This isn’t a baseball article. Sure, it’s being published on a site that deals with baseball, and it’s centered around a baseball player and his team. But this isn’t a baseball article. This is an article about the role of a professional sports team in a city.
When it comes to Roberto Osuna, the Blue Jays should believe they have a conundrum on their hands. One side of their thinking surely sees this 23-year-old, franchise-altering talent, and believes that the best thing for the franchise would be to welcome him back as the closer once his 75-game suspension for violating MLB’s domestic violence policy has been served. The other side of their thinking must be that he has committed an act so heinous that MLB found him to be worthy of a 75-game punishment, and that bringing him back after that — as if serving a suspension magically erases the domestic violence he committed — would be an affront to any morally conscious person.
Yet Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins seems to have had very little trouble making this decision at all. His comments last week to the media made it clear what his priorities are in this situation, and sadly, they are not the correct ones. Telling the media “Roberto is our closer. We’re running a baseball team and our goal is to win championships. Roberto could potentially be very much a part of that” — this clearly signifies what Atkins believes his role to be: bringing championship trophies to Toronto. But that isn’t it. That isn’t the function of a sports team at all.
I’ve previously written that the Blue Jays’ front office should be motivated by no emotion more than memories. Making memories as a fan is what sports is all about. Good memories last a lifetime, and it takes equally as long to erase bad ones. So the idea that on August 4th the Blue Jays will welcome back Roberto Osuna with open arms and have him jog in from the bullpen with his “Don’t Panic” music blasting throughout the stadium is an obtuse one. On the field, his teammates might find it acceptable to play alongside him, but what about the fans who will be sitting in the stands? Are they supposed to forget about everything?
On Wednesday, Atkins was given a chance by TSN Radio to respond to the “blowback” he has received about his comments made last week, and he basically echoed his previous statement, while also adding that “empathy is a great part of where our focus and energy is for everyone involved.” What empathy is Roberto Osuna currently deserving of?
The host on TSN Radio then asked a pertinent question, wondering if Osuna would still take the mound for the team if he was due in court in a few days. Atkins responded by saying that as long as he was legally allowed to, he would. This exchange highlights exactly what is wrong with the Blue Jays’ thinking. They are assuming that they can just separate the player from the actions, and focus only on what is happening on the field. But that isn’t at all the case.
As fans, we must see the entire picture. Our judgment is not clouded by the fact that our jobs are on the line if the team does not succeed. What picture does it paint if the Blue Jays’ closer is pitching on a Monday and is in court on a Wednesday? What message does that send to young fans — or, for that matter, to adult fans? The incorrect one. It says that the Blue Jays value sporting ability more than morality, and that the club is not afraid to broadcast that for everybody to know. That, simply, is wrong.
The Blue Jays must see their role in the city not as bringing championships, but as bringing joy. Who could be joyful seeing their favourite team succeed because of the actions of a domestic abuser? Even if his actions are forgiven in the future — which is not something anyone is required to do — they sure as hell don’t need to be forgiven while court proceedings are still ongoing.
Many will say that we should not judge Atkins’ comments until Osuna actually steps foot on the field for the Jays, arguing that Atkins might just be posturing to create more leverage in the trade market, in the hopes of a greater return for Osuna if the other 29 teams still believe that the Blue Jays plan on using him. Obviously, if the Jays’ plan is to trade Osuna or outright release him because of his actions, Atkins wouldn’t just say that to the media — doing so would ruin any chance they had of bringing back a decent return for him.
But Atkins didn’t have to say the exact words that he said. Rather than callously declaring that it’s all about winning a championship, he could have talked about the issues facing the team in this situation. He could have said that they are unsure of their plans for Osuna at this time because of the difficult and uncommon nature of the case before them. When the team released their official statement after Osuna was suspended by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, they had no difficulty saying that “as this remains a legal matter, the club will have no further comment at the time.” One wonders what happened to that notion.
So what is it going to be, Blue Jays? Make up your minds. It can’t be that you understand that the issue “remains a legal matter” and “will have no further comment,” but then once a week offer comments about Osuna’s future on the club once he returns from his suspension. And if at first instinct the decision was made not to comment because of the legal situation surrounding him, wouldn’t it be a good idea to not let him pitch while the court proceedings are occurring as well? Not everything is about winning games. Some things are about winning people.
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