I’m going to say up front that this isn’t going to be like the rest of the player reviews you’ll read here this off season.
I think I speak for almost everyone when I say that we’d all rather pretend that Odubel Herrera wasn’t on the Phillies this season. Personally, I’d rather forget that he exists entirely. Unfortunately, that’s not possible.
Since this is supposed to be a full review of the season, I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention his playing stats for the season. In 39 games he slashed .222/.288/.341 with 10 doubles, 1 triple and 1 home run. He collected 16 RBIs and had 2 stolen bases. I’m not going to get into any advanced stats because, honestly, I couldn’t be bothered. His season’s story isn’t about what happened on the field. Instead of focusing on Herrera, I’m going to take this time to discuss the larger issue at hand.
Shortly after the news of his arrest broke, before his hearing and subsequent suspension, I joined Justin Klugh on a Good Phight podcast to discuss the situation. Something I mentioned then, which I still stand by now, is how this situation—and every situation like this before it and after it—impacts female fans.
In case you hadn’t heard, there was a recent story in the news about a woman named Sahar Khodayari. She was an Iranian woman who set herself on fire and died in September after being arrested for sneaking into a soccer stadium to watch a match. In Iran, women are banned from attending sporting events. Before her death, she was expected to face jail time for the “crime” of being a woman at a soccer match. Here, we’re fortunate that women don’t face these same issues. Watching sports isn’t a men’s activity, nor is it a women’s activity. It’s something that everyone can enjoy, regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation.
Yet, there’s still a clear separation in how women, as sports fans, are treated versus men. This separation is obvious every time someone says “you throw like a girl” in a way that’s intended to be an insult. It’s obvious in the way that female fans are quizzed when they say they like a team, as if they aren’t a “real” fan if they can’t name every player on the roster (it happens more often than you think). It’s obvious in the women’s section of every merchandise store where it’s easy to find pink sparkly jerseys, but difficult to find a regular jersey that isn’t a big-name star. And it’s obvious in the way that the organizations and Major League Baseball handle incidents that involve domestic violence, sexual assault and rape.
Here are a few stats from the National Domestic Violence Hotline to put the magnitude of the domestic violence issue in the US into perspective:
-Nearly 3 in 10 women in the US have experienced rape, physical violence or stalking by a partner.
-Nearly 15% of women have been injured as a result of domestic violence.
-1 in 4 women aged 18 or older in the US have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner.
-Most female victims were previously victimized by the same offender, including over 75% of women aged 18-34.
Something I also mentioned on the podcast was that since Major League Baseball instituted its new domestic violence policy in 2016, Herrera was the twelfth person to be investigated. That number now sits at 14, as Julio Urias (Dodgers) and Domingo German (Yankees) have since been added to the list. That’s an average of more than three domestic violence incidents per year, and those are only the ones that have been investigated. Who knows how many others have been kept from the public eye?
This isn’t just something we see in baseball, either. In the past two years we’ve seen it in the NFL with Antonio Brown, in the NBA with DeMarcus Cousins and in the NHL with Slava Voynov, to name just a few. Issues of domestic violence, sexual assault and rape are prevalent across all major professional sports in North America, no league is exempt. The Houston Dynamo of Major League Soccer even re-signed a player in 2018 who was, at the time, under league suspension for an unresolved domestic violence charge.
What the organizations and leagues say to female fans when they dismiss a domestic violence case like this with a simple suspension is that the health and safety of victims of domestic violence is less important than what the male player has to offer on the field.
I say that’s unacceptable.
It’s important to note that most of these cases don’t end with legal charges. Charges are either never brought up, or are eventually dropped. That doesn’t mean that the player is innocent and shouldn’t be punished with more than a suspension. Herrera himself even admitted to his behavior and issued an “apology” for it, as many accused professional athletes do. Rather than proof of innocence, usually no charges or dropped charges mean the victim was pressured and/or paid into silence. It’s easier for the victim to accept a payoff and allow it to all go away than it would be to fight the issue in court. Especially since the player himself usually has more money and better lawyers at his disposal.
At the start of next season, Herrera’s suspension will be over. The Phillies will pay him $7 million to put on a uniform, and he will rejoin the team as though nothing happened. Thanks to the joint agreement between Major League Baseball and the Players’ Association, the Phillies are not allowed to use this incident as a reason to void his contract, which goes through 2021 and has club options through 2023.
All told, the Phillies will still pay him between $19.5-41 million, guaranteed because there is no policy that allows them to choose not to. In fact, there is a policy strictly prohibiting it. Teams aren’t allowed to punish a player themselves for a situation if the league has already issued their own punishment. Furthermore, while MLB’s Uniform Player Contract includes language requiring players to exhibit “good citizenship,” the policy does not allow teams to qualify domestic violence as something that breaks this clause.
With no legal charges against him and no harm done to his job security or salary, what punishment is the player—the abuser—really enduring? What’s keeping him from doing it again, but this time hiding it better? What message is the league sending to the fans, the players and the young kids who look up to them?
What Major League Baseball needs to do is re-visit their domestic violence policy. Any man who is willing to put someone else’s health and safety at risk by physically assaulting them—or more—should not be guaranteed their contract.
As far as next season goes, the Phillies do have options. They can look to terminate Herrera’s contract for baseball reasons. With a deep outfield pool that includes Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, Adam Haseley, Scott Kingery, Jay Bruce, Roman Quinn, and Nick Williams, plus the option to re-sign Corey Dickerson or add another free agent outfielder from outside the current system, the competition for outfield and bench roles is going to be tough. Should the Phillies determine that Herrera doesn’t match up against the rest of the field, they could justify voiding his contract for that reason. However, players whose contracts have been voided by a team have the opportunity to file a grievance through the MLBPA. If he decides to do that, the case would then go to an arbitrator who could refuse the action.
They could also look to trade him away, which might be easier than attempting to void his contract. With only 39 games played in 2019, a less-than-stellar 2018 and the domestic violence suspension, the return for him likely wouldn’t be very high. But for a player the Phillies didn’t give anything up to acquire (he was selected in the 2014 Rule 5 Draft), and considering the moral issue of continuing to allow him to be part of this organization, simply getting rid of him would be a good enough return itself.
When it comes to the relationship between the Phillies and Herrera, the bottom line is that when they take the field in Miami on March 26, he cannot be on the roster. They need to do whatever they can to get rid of him, one way or another. Otherwise, they will be doing their fans and themselves a great disservice.