The Trevor Bauer case illustrates how teams value wins over everything

The Los Angeles Dodgers wanted you to know that they had done their due diligence. In a press conference introducing starting pitcher Trevor Bauer, who the Dodgers had just signed to a three-year, $102m contract, the team’s president of baseball operations, Andrew Friedman, wanted to make that clear.

Addressing Bauer’s well-established history of online harassment and feuds with teammates, Friedman wanted to emphasize the Dodgers weren’t worried about the pitcher’s reputation. “Hopefully over the last six-plus years,” Friedman said, “some trust and credibility has been built up in terms of the research we do on players and the vetting process that we go through … we get as much information as we can on players.”

What those watching the press conference didn’t know – and what wasn’t revealed to the public until a bombshell report in Saturday’s Washington Post – was that the pitcher had been subject of a restraining order by a woman in June of last year. The details of the order – which contained allegations of punching and choking during sex – were similar to those included in a restraining order issued against the pitcher by a second woman back in June.

Bauer, who is currently on paid administrative leave, has not yet been charged with anything and has proclaimed his innocence on all counts. His representatives say the allegations are “categorically false”. However, with both the police and Major League Baseball currently investigating the assault allegations against him – and with most of his teammates reportedly opposed to his return – it’s possible that Bauer’s Dodgers career is already over.

When asked by the Post if they were aware of last year’s court orders beforehand, the Dodgers declined to comment. Ultimately there are only two possibilities here: either they somehow never found out about the allegations, which would reflect incredibly poorly on the organization, or they knew but signed Bauer anyway, which would be far worse.

The Bauer debacle comes just months after Major League Baseball banned Mickey Callaway shortly after he was hired by the Los Angeles Angels to be their pitching coach. Callaway spent time as the pitching coach for the Cleveland Indians before a brief, disastrous stint as the manager of the New York Mets. Throughout this period, he engaged in a long pattern of sexual harassment.

The most damning allegations occurred when a report from The Athletic alleged that teams had still been willing to employ Callaway, despite his behavior being an open secret around the league. Apparently, he was so well-regarded for his coaching skills that teams were willing to put up with what would otherwise be indefensible behavior.

The Callaway story has something of a parallel in the career of NFL lifer Matt Patricia. In 2018, the same year the Mets hired Callaway, the Detroit Lions chose former New England Patriots defensive coordinator Patricia to be their head coach. Shortly afterward, reporters discovered that he had been charged with sexual assault back in 1996. (The case never went to court as the woman in question did not want to go through the trial process.)

The Lions either somehow didn’t discover this during the hiring process or simply didn’t care. Team president Rod Wood first pled innocence and then vouched for his new head coach: “I will tell you with 1,000% certainty that everything I’ve learned confirmed what I already knew about the man and would have no way changed our decision to make him our head coach.”

The Patricia era only lasted a few years in Detroit, but it didn’t end because of any crisis of conscience from his bosses. Patricia instead was guilty of the one unforgivable sin in sports: his team kept losing. Don’t feel bad for him though, the Patriots immediately took him back and named him as their senior football adviser.

Ah yes, the Patriots. One would think, considering that they drafted the most notorious criminal in modern NFL history despite many red flags, they would be a little more thorough in vetting people. Yet, in the fifth round of the 2020 draft, the Patriots selected kicker Justin Rohrwasser. Almost immediately, sharp-eyed fans noticed that he sported the tattoo of the Three Percenters, a rightwing militia group that would later have a presence in the attack on the US Capitol. Considering the ridiculous amount of time and resources teams devote to the draft it felt rather improbable that nobody in the organization had made the connection. Rohrwasser – who said he was unaware of the connotations of the symbol – said he would remove the tattoo – as if the ink itself were the problem and not what it symbolized.

In this case, the controversy went away, mostly because Rohrwasser wasn’t good enough to stick in the league. The Patriots waived Rohrwasser earlier this year after he spent a season on the practice squad. It’s extremely doubtful that we will hear from him again, at least for football-related reasons.

The truth is placekickers with practically zero pro experience have very little value, even when they don’t have possible ties to extremist groups. Now a Hall of Fame manager, even one who has been retired for a decade? Well, that’s a different story.

So, we return again to baseball, where the Chicago White Sox hired Tony La Russa even after the news broke that he had been charged with a DUI, his second, earlier in the year. Unlike the Dodgers and Bauer, the White Sox openly admitted that they (or at least owner Jerry Reinsdorf) were aware of the incident before making their decision. The idea that La Russa’s lapse in judgment literally put people’s lives in danger apparently wasn’t a deal-breaker.

While La Russa’s tenure in Chicago so far hasn’t been without controversy, he’s not going anywhere as long as the White Sox continue to enjoy an insurmountable lead in the American League Central. For those responsible for hiring managers or signing players, the only due diligence that really matters is figuring out whether the individual could conceivably help them win. We’ve seen time and time again that organizations are willing to overlook quite a bit as long as it results in team success.

Even before his recent legal issues, Bauer was always going to be a prime example of this trend. The Dodgers may not have been aware of the newly uncovered restraining order against him, but they certainly were well aware of Bauer’s reputation around the league. Heck, that’s the whole reason Friedman had to bring up their “vetting process” (such as it was) in the first place. The Dodgers were gambling that any potential problems he could cause would be offset by his undeniable athletic talent. It’s a bet they appear to have lost badly and they have nobody to blame but themselves.

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