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What Luke Heimlich shows about MLB and violence against women

The case of Luke Heimlich is the result of a society and a system that prizes winning above everything else. MLB is often ignorant of its female audience, but drafting Luke Heimlich would be untenable.

Danny Moran | The Oregonian/OregonLive

I have never, before today, cared about the draft. That’s the reason teams have front offices and scouting departments: so fans can sit back and trust they will make good decisions. Major League Baseball’s draft is Monday, and Baseball America ranked a left-handed pitcher from Oregon State, Luke Heimlich, as the 43rd overall prospect. He may end up a first-round selection. But there is not a single club that should draft him.

Five years ago, Heimlich assaulted a 6-year-old family member. He was convicted and admitted to his crime. Does it matter that he was a minor when it happened?

No.

Does it matter that he has mostly kept up with his sex offender registration?

No.

You do not need to know all the facts of the case, but they are available in the Oregonian’s article. He sexually molested a defenseless little girl, and that is the end of where baseball should be concerned. There should be no room for that type of person in sports, where we put players on pedestals and shower them with accolades. Three teams have removed him from their draft boards, and the 27 remaining clubs should do the same. But will they? For the first time, I cannot sit back and trust in baseball’s system.

This situation is the result of how much universities, organizations, and even fans are willing to forgive just so they can win. Luke Heimlich slipped through the cracks because the NCAA has no policy preventing convicted felons from playing intercollegiate sports, not even for sex crimes. Oregon found a loophole just in case, as Danny Moran and Brad Schmidt explained in the Oregonian:

The University of Oregon used to have an unwritten policy prohibiting convicted felons from playing sports. The issue came to light in 2003 when the athletic director blocked a football player from joining the Ducks. A judge subsequently reduced the player's felony conviction to a misdemeanor, allowing him to play.

That policy preventing felons from playing has since been removed, but the major leagues cannot act the same way. Heimlich cannot become a professional baseball player. The sport must set the bar for entry somewhere, and someone who molested a child cannot meet the entry criteria. He simply cannot be allowed to play. It is crazy to me that I still have to be worried about an organization drafting him!

So why? Why am I concerned that an organization with nothing to lose and everything to gain will draft a college pitcher with a 0.79 ERA? I worry because of the three factors preventing baseball from responding to violence against women: ignorance, tolerance, and profit.

Ignorance

Baseball is largely ignorant of its female fans. Clubs often assume women are watching games because their husband/boyfriend/fiancé/guy they are trying to impress is watching the game. We are not the target audience; we are a subsidiary. My colleague, Mary Craig, wrote earlier this week about a ridiculously sexist promotion one of the Dodgers’ minor league affiliates had planned. But it’s only appropriate I start by looking inward. For me, this problem begins at home field as an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan.

On May 9th, the Cardinals sent out this tweet from their official account:

You love baseball. The 11-second video included a photograph of a man and a woman, implying those are the two they are speaking about. They specifically call out “she” in the tweet, differentiating it from “you.” They othered us. The Cardinals assumed that men were their audience and women were just drawn to the giveaway. By saying “you,” they spoke to men, completely ignorant of the women who are listening.

Presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin once said, “I shall always be grateful for having found a form of play in my irrational love of baseball, which allows me, from the beginning of spring training to the end of the fall, to have something to occupy my mind and heart other than my work.” That’s what baseball is supposed to be: everyday escapism from the confines of real life.

Luke Heimlich’s younger relative cannot view baseball that way. Whichever organization drafts him, he will probably make it to the majors, and his pitching performance will be applauded by tens of thousands of people. Her assailant will be applauded. There are 29 other teams, though, so maybe she should watch one of them instead? Surely not the Mets. Maybe another New York team — the Yankees? Another no. How about Tampa Bay? Sorry, I’m afraid not. The Cubs? Negative. Pirates? She’s better off just avoiding the NL Central. And those are just the ones we know.

By pretending women are not part of their audience, baseball clubs are able to ignore any pain we may experience. Survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault can’t watch games and be expected to enjoy them if they see someone like their abuser on the field. Assault takes away a woman’s agency; it robs us of the ability to feel safe in our own bodies. Victims live with the pain and have to work to overcome the fear of it happening again. But ball clubs don’t need to acknowledge it if no women are watching, right?

Tolerance

When abuse becomes too evident to be ignored, Major League Baseball chooses not to care. The most well-known example of this is Aroldis Chapman. He fought with his girlfriend in their Florida home in December of 2015. During the altercation, Chapman put his hands around her neck and scared her so much she ran outside into the bushes and called the police. Chapman then grabbed a gun and fired eight bullets, seven into a wall and one out the window.

One common explanation for this action is that it was to blow off steam or relieve stress, but that’s wrong. He did to show his girlfriend who’s boss. He did it to threaten her. He did it to silence her. (She did not cooperate with police and did not press charges.)

