After Kentucky’s decisive victory over Kansas in the men’s finals, and with the women’s finals tonight, March Madness nears its conclusion. This year, the end coincides with one of the greatest days of the year: baseball’s Opening Day. Meaningful baseball will be played tomorrow, and to us here at Bloomer Girls, it feels like Christmas Eve (or for Sara, what Christmas Eve might feel like…maybe what the last hour of Yom Kippur feels like?). With Spring Training coming to a close, I wanted to write about an unfortunate occurrence that happened this year down in Florida.
While driving drunk in a teammate’s car, Matt Bush, a minor league shortstop in the Tampa Bay Rays organization, hit a motorcyclist and fled the scene. According to Tampa Bay Online, he was charged with leaving the scene of a crash involving property damage, DUI with property damage, failure to stop and remain at a crash involving an injury, driving with a suspended license, and DUI with serious bodily injury to another. The motorcyclist is now in a medically-induced coma, but fortunately he is expected to recover. This post is not about vilifying Bush, nor is it about how alcoholism is a disease. That’s been covered. Instead I’m interested in the Rays’ response.
Within days of the incident Rays Executive Vice President Andrew Friedman apparently promised that Bush would never play for the team again. The Rays then put him on the “restricted list.” This means he is out of baseball, however the Rays retain some control over him, i.e. if another team wants to sign him, they’ll still have to give the Rays some compensation.
Compare this story to that of Josh Lueke. (**TRIGGER WARNING**) Here are the facts, as laid out in Et Tu, Mr. Destructo?‘s very well-written essay:
In 2008, while pitching for the Class A Bakersfield Blaze, Lueke and some teammates brought a woman home with them. All of them were drunk. The next morning, feeling violated, the woman went to a hospital and requested a rape kit. The last thing she remembered before waking up with her pants off was a man ejaculating on her back and hair while she vomited into a toilet. DNA tests later proved that Lueke had sodomized her, despite his initially claiming that he’d had no sexual contact with her.
In 2009, Lueke was arrested for raping an unconscious victim. The Tampa Bay Times reports:
With the woman’s blessing, prosecutors agreed to accept Lueke’s no contest plea of false imprisonment with violence. He was sentenced to three years of probation, and 62 days in jail. Having already spent 42 days in jail, the remainder of his sentence was waived for good behavior. The woman [also requested an in-court apology]. “I understand that my actions hurt you and made you feel violated,” Lueke read. “I’m sorry for that.”
Soon after, Lueke was traded from the Texas Rangers to the Seattle Mariners, who were apparently unaware of the incident. There was some public outcry in Seattle, and Lueke remained in the Mariners’ minor league system until this off-season, when he was traded to the Rays.
Now he’s battling for a spot in the Ray’s bullpen, and he just might get it.
What does it say about the Rays that they put Bush on the restricted list, but actively sought out Lueke despite full knowledge of his past?
The Tampa Bay Times raised the right questions, I think, when sports columnist John Romano wrote:
This is more of an individual issue for those who care about the fortunes of a baseball team and a community. This is, largely, a matter of personal beliefs and expectations. In essence, it is a question of whether you expect your ballplayers to be held to higher standards. . . . It is a difficult question to answer and, in the end, is largely personal. You can say Lueke has already paid his debt, and everyone is entitled to a second chance. Or you can say the circumstances surrounding Lueke’s case are too disturbing to ignore.
This is not about “paying your debt to society” because in the eyes of the law, Lueke has and Bush no doubt will, and to some extent we need to respect that. But I think in Lueke’s case, this is beyond that extent.
Alcoholism is absolutely a disease, and one that each of these young men may well suffer from, although I am certainly not one to say. In each case Bush and Lueke made bad decisions while drunk. But to me, Lueke’s decision was so horrifying and so disgusting that it goes beyond the destructive behavior that comes with alcoholism. It is not simply over-the-top reckless behavior; it is an act that is so fraught with misogyny and disrespect for human dignity that I think even a disease as torturous as alcoholism can be no justification.
So it’s deeply troubling that the Rays chose to look beyond his sexual assault incident and trade for Lueke, while at the same time have terminated any chance Bush has to make the team. The Rays have essentially said: it’s not okay to drink and drive, but it is okay to drink and sexually assault a woman.