Sports fandom, as you’ve read so incredibly often, is inherently illogical. We root for an organization and their players wearing a certain uniform to beat the guys wearing the other team’s uniforms, especially those guys who play in that city. Why we especially dislike those guys from that city is beyond us, but you know, that’s just how it is, so damn the Red Sox to hell.
There’s another side of the weirdness of being a sports fan. We’re supposed to not care about the men playing for our team as people beyond any particularly charming quirks or qualities that they may have. When the team employs a rather unsavory character it’s an uncomfortable situation. We’re asked to look the other way and focus on the player’s accomplishments on the field.
Which brings us to Monday’s trade for Aroldis Chapman. There’s no question that Chapman is a reliever of the highest order and that he makes the Yankee bullpen an absolute force of nature. It’s the best bullpen since the 2014 Royals, if not better. If you’re looking for a pure baseball analysis of this move, read Kenny Ducey’s article. He’s more than admirably detailed the fine points of the trade and its implications. You should read it.
That’s not what I’m writing about. What I’m writing about is the fact that the Yankees have traded for a player who is currently being investigated by Major League Baseball under its new domestic violence policy. For a franchise as image-conscious as the Yankees, it’s a strange turn of events to add someone so publicly toxic as Chapman to the roster. News of Chapman allegedly choking his girlfriend and firing several gunshots in his garage sunk a possible trade to the Dodgers during the Winter Meetings. Now, Brian Cashman has acquired him. That’s a proposition that even Andrew Friedman, who has had a wide assortment of unsavory characters on his roster in the past, thought to be too tall an order.
Not every ballplayer is a saint. If one were to assemble a 25-man roster using only those players that were truly pure of heart, it would be an arduous task. Reality states that there will be a bad apple or two in a group of 25 men. What front offices have to asses is at what point does talent become more important than quality of character. At what point does winning become more important than explaining to a small child that we as sports fans can look the other way if a left-handed pitcher can throw a baseball 100 mph in his sleep?
The lack of overwhelming resentment towards this trade is more than a little disturbing. Every single societal value we posses tells us that violent crime is extremely reprehensible, and if there was a hot-button issue in sports in 2015, it was domestic violence. Indeed, even when the initial report of the Chapman incident surfaced on Yahoo Sports, the predominant reaction was one of shock and disdain. Yet now that a month has passed and Chapman is going to be wearing pinstripes, it’s like we all just got a shiny new toy for baseball Christmas. It’s big and flashy and melts radar guns! It’s a ridiculous bullpen! The Yankees can basically play six-inning games!
That’s incredible to be sure. But if anything, we’ve only just shown ourselves what we truly think is important. We care more about the uniforms than the people wearing them. Would Freidman’s past employment of Josh Lueke be so infamous if Lueke was an excellent pitcher? Sports figures such as Patrick Kane and Kobe Bryant have shown us that the best way to shake off despicable allegations is to possess an infinite well of talent to drink from. Chapman may already be the next member of that group.
Of course, things work out quite well for the Yankees even if Chapman is suspended in the end. If Chapman misses more than 45 games by sitting on the Restricted List during a theoretical suspension, his free agency would be pushed back another year. The Yankees would then get themselves a year and a half of the Cuban Missile. From a pure business perspective, it’s a rather brilliant stroke of work by Cashman. From a pure business perspective, it’s a no-lose situation. If Chapman isn’t suspended, he’s got a full season of the most disgusting bullpen in baseball, and quite likely a draft pick to collect at the year’s end. If Chapman’s suspended, he may be able to squeeze two postseason runs out of his relief corps. And either way, fans will show up in droves, regardless of what Chapman has done. The uniforms are far more important, and at the end of the day, it’s the Yankees. People will come, Ray. People will most certainly come.
That doesn’t change that at the end of the day, we don’t care about what Aroldis Chapman has done. We don’t care that he allegedly choked his girlfriend and that he’s under investigation by the league. We don’t care because he’s not our coworker, he’s the Yankees’ coworker, and we’re going to cheer for him when he takes the mound to mow down the opposition. We don’t care because sports is entertainment, and there’s nothing more entertaining than the thought of an aging David Ortiz trying to keep up with a lefty throwing triple digits.
We don’t care. And that’s sad. It’s truly sad. We as a society have taken leave of our morals when it comes to the off-field conduct of athletes. If our workplace hired someone who was known to be a domestic abuser, we’d be horrified. But when the Yankees trade for a domestic abuser who happens to have the ability to throw a ball at Mach 3, it’s cause for celebration. There’s no question that Chapman makes the Yankees better on the field. However, the mental gymnastics necessary to feel wholly good about this trade are disturbing. So when you explain to your child why it’s okay that Aroldis Chapman gets a standing ovation when he’s introduced on Opening Day, make sure you’re honest with yourself, too.
Lead photo courtesy of Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports