Red Sox catching prospect Jon Denney was arrested by Florida law enforcement last week for driving with a suspended license after he made a ruckus in front of the officers. Denney allegedly told the officers that he was "partying and looking to get some p***y." It's probably safe to say that it was not the brightest moment for the 19-year old Yukon, Oklahoma native.
Denney's arrest marked the fourth time in the last three years a Red Sox player has been arrested during spring training. In 2012, reliever Bobby Jenks was arrested for DUI, destruction of personal property, and leaving the scene of an accident. Jenks' arrest in 2012 overshadowed pitcher Brandon Workman's arrest when the then 23-year old was arrested for DUI and property damage. Workman's arrest received little to no media coverage at the time of the incident. Pitcher Drake Britton's 2013 DUI was incredibly well-documented. The then 23-year old was arrested on charges of reckless driving, driving under the influence, and property damage. Footage of Britton's arrest was posted on MassLive. While Denney was not arrested on DUI charges, the reason his license was suspended stemmed from an incident in Nebraska when he was arrested when police saw him throwing a bottle of Malibu Black Rum into oncoming traffic.
Major League Baseball remains as a sport with a uniform alcohol policy. The NBA currently institutes a two game suspension for a DUI and the NHL suspended Mark Bell in 2007 for 15 games for pleading no contest to drunk driving and hit-and-run charges. Although the NFL has no concrete DUI penalty agreement in place (Commissioner Roger Goodell gives out suspensions as he sees appropriate), the league reached an agreement in 2012 with car service Uber to provide rides to NFL players. Major League Baseball currently has no league-wide car service for its players.
The penalty system for MLB is extremely unclear and varies from team to team. The last major push for a change in the DUI agreement came in 2011, but no new system came out of negotiations between the owners and players. In fact, the word "alcohol" does not appear once in the Joint Drug Agreement, which the owners and players collectively bargained in 2012.
Within the last six years, MLB lost two players due to drunk driving. Former Red Sox farmhand Josh Hancock crashed into a parked tow truck while looking at his phone while drunk. Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart was killed in a car accident when a drunk driver hit him. The driver received a murder charge and a 51-year sentence in jail. Players that have been arrested as a result of DUI include Rangers outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, former Rockies first baseman Todd Helton, and Marlins shortstop Rafael Furcal.
Former Red Sox pitching prospect and 2011 49th round draft pick Jadd Schmeltzer believes that teams are not doing enough to deter drunk driving in baseball. Schmeltzer, a Cornell University graduate, was in spring training the year that both Workman and Jenks were arrested.
"Obviously it's against the law, but being a professional athlete where you are considered above the law in some sorts," Schmeltzer said. "They don't want to harm our career or do something that will prevent you from getting to the next level."
From his experience in the Red Sox organization, Schmeltzer said the internal penalties for DUI include, "running, doing extra cardio, cleaning up, doing chores around the field." In addition, players (dependent on status within the organization) may be held back a level or told to stay in extended spring training before rejoining their respective team. For top prospects like Workman, Britton and Denney, too many resources (monetary, draft pick included) are invested in the player for the team to take the step to release the player. In essence, the penalty for a DUI depends on the player and their status in the organization.
Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports wrote in 2011 about how badly MLB needed a new DUI policy.
While the union has every right to defend its players from undue workplace reprimand for off-field activities, drunken driving is injurious enough to the sport and teams' reputations that any hard-line stance in bargaining won't come off well to MLB or the public. One union source said the MLBPA is on board with discussing a progressive punishment policy but would not commit to suspensions for first-time offenses until negotiations necessitate it.
For the new policy to have any teeth, suspensions are a must. Even if MLB can't prove with concrete numbers that player DUIs harm the business, sports remain a public trust and drunken driving remains a public cause. Baseball can't claim to be the wholesome sport of old without a laugh track roaring in the background. It also doesn't want a reputation as NFL 2.0, where you haven't officially arrived until you've got a rap sheet.
No steps towards fixing this issue in baseball have been taken. The first step that needs to be taken is a uniform suspension for an arrest for DUI. The length of these suspensions is still under question.
"You could say with the suspension being for failing a drug test, 50 games, I would have to say that you start in that similar range, whether it's 25 at minimum or starting it at 50 games," Schmeltzer said. "'It's the only place you can really start because if you're failing a sobriety test, it's pretty similar to failing a drug test so it should be in the same regards to that."
Schmeltzer points out that while players taking performance enhancing drugs, such as HGH and steroids, hurt the game, DUI affects people outside of the game as seen with the Donte Stallworth DUI manslaughter in 2009. Major League Baseball, as it currently stands, punishes more harshly for an offense that hurts only the people within the game than a crime that could potentially affect people outside of the game. Despite the constant DUI issue throughout sports, MLB has been slow to make any changes to their policy.
Change needs to come in regards to DUI's in baseball. There is currently no league-wide deterrent preventing players from getting behind the wheel after a couple of drinks. MLB needs to acknowledge the seriousness of DUI and the potentially horrendous implications if players get behind the wheel after a couple of drinks.