Los Angeles Dodgers, Cleveland Browns showed true colors in handling of Trevor Bauer, Deshaun Watson

Neither of these teams faced difficult decisions, but they handled them very differently

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The L.A. Dodgers cut ties with Trevor Bauer on Friday afternoon.
The L.A. Dodgers cut ties with Trevor Bauer on Friday afternoon.
Image: Getty Images

Kevin McCarthy’s humiliating road to becoming Speaker of the House channeled more Cleveland Browns energy than anything else this week. Going 0-14 in Speaker votes and accumulating the worst record since the mid-1800s wasn’t just reminiscent of the Hue Jackson era, but of the current Haslam-era Browns. The constant rejection was fodder for laughs, but seeing Congress’ highest-ranking human-gastropod hybrid concede to demands made by the lunatic class of American politics was instructive on how low unscrupulous slimeballs slither in pursuit of power and success. In comparison to how gracefully the L.A. Dodgers exhibited during their two-year-long Trevor Bauer debacle, the Browns look even slimier.

McCarthy surrendered his dignity, job security, and perhaps the guardrails on the U.S. economy to temporarily sit in a corner office on the nexus of institutional government power. We should expect nothing less from an opportunist who flew to Mar-a-Lago to grovel at Trump’s feet for criticizing his role in the January 6th insurrection.

Like McCarthy, the Browns are the embodiment of the “get in loser, we’re goin’ losing” aura. Almost 10 months ago, craven ambition compelled the Cleveland Browns to make a sharp heel turn when they thrust themselves into the Deshaun Watson auction last March. They didn’t just climb ahead of the Saints and Falcons, Cleveland pulled a McCarthy by awarding Watson an unprecedented fully-guaranteed $230 million contract that would mitigate the financial hit of an impending suspension from the league. Cleveland’s grotesque toadying to Watson left a thick mucus layer over their four-win season.

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The most obsequious segment of Browns’ fandom justified his alleged misconduct and disparaged his alleged victims. As the face of a franchise and an alleged serial offender, Watson’s presence inspired a legion of fans to demonstrate their loyalty to Watson the quarterback and the man. Watson unleashed something else besides a hope in the Browns’ fortunes. A generation of fans who couldn’t separate entertainment from reality decided Watson was the cause they needed to rally behind. Women became the targets of their derision beyond a misguided defense of Watson.

Signs that read “FUCK THEM HOES” and shirts reading “BITCH GIVE ME A MASSAGE” were seen throughout Cleveland’s FirstEnergy Stadium once Watson made his preseason debut. Some supporters of Watson moved on from calling the women liars, accepted that Watson might be guilty of his alleged transgressions, and matriculated to sexual “humor” that mocked Watson’s alleged victims. While Watson was suspended by the NFL for 11 games for dozens of allegations of sexual harassment and abuse, he has denied any wrongdoing and was never charged with criminal conduct.

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Watson’s contract and Haslam’s comments signaled that Watson was to be protected as much as possible from any consequences. After two decades of losing and 34 quarterbacks, Browns fans developed a carnivorous desire to win. Unfortunately, that meant aligning their fandom behind an alleged sexual predator with seemingly no remorse for his victims, though he did issue an apology. As easy as it would be to blame Derek Anderson and Johnny Manziel though, it doesn’t absolve the freakish Browns fans who felt the need to show their asses each week by mocking victims at a sporting event.

Maybe the Browns’ front office personnel were always this spineless. Or perhaps the endless cycle of losing over the last two decades has warped the brains of Browns fans and the front office alike. Yet, the confident, vocal Watson has been replaced by a reticent and cowardly shell of a man who refuses to own up to anything, speak candidly about seeking help or even appear in front of the press.

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Meanwhile, Los Angeles has accumulated a 217-107 record in the two seasons Bauer has been sidelined. On June 29, 2021, a temporary restraining order was filed against Bauer by a woman accusing him of sexual assault. Despite Bauer’s denial of the allegations against him, by early July, he was placed on administrative leave where he’d remain for the entire season.

Ultimately the restraining order was lifted and the district attorney declined to file charges, but Bauer’s history and two more accusers coming forward to similarly accuse him of choking them unconscious during consensual sex seems to have made the Dodgers feel grossed out enough to keep arm’s length away from a pitcher they’d given a three-year, $102 million deal. (Bauer has denied the allegations and has sued Deadspin, as well as The Athletic and one of the purported victims for defamation.)

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Compare the Dodgers’ swift handling of Bauer to the Texans covering for Watson and only suspending him after he demanded a trade, so they could recoup value for Watson after the league handed a suspension down. The Texans have won two games since and just fired their second coach in two years after an improbable Week 18 win.

The Dodgers signed Bauer in 2021 believing he’d be the ace who would hoist them to another World Series title. After winning the COVID-season’s NL Cy Young in his final year as a Cincinnati Red, Bauer tallied a 2.59 ERA and struck out 137 batters in 107⅔ innings in his first 17 starts with the Dodgers.

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However, once they heard the allegations against Bauer, the league initially placed Bauer on administrative leave for a week and gradually extended it through the remainder of the 2021 season. Bauer won an appeal on MLB’s 324-game suspension in late December 2022, which whittled it down to 194 games and presented the potential for a return to the Dodgers dugout for the 2023 campaign.

Reportedly, Bauer’s return was less polarizing than McCarthy was in the GOP. If manager Dave Roberts put Bauer’s return to a clubhouse vote, he may have been back on the Opening Day roster. A Los Angeles Times fan poll showed a majority of respondents were in favor of the Dodgers reinstating Bauer.

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They’re already paying him $22 million this season, Bauer’s contract on the payroll counts as $35 million, keeps the Dodgers above the luxury tax threshold as well, and most importantly, they could certainly use the 31-year-old Cy Young winner’s services. Los Angeles swung and missed on Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw is a year older and Walker Buehler will spend 2023 on the mend rehabbing a right elbow that underwent a second Tommy John surgery in August and they’ve resorted to banking on Noah Syndergaard turning the heat back up on his fastball.

There were incentives for Los Angeles to bring Bauer back. There was also the possibility of Dodgers fans lashing out as women the way Browns fans did throughout 2022.

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On Saturday, the Dodgers released a statement that slammed the door shut on any possibility of reconciliation, then designated him for assignment, effectively ending his Dodgers stint. This is not comparable to A-Rod serving a 162-game suspension for violating MLB’s PED bylaws and playing through a few jeers at Yankee Stadium. No matter how much Bauer spends on frivolous litigation, he’s still a loser. Maybe there’s a Jimmy Haslam in MLB who will do anything for a pennant out there for Bauer. If some loser franchise lowers its standards enough to come crawling to Bauer, he’ll fit right in.