Photo: Vaughn Ridley (Getty)

Here is what’s known publicly about what happened on May 8 in Toronto. That day, according to Toronto police, Roberto Osuna, 23, of Toronto was charged with assault. News reports added that the victim was a woman. Police said Osuna was scheduled to appear in court in June. Since then, the only updates offered by Crown attorneys’ offices has been information on the latest dates for court hearings, and whatever is in the court file. His next court date is set for Aug. 1.

From there, it quickly becomes a case of which statements you choose to believe. Do you believe Jon Heyman’s vague report that “it is believed MLB was able to interview the alleged victim.” Or do you believe Osuna’s defense lawyer, Domenic Basile, who told Sportsnet that “any such contact would be news him” and that Osuna agreed to not appeal because otherwise “the process could potentially drag deep into next season.” And how do those sway you in light of commissioner Rob Manfred’s thin statement, which did not go into any details, unlike what was done for MLB investigations involving Miguel Sanó and Jeurys Familia? Manfred’s statement said just, “I have concluded that Mr. Osuna violated the Policy and should be subject to discipline in the form of an unpaid suspension that will expire on August 4th.”

Maybe Osuna is a batterer. Maybe he isn’t. Maybe the victim is cooperating with law enforcement, or maybe the victim isn’t. Maybe the victim cooperated with MLB (“It is believed” is doing a lot of work in Heyman’s report). Maybe the victim didn’t. Maybe the victim did cooperate but didn’t want any details released. Maybe the victim wanted Osuna banished from baseball, or maybe the victim wants Osuna back in baseball because he has a family to provide for. Maybe the victim is staying as far away from the press as possible because reporters can take advantage of victims for their own narrative needs. But none of this is known, leaving you and I and everyone else to rely on the reliability of an organization that has in the past used documents it knew were stolen; brought a case against Alex Rodriguez with no physical evidence; and let Aroldis Chapman return from a suspension with just one counseling session after he got in a fight with his girlfriend and shot a gun multiple times in his garage.

And yet none of this has stopped baseball writers from weighing in as if they know exactly what happened and are competing to show who can be the most angered, the most moralistic, and the most disgusted. This is what happens in black boxes. Everyone picks the narrative they prefer.

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Forgiveness in American society is always on a continuum of who you are, who you belong to, and how much money you can make someone. It’s bizarre how hard the sporting press went out its way to absolve Luke Heimlich, a white guy from the Pacific Northwest who loves Jesus but pleaded guilty when he was 16 years old to one count of molesting a young family member, then just as quickly pivoted to calling for Osuna, a Sinaloan baseball player with halting English, to be expelled from baseball. Heimlich insists he is innocent, done in by an unfair system, and in return Sports Illustrated gave him the cover. Maybe Osuna was too. Or maybe both of them are lying. But the difference in reception for the two men is impossible to ignore.

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Nobody demonstrates this better than the “moral national baseball commentary” from Yahoo’s Jeff Passan. He wrote that any decision in favor of signing Heimlich would be filled with “logical landmines” and opined, correctly, that nobody outside of Heimlich (who insists he is innocent) and the young family member (whose mother insists her child told the truth) knows exactly what happened in that case. For Osuna, Passan brought out the cannons, declaring that “anyone with a conscience could not, in good faith, place him on a major league roster.” There is markedly less public information known about Osuna’s case versus Heimlich, which the Oregonian reported in detail, but why let that get in the way of a good column idea?

This is the problem with zero tolerance. It’s never really zero tolerance. It’s public relations. It sounds good. It feels good. But it doesn’t accomplish anything. Nobody is safer. Nobody is healed. Nobody is made whole. They don’t work and are, at best, selectively enforced, usually to the detriment of black and Hispanic men and women. But teams enact them so they can hold themselves up as beacons of morality—until a bargain hits the market, in which case the zero-tolerance policy becomes one of forgiveness, education, and healing. All these policies are garbage because they’re public relations covering up the moral math on which teams run: Can Player X still get us closer to winning minus how much will he cost us and, if the numbers break the right way, the team will pivot to whatever policy gets them to the result its leadership wants.

The Astros never had any morals; they just want to win baseball games. This makes them no better or worse than any other professional sports organization. But that’s not a narrative the baseball press can sell you—imagine hearing from a columnist that America’s pastime has nothing to do with morals and instead is just a billion-dollar enterprise with a questionable antitrust exemption that loves to exploit its workers as much as the next business. Instead baseball writers place their faith in MLB’s investigators and pretend they know what happened that day in May, both groups empowering each other so the status quo can remain: Men in power making up the rules as they go along.

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