Smack My Bitch Up: Major League Baseball's Continuing Domestic Abuse Problem


Today is the second anniversary of Phillies pitcher Brett Myers' post-wife beating game start. Philadelphia magazine writer Rich Rys examines the impact of that decision and how it's affected his career and what it says about Major League Baseball''s handling of domestic violence cases. He can be reached at rrys@phillymag.com
Not long after 1:30pm on Saturday, June 24, Philadelphia Phillies righthander Brett Myers took the mound at Fenway Park. His team was three games below .500 and coming off a 10-2 loss to the Red Sox the night before, but it wasn’t the Phillies record that was weighing so heavily on Myers that steamy summer afternoon. Less than 36 hours before, Myers was arrested by Boston police after a night of boozing ended with what eyewitnesses said was the pitcher dragging his wife, Kim, by her hair and hitting her. To the joy of the 35,564 fans at Fenway and the horror of everyone else—other than the Philadelphia Phillies front office, apparently—Myers didn’t miss his start, and over the course of his five-inning, three-run appearance, the boos cascaded down. Though the charges against him were eventually dropped after Myers and his wife entered counseling, there’s no doubt the jeers were deserved. If only Phillies president Dave Montgomery was forced to stand out on the mound with him and endure the same ridicule for throwing Myers to the wolves that day, a move The Boston Globe called “an embarrassment.”

Trotting out Myers that day in Boston was yet another example of poor judgment and the organization’s tone-deaf attitude; Montgomery later called the decision to keep Myers in the lineup “a mistake.”

In truth, though, the Phillies really aren’t much different than the rest of the league when it comes to taking a hardline stance against domestic violence. In the wake of the Mitchell Report, Jose Canseco’s finger-pointing and Bud Selig’s clumsy attempts to reassure fans that the game is steroid free, if a player is outed as a juicer, the stain left behind doesn’t wash off easily (just ask Rafael Palmeiro). Beat your wife in public? Smack her around at your house? Choke your girlfriend? That won’t hurt your chances of making it to Cooperstown, or even the next day’s lineup card. To wit:

May 2007: Diamondbacks utility player Alberto Callaspo is arrested in Phoenix on charges of felony criminal damage and misdemeanor assault after his wife told police he kicked and hit her. [Callaspo is currently a shortstop for the Royals]

May 2006: Tigers DH Dmitri Young is charged with domestic violence when his ex-girlfriend accuses him of choking her. A couple months after , he goes on the DL and later leaves the team for “personal reasons.” [Now, pinch-hitting for the Nationals]

Summer 2005: Police were called to the home of Dodgers outfielder Milton Bradley's home three times to respond to complaints of domestic violence. He wasn't arrested. [Currently having All-Star-caliber season for the Texas Rangers]

March 2003: Kirby Puckett’s ex-wife tells Sports Illustrated the Hall of Famer tried to strangle her with an electrical cord and held a gun to her head. [Now, dead. But 15,000 fans turned out for his memorial service in March 2006]

1998: Jose Canseco pleaded no-contest to a domestic violence charge after hitting wife Jessica Sekely. [Status as an admitted wife-beater hasn’t been what hurt his book sales.]

1997: Wilfredo Cordero charged with spousal abuse against his wife—the second wife to accuse him of abuse—and is later cut from the Red Sox [went on to play first base for six more teams]

November 1996: Then Triple-A pitcher Derek Lowe was arrested for domestic violence against his girlfriend and underwent counseling for five months. The following year, Lowe made his major league debut. [currently at the top of the Dodgers rotation]

May 1995: Braves manager Bobby Cox is arrested on simple battery charge after his wife called 911 and said Cox hit her. She retracted the statement the following day, and the charges were dropped after the couple attended court-ordered counseling. [still managing in Atlanta and a lock for the Hall of Fame]

1992: Colorado Rockies outfielder Dante Bichette admitted to striking his 19-year-old girlfriend, Marianna, who was pregnant. [played for nine more years]

This is just a partial list of players, both current and retired, who’ve put their violent pasts behind them. Only Cordero seemed unable to shake the wife-beater tag throughout his career, perhaps because he attacked two wives. Even then, Cordero’s status as an abuser actually made him more attractive to a team like the Indians, whose GM, John Hart, said in 1999, “Without Cordero's past, I can't afford this kind of player.” Hart added that Cordero’s past would haunt him the rest of his career, but it didn’t stop teams from placing his stat sheet ahead of his rap sheet.

Today, only one MLB team has made domestic abuse awareness a priority—the Seattle Mariners, whose “Refuse to Abuse” program dates back nearly a decade. The club also walks the talk, with a tough one-strike policy against violent players: in 2007, Mariners reliever Julio Mateo was suspended for 10 days without pay and sent to the minors after being charged with assaulting his wife. Two months later, the team cut him. Mateo found a new home, though—in the Phillies clubhouse, just a few lockers away from Brett Myers. Just before Mateo pleaded guilty to third-degree assault last December, the Phillies released him.

Among the 12 community outreach programs sponsored by MLB, from cancer fundraising to green initiatives, domestic violence awareness isn’t one of them. Andruw Jones, Joe Torre and others have championed the cause, but no team besides the Mariners has made it a priority off and on the field. The only boos Myers hears these days are directed at his 5.51 ERA, and maybe that’s all right; Kim Myers says the incident saved their marriage and changed her husband for the better. But it’s time for the league to realize that domestic violence is even worse for the game than a failed drug test, and react accordingly. If that had been the case two years ago, Myers wouldn’t have taken the mound that day in Boston. And if he knew is career could be in jeopardy, maybe Myers would have thought twice before hitting his wife.