Cheap Seats

Something must be done to save major leaguers from themselves

For the News-Democrat

Major League Baseball is again in mourning as it lost two more young men over the weekend to tragic car crashes.

It’s something that is happening far too often these days.

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Yordano Ventura, 25, and former Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians and Arizona Diamondbacks infielder Andy Marte, 33, lost their lives just hours apart over the weekend in separate crashes in the Dominican Republic. Details about the crashes are scarce in the immediate aftermath. But it seems that young ballplayers are putting themselves into dangerous situations again and again.

Unfortunately, drug- and alcohol-related deaths of major league players are becoming far too common. The Miami Marlins lost Jose Fernandez before the end of last season when his boat collided with a jetty at high speed in the middle of the night. He had nearly double the amount of alcohol in his system to be legally drunk as well as cocaine.

Ventura publicly mourned the death of St. Louis Cardinals rookie Oscar Taveras when Taveras died in an alcohol-fueled crash during the 2014 postseason. But he, apparently, didn’t learn from his friend’s mistake. The Cardinals cut off alcohol in the clubhouse at Busch Stadium after Josh Hancock died in a drunken driving crash during the 2007 season. But that didn’t prevent Taveras’ death just days after he went home for the offseason following a pledge to report to spring training with a better attitude and in better shape for 2015.

What can MLB do?

I’m not sure. These players are grown men, not high school kids. You can’t send them home with a babysitter. Especially when they live in another country and it’s the offseason. But SOMETHING has to be done to better prepare these people and try to help them make better decisions. This isn’t a game. People are dying.

I wonder how far it would get with the Major League Baseball Players Association if the league owners tried to pass a no tolerance law on drinking and driving. Get a DUI, and you’re banned from baseball from a year. Injure someone in a drunken crash or get arrested a second time, you’re banned for life.

What about a clause in player contracts that says if you get busted for driving while intoxicated that your team has the right to terminate your contract?

That might be the sort of thing that gets players’ attention. Everyone thinks they’re not going to be the one who runs out of luck. But if they knew that they could lose a $100-million deal with the turn of a key, maybe they’d give a cab serious consideration.

Of course, the hypocrisy of that would be the fact that a large portion of the billions of dollars in revenue professional sports teams rake in every year comes from alcohol sales – often to people who are obviously intoxicated. Owners aren’t going to do anything that is going to lessen their profit margin – or to accept responsibility for the actions of their players off the field. They’ve tied their own hands.

People die every day in drunk driving accidents. And it is no more tragic when someone who is famous dies than it is when it’s an anonymous person who left behind a family and friends that needed them. But, with all due apologies to Charles Barkley, professional athletes are role models, whether or not they like it.

Let’s not forget that the players who drink and drive aren’t the only ones to suffer the consequences of their bad choices.

Fernandez took two friends with him to the grave when he had his fateful crash. Taveras’ crash killed his girlfriend and Hancock crashed into a stopped tow truck whose driver was assisting a motorist with a disabled vehicle. He could have easily killed innocent motorists as he motored down a busy highway.

While fans didn’t hear much about Taveras’ life off the field during his brief time in the major leagues, Hancock was apparently well-known in the cities in which he played as a party animal. He reportedly had a number of close calls before he met his demise.

At the very least, professional sports teams ought to offer some life skills training for new players. They need to know about how to handle their money, how to handle fame and be reminded that, even though they’ve been told for years that they’re bulletproof supermen, they could lose it all in the blink of an eye if they make the wrong choices.

Star ballplayers differ from the Average Joe in that they suddenly find themselves with more money than they could have imagined. They become the life of the party to their friends and it’s human nature to bask in that glory.

My condolences to Royals fans. It’s tough to lose an idol. Believe me, we in St. Louis know it. Hopefully, something positive can come out of this and players will finally hear the wake-up call to stop drinking and driving. It’s the best we can hope for in the wake of another senseless tragedy.