week, according to Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski. He was expected to arrive Saturday and apologize to teammates following last week's DUI arrest.
Cabrera's case will be handled carefully because he has a well-documented history with this problem. Alcohol abuse during October 2009 landed him in police custody, and he had also been questioned by police in an alcohol-fueled dispute in August of that year, according to a report by Detroit TV station WXYZ.
That Cabrera can even have a chance at playing without suspension after a third public transgression related to the same substance abuse -- and, potentially, a second visit to a treatment facility -- leads to an inevitable question: Is MLB too soft on those who struggle with this sort of disorder?
It's already all but forgotten, but last March there was a scandal of similar proportion in Texas Rangers camp. Manager Ron Washington admitted to having tested positive for cocaine during July of the previous year. Rumors briefly swirled about Washington losing his job, but the team stood behind him. By season's end, he was the American League Manager of the Year. His star player and the year's AL MVP was Josh Hamilton, whose career almost never got started because of a decade-long battle with drug use.
Three years earlier, the St. Louis Cardinals had to deal with a similar obstacle. Manager Tony La Russa was arrested for drunk driving. Then, a month into the season, pitcher Josh Hancock died in a car accident in which alcohol and marijuana use were found to be factors. La Russa remains St. Louis's manager, though, and Hancock's death inspired no special inquiries into ballplayers' possible substance abuse.
In the NFL, the personal conduct policy ensures a much greater degree of accountability among players. A DUI virtually guarantees a player a two- to four-game suspension, and Donte Stallworth was banned for a full season after a fatal alcohol-related crash that resulted in a no-contest plea to vehicular manslaughter. In 2010, Michael Vick proved that even with that policy in place, the possibility for redemption stories like Hamilton's remains.
Baseball's virtual non-response to this apparently prevalent problem leaves it looking morally inferior even to the thuggish NFL. That includes MLB's being quick to persecute users of steroids and HGH during the past decade. If a fair and level playing field is more important to Commissioner Bud Selig and the league office than the well-being of players and their families, then the league is myopic and its priorities are badly out of whack. If that is not the case, then they have been criminally negligent over the past half-decade.
It is past due, but Selig needs to institute some codified system to better discipline and assist players who battle either substance abuse, mental disorder or consistent legal trouble. The league does not share the NFL's level of difficulty with off-field player transgressions, so nothing as draconian as Roger Goodell's system is necessary. Still, forward progress on this front is long overdue.
The frequency with which these things seem to happen during spring training suggests that the specter of yet another long and taxing season may drive some players and coaches to destructive escapist behavior.
For that reason, the league may be well-served to offer (or even mandate) mental evaluations or services throughout the season and offseason. Team psychologists are not commonplace, but they have come and gone from the game for the better part of 75 years. Individual and team counseling sessions could improve the performance of some players, as well as promoting league-wide mental health.
As for Cabrera, his arrest represents a major setback in his recovery from alcoholism. He needs to be suspended for at least a month, and his reinstatement ought to be contingent upon completion of a rehabilitation program and subsequent continuous counseling for abuse.
After a full year of seeming sobriety and model citizenship, Cabrera clearly had passed from the treatment stage of "action" -- in which an addict or other subject in need of behavior modification begins to really change -- into "maintenance," wherein the change has proved semi-permanent via six months or more of positive results. This relapse puts him back at day 1 of a new "action" cycle, and because he will now be in that phase of treatment until at least August, he must remain in counseling at least that long.
Fantasy owners who already have Cabrera will not like it, but this man is badly in need of help. He clearly struggles with alcohol on a very serious level, and the league needs to address his problem much more directly than they have addressed past problems of a similar nature.