Last night in Port Charlotte, Florida, Rays minor leaguer Matt Bush was allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol when he ran over the head of a 72-year old motorcyclist with his Dodge Durango. Bush has been charged with driving with a suspended license, DUI with serious injuries, DUI with property damage, and fleeing the scene. Bush was a former first overall pick, and played briefly with the Jays in Spring Training in 2009 before being released under the team's zero-tolerance policy. This, of course, followed a troubled career for the budding star, involving alcohol, assaults, and injuries.
Because this incident involves alleged DUI and hitting-and-running causing serious injury, I am sure that the U.S. legal system will do their best to investigate the case and render an appropriate judgement and punishment to Bush if found guilty. However, how about the DUI cases involving MLB players and personnel not involving serious injuries? The justice system may hand down license suspensions, probation, fines, or community service for first convictions. The discussion on whether that is an appropriate legal sentence can happen elsewhere, but I believe that Major League Baseball must work with the players' union to agree on an aggressive policy to punish convicted or arrested players.
Something is wrong with a league that hands out a two-game suspension to a manger for using Twitter during a game, a player who bumped an umpire, and a closer for tossing a ball into the stands after a save but does not suspend players who are convicted of driving after drinking or taking drugs. The argument that MLB does not discipline players who are working through the judicial system does not work either--they were quick to suspend then-Met Francisco Rodriguez for two games for assaulting his girlfriend's father. That itself is a pretty ridiculous suspension for a pretty serious crime, but at least it went punished somehow.
Last May, after six MLB players were arrested for DUI since Spring Training, reports trickled out that the MLB and MLBPA were discussing a punishment policy for DUI arrests. Here is what was actually agreed upon, from MLB's Press Release of the new collective-bargaining agreement (section VIII, part b):
The parties agreed on a program of mandatory evaluation by a trained professional for Players who are suspected of an alcohol use problem (including Players who are arrested for DWI or other crimes involving alcohol), and for players who are arrested for crimes involving the use of force or violence.
So there is still no punishment for DUI arrests. I have no idea what could have happened in the negotiations. I assume that the MLBPA was the side that argued against suspensions, but I see no reason why they would do that. I mean, Josh Hancock killed himself while drunk driving while a drunk driver killed Nick Adenhart just a few years ago--they were formerly dues-paying union members, weren't they?
MLB and MLBPA must get into a room together and draft up a policy to seriously confront driving under while impaired. Perhaps follow the steroids suspension schedule and suspend players 50 games for the first DUI arrest or conviction, at any point in the year (not just during the season), then 100, then lifetime ban. Folks who think that this is severe should remember that steroids "only" ruin the competitiveness of the game and the health of the user, but DUI has the potential of ruining--and ending--completely innocent lives.
While it is every player's personal responsibility to not drive when under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the league (and the players' union) also has a responsibility to send a message to its players and fans that drinking and driving is completely unacceptable and incompatible with the code of conduct the players are expected to follow. Repeat offenders should not only be prosecuted to the fullest extent but should also be publicly shunned the way PED users have been.
This article only reflects the author's opinions and may or may not reflect the opinions of Bluebird Banter. I am quite passionate about this topic as a close childhood friend of mine lost an unborn brother after a severe car accident. Please excuse any typos or factual errors--I'm writing from the Cincinnati Airport.