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Jim Bowden has some ideas about DUIs in baseball

May 10, 2011, 12:26 PM EDT

Drunk Driving sign

When I saw Jim Bowden’s post over at ESPN’s Sweet Spot about how to deal with baseball’s DUI epidemic, my first thought was to tackle it on the merits. But then I saw this tweet from Will Leitch:

Jim Bowden is writing about how to curb DUI arrests in baseball on ESPN. Somehow, he didn’t mention this.

UPDATE:  Bowden’s post has been updated with reference to his 2006 arrest for DUI, rendering the following Paul O’Neill/Roberto Kelly joke moot. Yet I shall leave it here for posterity. In any event, good for ESPN for updating it.

Yeah, that’s something.  It’s enough to make me think that Bowden’s next post will be about how baseball should step in to stop teams from trading Paul O’Neill for Roberto Kelly.

But let’s leave that aside. Only Nixon could go to China, only Kirk could make peace with the Vulcans and maybe, just maybe, Bowden’s past doesn’t disqualify him from weighing in on this stuff. Indeed, it may make him better suited to talk about it because he, unlike most of us, can actually relate to the mind of a man about to climb behind the wheel drunk and consider what might make him not do it.

Judge for yourself if his ideas have merit: He proposes (1) identical punishment for steroids and DUIs, including 50 and then 100-game suspensions; (2) bringing parents of kids killed by drunk drivers in to talk to major leaguers; (3) providing players with the phone numbers of cabs, town car or limo services in every city; and (4) making teams implement a rule that says “No drinking and driving period. No exceptions.”

The 50 game suspension thing seems extreme to me. While there are some baseball implications to player behavior, unlike PEDs, players drinking and driving is not primarily a baseball issue. I get that the consequences of drunk driving are far more dire than that of PED use, but it seems to me that you have to line up penalties and behavior better. Bowden doesn’t explain his rationale here so I’ll grant that there could be a good reason to go 50/100 games, but I’d think a much greater fine-to-suspension ratio is in order. Big money, a handful of games.

As for number two: I have no problem with teams bringing home the notion of the dangers of drunk driving, and if they feel that it’s best to do so via some scared straight program, hey, let them.  It’s not the kind of thing that makes sense as a formal policy though. Specialized programs and speakers should be a team-by-team kind of thing and would be best handled in conjunction with local anti-drunk driving groups. The idea is the same as that which held for high school assemblies: the less rote and expected the programming, the better it is, and clubs would be better able to handle that kind of thing on their own in conjunction with a more broad-based anti-alcohol abuse program.

Providing phone numbers for car services is a good thing — I know teams already do that in spring training and may do so in the regular season — but let’s also keep in mind that most of the incidents that have happened lately have happened when the players were at home, not on the road, where guys tend to drink closer to hotels.  Many players live 20 or 30 miles out of the city or more, and while even the suburban bars will call you a cab, I’ve been around people under the influence in those kinds of places, and the idea of waiting on a cab or a Town Car to head out that far is one of the reasons people don’t call them already.

Here’s kind of a nutty idea: give players a designated driver who lives in the area. Not someone who goes out with the player, but just a name on a card, in addition to a cab service, who the player can call if they need a ride. A team employee. A volunteer. someone who agrees ahead of time that, sure, they’ll go out at 2AM to bring Derek Lowe home if he needs it. Maybe that’s logistically weird — and the kid gloves handling is a bit awkward — but whether we care to admit it or not, these are VIPs and between the proper incentives and a well-executed confidentiality agreement, I bet you could find a person willing to take that call for the greater glory of the ballclub in suburbs north, south, east and west.

As for the last one: given that drinking and driving is against the law already, I’m not sure what a club rule to that effect accomplishes. Rather than passing rules, let’s have clubs make a more broad and concerted effort to discourage alcohol abuse via education, punishment and overall team culture.