That is the man every baseball fan who is a survivor of domestic violence had to watch win the World Series last year. They see their abuser reflected in a World Series champion. He has something that other truly great young players still only aspire to win. Chapman’s sole consequence was a 30-game suspension before being traded to a team that would eventually take the sport’s top honor.

Oh, and the Cubs really did not care about Chapman’s personal conduct. Repeatedly asked what the Cubs told him about their minimum standards of behavior, Chapman said, “I can’t remember.” Theo Epstein said, “We decided to trade for a player who has accepted his discipline, already has been disciplined by MLB, has expressed his sorrow and regret for the incident.” But that’s not what happened. Chapman apologized for using a gun, but not for intimidating and assaulting his girlfriend. That, the Cubs are willing to tolerate. Last year my colleague Jen Mac Ramos wrote about supposed “character” teams profiting off domestic violence:

It’s easy to capitalize on the PR spin of a "mistake." What’s harder is to not capitalize on these "mistakes," because it’s not a mistake. It’s a very serious and very real issue that is more than business that should be handled with care and with respect to victims. And maybe considering these issues would be a testament to a business’ character.

The Cubs did not mandate Aroldis Chapman go to counseling. They did not request he perform any community service. They forced a half-hearted apology out of him before happily slotting him into their bullpen and, as their manager admits, they embraced him. The Cubs showed no concern for how this might affect female fans.

This MLB-wide tolerance extends beyond Chapman, beyond domestic violence, all the way to Luke Heimlich. Yahoo! is reporting that multiple clubs knew about Heimlich’s status as a sex offender through routine background checks. They “cared” only after these revelations became public, and some of them have simply lowered his draft status without altogether eliminating him.

Profit

Due to that ignorance and tolerance when setting up the current domestic violence penalties, certain clubs can, at times, profit off violence against women. The Chapman situation is a prime example. The Reds originally had a deal with the Dodgers, but it fell through after the domestic violence incident. They eventually dealt Chapman to the Yankees for four prospects, only two of whom ranked in the top-30 for the organization.

Before the deadline, when it was apparent the Yankees would not make the postseason, they believed the hard-throwing closer would be worth more than a pretty penny to contending teams. They were right. The Cubs sent the Yankees three prospects and a pitcher, the same total New York initially sent to Cincinnati. In return came the Cubs’ No. 1 prospect, when the Yankees dealt only their No. 6 and No. 10 as their investment. When the Dodgers backed out, the Reds became more desperate to move Chapman. That resulted in the Yankees getting a better deal and eventually padding their farm system with the return.

But the profiteering does not end with the Yankees. The Rockies’ Jose Reyesgrabbed his wife by the throat [and] shoved her into a sliding glass door” on October 31st, 2015. By July of the following year he was a starter for the New York Mets.

Reyes’s 52-game suspension meant he missed the Rockies’ spring training and the opening of the 2016 season. With Reyes unable to participate in spring training, Trevor Story, their soon-to-be rookie phenom, got an extended look at shortstop. Reyes was unable to compete or showcase himself, and Story slugged his way into the starting gig. The GM said a trade would be best on the field and “best for what was going on in the clubhouse;” make of that what you will. The Rockies ended up designating Reyes for assignment before placing him on waivers. The team still owed him about $39 million.

The Mets scooped him off the scrap heap and paid him about $507,000 for the rest of the season. The Mets acquired Jose Reyes for literal pennies on the dollar primarily because of the domestic violence suspension. The Rockies took a huge loss while the Mets got a bargain-priced infielder and squeaked their way into the playoffs.

While baseball has its issues with women, this case is particularly disgusting. Luke Heimlich molested a 6-year-old girl. She was a first-grader, probably still learning how to read, and she was attacked by someone she should have been able to trust. Allow me to repeat: She was 6. He was 15. At that age, while not fully developed, Heimlich was entirely capable of independent thought and understood right from wrong.

Admittedly, studies have shown there is a lower likelihood of minors re-offending. But Heimlich has already re-offended. He allegedly did this to her twice, once when she was 4 and again when she was 6. Heimlich has already shown us exactly the kind of person he is and how he treats women. In his only statement about the revelations, he says:

“I understand that many people now see me differently, but I hope that I can eventually be judged for the person I am today.”

He does not apologize for the incident. Heimlich is basically trying to make this go away. He claims he’s become a better person, and some people may think that’s worthy of a second chance. I implore you to remember that this little girl does not get a second chance, and that she does not get the opportunity to start over. She will have to work for years to overcome the fear of this happening again. Her trust in others has probably been irreparably damaged, and yet we should forget about that because he has a good changeup?

I don’t think so.

Baseball needs to acknowledge its female fans and show us a little deference. How low is the bar? Can we agree that, because of this crime society has determined is so morally revolting it should follow him the rest of his life, Luke Heimlich does not meet professional baseball’s entry criteria? I think we can, but the past has taught me better than to trust in the system. Is Major League Baseball willing to put this type of man on the same stage as Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale?

Does MLB value profit above everything else? As a fan, I hope not.

. . .

Audrey Stark is a Contributor at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow her on Twitter @highstarksunday.