MLB: Minnesota Twins at New York Yankees

The Aroldis Chapman Precedent, and Jose Reyes

Rooting for sports teams can sometimes be complicated. At the end of the day, most fans are only concerned with the results on the field, and to the teams themselves, the game is just a business—entertainment to distract us from life’s inevitable end. (Credit to the “Effectively Wild” Sam Miller coffee mug.)

The actual players who make up the teams draw from a wide range of personalities. Athletes are just as human as the rest of us, and they are not immune to societal problems. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean the teams really care. Case-in point: Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman. After an argument with a debated amount of physical contact last year, Chapman fired his gun eight times in his garage while in close proximity to his girlfriend and their child, with one of the bullets flying through a window.

A suspension under Major League Baseball’s new domestic violence policy was imminent. The Dodgers quickly backed out of a possible trade for him. The market for one of the game’s elite closers suddenly vanished, but that didn’t stop one team for taking advantage of an opportunity only made possible by a victim’s plight. The Yankees swooped in and acquired him for a meager prospect package, led by a disappointing former first round pick who currently has a .620 OPS in Double-A.

This might be heresy to say on a Mets site, but I am a Yankees fan. I was not thrilled that they acquired Chapman from the woeful Reds. It felt gross that they used the cloud of domestic abuse to improve their team. To many fans though, it did not matter. Once Chapman accepted and served his 30-game suspension, he made his debut in pinstripes on May 9, and because he can throw baseballs hard, there was no sense of unhappiness at Yankee Stadium regarding his presence:

By Monday, the home fans were apparently just clamoring to see Chapman pitch… What was left of the announced crowd of 41,243 in the ninth inning “oohed” and “ahhed” as Chapman hit 100 or 101 mph on each of his first four pitches…

“I had people over me screaming at me to bring him into the game,” Girardi said.

Chapman’s stock has only gotten better with Yankees fans since then. Few seem bothered by the fact that the job once held by all-around outstanding dude Mariano Rivera is now occupied by Chapman. The trend has continued of reporters writing about how fans paid more attention to his velocity than his character, with very similar language used:

…when the closer takes the mound at Yankee Stadium — as he did Friday night with a 5-3 lead and Saturday afternoon with a 2-1 lead — people no longer seem interested in the ugly incidents of the past. The only thing fans are fixated on is the scoreboard, and particularly the radar gun. It crackled Friday night with triple-digits: 101 . . . 102 . . . 103 . . . 104. As the velocity increased, the crowd responded on cue: “Ohhh. (Glove pop, pause for the number.) Ahhh.”

Whatever initial shock the baseball public displayed at the Yankees’ trade for Chapman in January has almost completely dissolved to awe.

People just don’t seem to be concerned with Chapman’s dodgy past. Nobody likes to be most identified by their greatest faults, but nonetheless, suppose one of your neighbors on the block was involved in a domestic incident like Chapman. If you didn’t know the person that well, you probably would not want to associate with the accused. It’s as simple as that.

Now, Mets fans face a situation akin to the Yankees with Chapman, as they have signed the previously suspended Jose Reyes to a minor-league deal. Bryan Grosnick already did an excellent job explaining the potential awkwardness last week when the rumors of Reyes coming back to the Mets began to pick up steam. He didn’t want Reyes because he felt that no matter what contributions he could make, they would not be worth the moral cost.

Well, Chapman’s acceptance has already offered a glimpse of how events will unfold for the Mets in their best-case scenario of Reyes returning to form. Yankees fans didn’t even have the natural connection to Chapman that Mets fans have with Reyes. Chapman wasn’t a homegrown talent who left town; he was just an All-Star from elsewhere who came to the Bronx. Nonetheless, he’s become popular enough that his appearances are highly anticipated and the team felt comfortable marketing him on a t-shirt alongside Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller (for a cool $40 a pop, no less).

It appears that things will probably go well for Reyes, too. He reported to the Brooklyn Cyclones over the weekend for some tune-up work. The New York fans’ reaction to Reyes taking the field? “Wild applause.” There are more than a few who are ready to cheer:

Phil Alessi, who had a Mets tattoo on his neck and wore an interlocking “N.Y.” earring in his right ear and a Mets script earring in his left ear, bought 10 tickets to the game. He was also holding onto hope that Reyes would light a spark under the Mets’ moribund offense.

“He’s paid his dues; he’s entitled to a second chance,” Alessi said. “The Mets play with no enthusiasm. We have no running game whatsoever. The first time he goes from first to third or first to home, he’s going to bring that spark back. I’m psyched.”

Abuse culture generally seems to forgive the accused of too much, but professional athletes and other celebrities seem to get even more of a pass. It’s much easier for Joe Averagefan to throw the blinders up and only focus on what they do to bring enjoyment to their living rooms. To those who do actually care about the players on the field not being gross human beings, well, that’s where complication arises. As Craig Calcaterra wrote in April, it is not as though the legal system is the only valid way to determine if there was domestic violence anyway, so it’s tough to discern what really happened.

As someone who does give a crap about what kind of people these players are, it simply isn’t enjoyable to watch Chapman or Reyes. To those who feel the same way about Reyes that I do about Chapman, there will be melancholy. The team might profit, but it just won’t be the same to watch. The Mets will have taken advantage of an opportunity made possible by domestic abuse, just like the Yankees.

Sports are entertainment, but they’re also a business. The second chances for Chapman and Reyes are merely a couple more examples of this fact. Watching them play is uncomfortable, but it’s the unfortunate reality. It sure would be preferable to see New York City’s teams set a higher standard for the kinds of people they want playing for them. Alas.

Photo Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

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