I’m not sure how you do that last part, exactly, but it could begin with education and simply discouraging after-game drinking. Maybe over time it could be done via teams incorporating a player’s partying tendencies into overall evaluation.  I don’t mean scoring his sobriety on a scale of 80 like you would his glove, really, but by taking such things into account and being less-willing to sign or pay top dollar for guys who are known to booze it up and by not hesitating to bring such things up in negotiations.  Over time this would send a message to players that there are costs to their drinking.

Obviously this isn’t an easy nut to crack. If it were, we wouldn’t still have drunk driving.  But it strikes me that a multi-level approach is better than merely posting a policy, bringing in a guest speaker and ratcheting up the penalties, even if those things are part of the solution.

  1. BC - May 10, 2011 at 12:38 PM

    The NFL makes a 24-hour-a-day no-questions-asked service available to its players. Of course you’ll still have a few guys who drive anyway and have some incidents, but you have to think that at least during the season it’ll help.
    The other thing might be to make a manadatory alcohol counseling discussion for players. Complete with gruesome crash scenes.
    I do like the idea of raising the penalty (is there one in baseball). Maybe 20 games to start, and go up from there.
    And even if the driving service never happens…. do you really think a player making even the major league minimum can’t afford a 40-mile cab ride? They’d wait for the car if they knew they’d lose 20 or 40 games without pay.

    • b7p19 - May 10, 2011 at 12:48 PM

      But why do we need to babysit grown men? Give them a car service, fine, but at some point we have to realize that they have already had the “dangers of alcohol” talks just like the rest of us. The law is there for a reason. Suspend their license, 2 days in jail first offense like the rest of us. If they beat it with their deep pockets, the beef is with the law not the league.

      • BC - May 10, 2011 at 1:59 PM

        Suspended license, 2 days in jail? Most players would go “feh” at that, especially in the offseason, and I’d bet a lot of them would drive without the license afterwards anyway. But they’d be a lot less likely to do it if they knew 1/4 or 1/5 of their pay was going out the window.
        During the season, it shouldn’t be a problem. Either stay in your room and out of a car if you want to get toasted, and you go out, designate a driver. Pure and simple. This of course doesn’t not account for the fact that a good percentage of players have the common sense of a dead African Violet.

      • b7p19 - May 10, 2011 at 2:12 PM

        I get that BC, but it’s the law. Write your congressman if you think it’s not enough. This is a criminal act outside of the workplace. Again, if individual teams want to suspend/fine them for PR reasons fine, otherwise let the system take care of them.

      • BC - May 10, 2011 at 2:21 PM

        The law is fine the way it is (provided its enforced). A suspended license and two days in jail (though I think it’s one day in CT) holds a lot more water for the average Joe than it does for a ballplayer even making major league minimum. I’m not saying the law should be adjusted – that opens up all kinds of cans of worms. I think the league and teams need to implement something. Maybe the league says, 10 game suspension, and then leaves it to the teams to add more if they want. And make the discipline progressively higher.

    • Steve A - May 10, 2011 at 2:00 PM

      In regard to the NFL’s service, I remember hearing that some players believed that the service would be used to keep tabs on the players and their late-night extracirricular activities. Thus, they would refuse to use the service. I’m sure the same thing would happen with MLB players, perhaps even more given the wider range of cultures the players come from.

      • BC - May 10, 2011 at 2:23 PM

        I’m sure any one of them could pay for a Town Car to take them home though.

  2. b7p19 - May 10, 2011 at 12:43 PM

    Why can’t they just act like adults? Personally, I think the law should handle things like this. I understand the PR side of a high profile business and whatever a team wants to do in regards to it’s image is fine by me. I’m just not sure that making it league wide is the way to go.

  3. rebarratige - May 10, 2011 at 12:46 PM

    These ideas probably won’t prevent players from getting arrested for DUI, but they’ll certainly ensure that Major League Baseball is washed clean of any responsibility.

    Which is – I would bet – a large part of Jim Bowden’s intention here, anyway. He knows a thing or two about bad publicity.

