Sometimes in sports, the villain is obvious. In this series, it’s Roberto Osuna
Game 1 of the ALCS is down to the ninth inning. The winning team is protecting a one-run lead. If that’s the Red Sox, it’s time for Craig Kimbrel. You clench your fists, knowing it might be a bumpy ride. If it’s the Astros, it’s time for Roberto Osuna. You clench your stomach, knowing it will be a revolting one.
Do you really want to be OK with rooting for Osuna, the Astros closer who served a 75-game suspension this season for domestic violence?
Sometimes in sports, the bad guy is not a matter of provincial loyalty or particular laundry. Sometimes, the villain is obvious.
This series has one, and don’t @ me about his presumption of innocence or his right to work.
To the latter — playing Major League Baseball is a privilege, not a right. Nowhere is it written that Osuna and his fastball deserve to play. There has to be a team willing to give him that chance. And to the former, teams who realized that Major League Baseball concluded from its own investigation that a 75-game suspension was warranted, who understood that neither Osuna, the Blue Jays, nor the MLBPA appealed the suspension, who see that Osuna accepted a plea deal that reportedly included a restraining order and counselling, who understand more and more how difficult it is for victims such as Alejandra Roman Cota to come forward and ultimately testify (which Cota declined to do) and how that does not mean they are lying, they were more than justified in passing on him.
As this championship series gets underway Saturday at Fenway Park, it’s interesting to remember that one of those teams was the Red Sox. Boston was desperate for bullpen help – probably still is, to be honest — and Osuna was available at the trade deadline. But where the Astros were willing to acquire him from Toronto, where the Astros decided it was OK to put their baseball needs above their purportedly rigid zero tolerance policy against domestic violence, the Red Sox were not.
For that, I applaud them.
This is what Red Sox president Sam Kennedy told me in an e-mail Thursday when I asked about the organization’s reasoning: “We fully support MLB’s collectively bargained Domestic Violence policy and while we do not comment on opposing players, we obviously chose another direction at the trade deadline last July to address our needs.”
Read between the lines and you get the gist: We’re not touching this guy.
Kennedy’s words echoed what GM Dave Dombrowski said back at the deadline — “I would not talk about another organization’s player, but I will say we did not pursue that situation,” — and what manager Alex Cora said during the team’s workout Thursday: “We talked about the situation before and the organization made a decision that we weren’t going to pursue Osuna. The organization had their reasons, and I understand why. It’s not an easy situation.”
But it should be an easy decision. Listen, the desire for moral superiority, or at least the appearance of such, is some tricky business. The willingness to step all over each other on the way to the moral high ground has turned our political conversation rancid, and downright mean. Defaulting to whataboutism constantly clouds issues that feel as if they should be clear. Just look at the Red Sox. What about Steven Wright, suspended for 15 games at the start of the season for domestic violence? What about Wil Cordero, former member of the Red Sox repeatedly arrested for altercations involving his ex-wife?
Fair questions, no doubt.
But mistakes of the past don’t have to justify moves in the present. Different incidents require different responses. Remorse and responsibility matter. Our world has changed. Our climate has changed. Taking steps, even small ones, in respecting victims is so important. Empathy can trump expediency, the same way expediency for so long trumped empathy. The scales can change direction.
Remember, the Red Sox also declined to pursue Aroldis Chapman, who served a 30-game suspension for an altercation with his girlfriend that included discharging a firearm. From Larry Nassar, the disgraced faux doctor who victimized hundreds of young gymnasts, to Addison Russell, the Cubs infielder recently suspended 40 games after his ex-wife Melisa Reidy was able to put aside her fear and talk with investigators about years of mental and physical abuse at his hands, we are hearing what we were deaf to before. That the suspensions don’t cover the postseason is a gap Major League Baseball still needs to close, which is why Osuna is available to play.
And play he has, his 1.99 ERA over 23 appearances down the stretch helping the defending World Series champs reach 103 wins, his one save in two appearances in the ALDS helping them sweep the Indians. Kimbrel wasn’t quite so automatic, his four-out save in Game 1 against the Yankees including a home run shot by Aaron Judge, his ninth-inning nail-biting appearance in Game 4 just barely avoiding the same fate by Gary Sanchez.
Which one do you want on your side? Your brain might say Osuna. But your heart? Take Kimbrel all the way.