By: Holly Horning
On Wednesday, we learned from one of our loyal readers, Nick M., about the horrific story involving former ballplayer (and former Tigers minor-leaguer), Danry Vasquez who was seen in a video beating his girlfriend (and former fiancée) in a stairwell.
Of course, it was appalling. Of course, we are all incensed. And needless to say, we all felt that punishment should have included time behind bars.
But as much as this story angers us, let’s not cover a subject in which there is no debate. Let’s address what is not being done. Let’s look at the bigger picture.
Because you see, the incident that everyone is talking about happened over 2 years ago, not just recently. While Vasquez was with the Astros and then released after they viewed the footage. His fiancée failed to press charges but the team could have done more. Instead, they kept this concern internal, allowing Vasquez to continue pursuing a baseball career. And he signed with another team immediately afterwards. A team that did not know his history.
That is until some good Samaritan within law enforcement re-released the video via social media in order to garner world-wide attention. And the reason they did it was because justice had not been served. For everything he had done, Vasquez received a slap on the wrist and had his case dismissed.
Justice that was unable to be served and the Astros who preferred not to tarnish their organization’s image by allowing this to simply fade away.
And given that Vasquez was initially signed by the Tigers out of Venezuela (and played within their minor league system), there was no coverage of the story in the Detroit papers. Everywhere else, this was major news. Everywhere, it seemed, but Detroit.
But then both Justin and Ben Verlander tweeted about it. Ben who was a teammate of Vasquez’s. But the Detroit media didn’t focus on the assault angle – they wrote about what JV and his brother said. And there were no quotes from anyone associated with the Tigers about Vasquez. It also appeared that no one within the local media asked.
The bigger picture about how this serious incident was handled is not necessarily about how teams prioritize their image over addressing and trying to send a message to wrong-doers. It’s about how seriously MLB guards and controls its own image. Much more so than the other professional sports associations.
An organization that is focused on the positive stuff, especially the “feel good” stories and occasionally offers window dressing policies that are not uniformly enforced. Including domestic assault incidences in which some players are punished and others aren’t. And no one gets kicked out of the sport.
But it even goes beyond that.
The lack of balance in reporting MLB news is everywhere. You see it in all the games you watch. Every game, no matter the feed, is sanctioned by MLB. They have to give their approval for whatever is shown or said on the broadcast. A policy that has the broadcasters thinking twice before they say what they really believe. We saw it with Ron Darling when he dared to criticize a team’s medical staff and got threatening phone calls from above immediately afterwards.
The same goes for MLB.tv and MLB Radio. And also MLB publications. The writers who are hired to cover each team are under the auspices of MLB. Look at the tiny print at the end of those articles that indicate the connection between the two. In fact, MLB owns each team’s website – and runs it.
What this means is that you will never get the real or balanced stories from these groups. You will never hear critical dialog discussing the problems with players, managers, teams or owners. It is all sanitized. Just like the Vasquez attack several years ago that no one, other than the Astros and the Commissioner’s Office, knew about.
How many of you read the story about the forced retirement of MLB’s rainmaker? The guy in charge of MLB’s Advanced Media, widely considered to be the #2 person in MLB because he created a digital and media cash cow for the association? If you did, you didn’t read it in an MLB-sanctioned media report. But it was covered extensively in the non-baseball media.
A guy who was allegedly known by many within the industry to practice sexual harassment, have inappropriate relationships with his subordinates and created a toxic workplace environment. Major newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times reported that his behavior was widely known within corporate MLB and by the current and previous Commissioners. All of it ignored for over a decade until it couldn’t be ignored any more.
And yet, he wasn’t fired or disciplined for his behavior. He was allowed to go away quietly.
MLB continued their practice of protecting their image with the plane crash of Roy Halladay. A pitching icon and fan favorite who died after crashing his plane into the water. His autopsy showed that morphine, amphetamines and Ambien were found in his system at levels deemed consistent to impairing his ability to fly. And again, a story ignored by media associated with MLB.
Should we even be surprised that the Vasquez video only recently surfaced to the public because someone within law enforcement felt it was necessary?
Sure, we all understand the importance of protecting our organization’s image. But how far should it go?
And at what point does your ability to control the message start hurting other people?
Can you protect your image while also doing good? By raising awareness?
All good questions that MLB needs to start addressing.
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