  4. jamie54 - May 10, 2011 at 12:49 PM

    Question. Did not some team awhile back ban beer after games in the clubhouse? Has this been established MLB wide yet? I know it would be a small step but beer and baseball have gone together for many years but maybe it’s time to stop that practice, at least as a start. It’s starting to give baseball a black eye and in a year where attendance is dropping or at best level, that’s something you don’t want.

    • handsfour - May 10, 2011 at 1:40 PM

      The A’s did a few years ago after Esteban Loaiza was nailed for DUI (and driving 100 mph) after a game.

    • jwbiii - May 10, 2011 at 1:45 PM

      Yes, the White Sox in the late ’80s.

      Any discussion which includes high school alcohol awareness programs is incomplete without this.

      • jwbiii - May 10, 2011 at 1:50 PM

        White Sox link not working.

    • BC - May 10, 2011 at 2:51 PM

      I think the Angels did after that young rookie pitcher whose name escapes me was killed a couple years ago.
      Hey if you want beer that bad, get dressed, do your media stuff, then go have a couple cold ones somewhere else. And if you’re planning on having more than 2 drinks, get back to the hotel some other way than you driving there.

  5. sdelmonte - May 10, 2011 at 12:49 PM

    It seems really trivial to note that Kirk made peace with the Klingons.

    Anyway…nothing I can add other than to agree with most of your points.

  6. ThatGuy - May 10, 2011 at 12:49 PM

    I would be interested to know the descrepency of DUI percentage among MLB players/personal vs amongst the General Population. I would imagine the MLB players is higher, but Im curious how much higher.

    • chrisdtx - May 10, 2011 at 2:14 PM

      In 2007, there were 1.43 million DUI arrests which translates to approx. 1 per every 144 licensed drivers. In MLB there have been 6 DUI’s so far this season, if I am not mistaken. 30 teams * 25 players/team = 750 players, so that’s 1 DUI per 125 players, assuming all are licensed drivers. And of course, more than 750 players have been on a 25-man roster at some point during the season.

      • BC - May 10, 2011 at 2:37 PM

        There should be less DUI per capita in baseball than the national population. Players are often bussed to hotels, bussed to games… They don’t drive as much during the season.
        Now the offseason.. I’d like to see the stats there.

  7. billtpa - May 10, 2011 at 1:13 PM

    I think the 50 games is better than a large fine because it would be felt more or less equally by all players. You can’t make a fine large enough that it would be a meaningful disincentive to Joe Mauer and Alex Rodriguez that is still small enough to be paid by, without completely crippling, a league-minimum player. Unless you made the fine some set percentage of the player’s salary, and it seems to me the player’s union would have a big problem with that (or with any of this, really, but that seems especially unlikely).

    • Utley's Hair - May 10, 2011 at 2:19 PM

      But wouldn’t an x-game suspension be equivalent to a percentage fine?

  8. jwbiii - May 10, 2011 at 2:23 PM

    What would your employer do if you were arrested for DUI? If it is less than a three or four month suspension without pay, why should Derek Lowe’s (or Miguel Cabrera’s or. . .) employer treat him differently?

    • Utley's Hair - May 10, 2011 at 2:46 PM

      My job and extramural activities don’t reflect poorly on the public perception of my company, which depends a great deal on that perception for revenue…I am not a public face for my company…

      • b7p19 - May 10, 2011 at 2:50 PM

        No, you’re more of the top of the head of your company I would guess.

      • Utley's Hair - May 10, 2011 at 3:04 PM

        It’s lonely—and sometimes pretty windy—at the top. But I tend to stay under cover most of the time.

  9. thehypercritic - May 10, 2011 at 3:23 PM

    Of course MLB can and should set steep penalties for DUIs. Players need to adhere to a code of conduct and making active decisions to endanger the public safety is a FAR worse transgression than what a grown man chooses to put in his body.

  10. schmedley69 - May 10, 2011 at 9:22 PM

    Jim Bowden is sleazy.

    • savvybynature - May 11, 2011 at 3:53 AM

      Maybe I would respect his opinion more had he proposed a 50 day suspension without pay for ANY team employee including executives that get a DUI.

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