First and foremost, baseball concerns are not the top priority when it comes to situations like the recent domestic incident involving Marcell Ozuna.
In case you’ve been under a rock, the star left fielder, who recently went on the injured list with broken fingers on his left hand, was arrested over the weekend on allegations related to domestic violence. The details, as outlined by the Sandy Springs, Ga., police, are pretty disgusting, to be frank.
Specifically, officers arrived to the home with the door standing open and witnessed Ozuna throwing his wife against the wall by her neck. That bit is important because it makes this case unique from almost any high-profile domestic violence case we’ve seen involving an athlete or other celebrity. Frequently, charges are never filed or are dropped because the abused individual elects not to pursue them, but that isn’t likely to be the case this time. From my (admittedly limited) knowledge of Georgia law, the officers who witnessed the incident can file the charges without the direct cooperation of Ozuna’s wife, Genesis.
Sincerely, I hope that both Marcell and Genesis get whatever help they need. I hope that Genesis is safe and that they both get some counseling, because this isn’t the first incident between them. This is clearly a volatile relationship that isn’t healthy for anyone, especially not the couple’s children.
But at some point, the baseball side of this will have to be addressed. During the broadcast of Monday’s game, Chip Caray referred to Marcell’s situation as “injury limbo” in a moment that could generously be described as clumsy at best. Over the weekend, the team released a statement via Twitter.
While Caray’s method for dealing with the situation wasn’t spectacular, there’s actually not much more the Braves can do right now beyond that statement. They handled it, as an organization, as best they could. But the day will come, and sooner than the team’s leadership probably wants, when they’ll have to sit down and make a decision about Ozuna and his four-year, $65 million contract that was signed this past offseason.
When that day comes, if this case proceeds as expected, the Braves should simply try to void it.
Player contracts in baseball have a standard provision that states a team can terminate a deal if a player fails to “conform his personal conduct to the standards of good citizenship and good sportsmanship,” per a recent article for The Athletic by Ken Rosenthal. He also points out that a provision would allow the team to do the same if a player fails to “render his services” in any way.
Rosenthal highlights these clauses and others that are added to specific contracts, but he points out that because the players’ union says these clauses have not been collectively bargained, teams haven’t been able to void a contract in a similar situation. In fact, teams – including the Braves with Hector Olivera – haven’t even tried.
The Braves should change that.
Obviously, I can’t guarantee that it will work, even if Ozuna gets some sort of lengthy suspension. Of course, Major League Baseball could ban him for life, or he could receive a prison sentence that would more clearly nullify the deal. But most likely, there will be some sort of plea agreement that avoids prison time, and MLB will suspend him for the rest of this season and part of next.
But regardless of it it will work a not, the Braves should be the team to make this particular stand. Attempting to void the deal because Ozuna – if guilty – is a convicted abuser would set a great precedent for the organization and the league, while sending a strong message to abuse victims. Additionally, it would force the MLBPA and/or Ozuna’s agent to be the ones to defend a man who, at that point, would have been convicted of a truly heinous crime.
I normally side with the players on baseball-related matters, but this is different. Too often, teams have let the MLBPA off the hook by not even forcing the issue when it comes to these egregious cases. Instead, the Braves should cite the “personal conduct” language in the contract and void it. If the PA wants to challenge that, let them be the ones arguing that a player getting arrested and suspended, at the very least, for beating his wife isn’t a violation of his agreement with the team.
The alternative, not at least attempting to void the contract, tells everyone that this is no different than any other suspension. And it should be very different.