MLB's Reyes suspension tough, necessary and imperfect

ByJayson Stark Via <a Href="http://espn.go.com/" Title="espn" Class="espn_sc_byline">espn </a>
May 13, 2016, 8:36 PM

&#151; -- Jose Reyes was slapped with a 52-game suspension Friday. But this isn't about a number.

Commissioner Rob Manfred did his best to win the PR war with Roger Goodell and the NFL. But this isn't about public relations, either.

This is about real people. With real lives. And those real lives don't unfold on a baseball field. Unfortunately, baseball has no choice but to wade into these lives. It has no choice but to render judgment, hand out suspensions and set examples. So when it does, the world is watching.

By suspending Reyes through the end of May for a messy domestic violence issue from last October, the commissioner of baseball was telling the world much, much more than the quote in MLB's press release, the one that said, "Having reviewed all of the available evidence, I have concluded that Mr. Reyes violated the Policy and should be subject to discipline in the form of an unpaid suspension that will expire on May 31."

That's lawyer talk. Commissioner talk. Press-release talk. What it's really saying, though, is this: "Behavior like this is unacceptable in our sport and in our society."

In the world we live in, in the sport Jose Reyes plays in, the only way to send that message is with discipline. With suspensions. With dollars lost ($6.25 million in this case). With consequences that hit players where it hurts. With enough severity that the public's outrage is over the crime, not the punishment.

Frankly, I don't know if 52 games were enough to satisfy the masses on a case such as this. I know I expected more. To be honest, some of the people in baseball I surveyed Friday seemed surprised there weren't more.

After Aroldis Chapman got 30 games -- for a case with no witnesses and much less certainty over what really happened -- the general consensus was that Reyes could get 100. Or half a season (81) at the very least.

But that was before the legal charges against Reyes were dropped. That was before his wife declined to cooperate, either with law-enforcement authorities or with baseball, in any sort of investigation.

So at that point, you tell me what the "right" number was. Was it 60 games? Maybe 100? All 162? Baseball's domestic violence agreement lays out no groundwork. It dumps that entire decision into the lap of the commissioner. It also specifically tells him he can't use history as his guide -- not history that occurred before that agreement took effect anyway.

Would you want to make that call? Would I? Hey, no thanks.

It's a reminder that at times like these, being the commissioner is a job that often requires more balance than the Flying Wallendas' acts. On one side, there is all that pressure. To send that message. To set that precedent. To appear tough and unyielding.

On the other side, though, is a whole different sort of pressure. When real people go through real trauma in their lives but then make a decision that it's important to keep their marriage and their family together, this can't be only about discipline. About looking tough. About keeping the critics happy.

So even though the commissioner is the figure with sole power to determine the length of Reyes' sentence, Manfred chose not to handle this that way. Instead, he involved the players union, Reyes and his agents in what ultimately became a negotiation.

They could settle this together, or the commissioner could play judge, jury and tough guy. In the end, best we can tell, those were Reyes' options. He could let the commissioner suspend him for 60 games or more, and try to appeal it. Or he could say, "Enough," accept this sentence and move on with his life.

Like Aroldis Chapman, Reyes chose not to fight. And since he'd already served all but 18 days of this sentence, who can blame him?

But the sad part is, this doesn't go away. Not for Reyes. Not for his sport. Not for a society that has to deal with these headlines far too often.

Jose Reyes may go back to playing baseball -- although it's hard to believe that will be in Colorado, where they "want no part of him," in the words of one exec who has spoken with the Rockies. But wherever Reyes goes, wherever he plays, he can't ever again be the former batting champ with the big smile and the sprinter's wheels. He'll always be that guy who shoved his wife into the glass door of a Hawaii hotel room -- and lost two months of his career because of it.

This isn't the last his sport will hear of this, either. For better or worse, this sentence just left a permanent mark. It's a benchmark to which the next domestic violence case will always be compared. And the one after that. And the one after that.

I'm not sure, though, if that's a good thing or a bad thing. Should the spring training portion of this suspension even count as a real punishment? Reyes lost no salary in February or March, because he agreed to be docked for only 52 regular-season games' worth of pay. He lost only the right to work out and play exhibition games. So who knows how that will be factored into future cases.

Is missing just under one-third of a season a hefty enough sentence? Does it send the right message? Will it make any future player think for even a moment about whether to lay a hand on his wife or partner?

Unfortunately, we know the answer to that question, too. Domestic violence is an ugly part of our world, and always will be. There isn't a suspension long enough in any sport to stop it. It hurts me even to have to type that sentence.

But no sport can tolerate it, either. No sport can turn a blind eye to those headlines. No sport can just open the gates, put on a happy face and pretend that that's OK. That's how it worked in baseball once upon a time. At least we were reminded, with a stern press release late on a Friday afternoon, that those days are over. Forever.

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