BY: ANDREW COHEN
While the sports world has heard about the Trevor Bauer story, many are unaware that his story was not the first domestic violence incident by an MLB All-star this season. That belonged to two-time all-star, Atlanta Braves outfielder, Marcell Ozuna.
Ozuna, is in his first season of his fully guaranteed 4 year/ 65 million dollar contract he signed with the Braves this past off-season. Amid playing his best baseball of his career, his season has been halted since the Sandy Spring Police Officers were alerted to respond to a residence regarding an assault in progress on the night of May 29, 2021.
Just to paint an image for you, the Police witnessed him grabbing the victim by the neck and throwing her against the wall when they entered Ozuna’s home. Ozuna was then charged with Aggravated Assault by Strangulation under the Domestic Violence Act and Battery under the Domestic Violence Act. These are felony penalties that range from 3 to 20 years in prison. Ozuna was released from jail shortly after paying a $20,000.00 bond.
What happened next?
The Braves have kept him away from all team activities, just like how the Los Angeles Dodgers handled the Trevor Bauer situation. However, unlike Bauer, the aggravated assault charges against Ozuna were dropped in July.
On September 9, 2021, Ozuna agreed to enter a diversion program that could result in his entire domestic violence case being dismissed. Ozuna is required to undergo a six-month family violence intervention program, 200 hours of community service, refrain from illegal drug use, and avoid any contact with his wife. However, if Ozuna completed all these requirements within his first three months, the original six-month supervision requirement would be terminated immediately.
While he may have legally been off the hook, the MLB placed Ozuna on administrative leave
as they continue to investigate the situation. They continue to extend his leave as they did most recently on September 29th, where the leave was extended through the 2021 postseason. There seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel of when we will see Ozuna back on the diamond.
Can the Braves and the MLB find a remedy to void their contract with Ozuna?
If the felony charges had stood, the Braves would have a strong case to escape the remainder of their contract with Ozuna (around $61,000,000.00) and place Ozuna on the restricted list. If Ozuna went to jail, the Braves can have a strong case for a breach of contract claim, since he cannot perform his duties, under the Unform Player Code which states; “a team can terminate a contract if a player shall ‘fail, refuse, or neglect to conform his personal conduct to the standards of good citizenship … it also allows a team to terminate a deal if a player shall ‘fail, refuse, or neglect to render his services … in any material manner that may breach this contract”.
However, even if the Braves attempt to act, they will likely wait until the MLB conducted their investigation on the manner. The Braves are hoping that the MLB places a lengthy suspension on Ozuna as they would have a better case for saving a few bucks.
Being that the charges are most likely to be dropped, it seems extremely unlikely that the Braves would be able to recoup any amount of money contracted to Ozuna, as it is all guaranteed.
While we can all agree that Ozuna’s actions are unacceptable in any situation, many have different opinions regarding the correct way for the MLB and the Atlanta Braves to handle this situation, I think the MLB should handle these situations better than they currently are. The MLB should have a more consistent policy they could have started enacting the suspension and laid down a ruling instead of constantly extending the administrative leave as the public views it as they are unsure of how to act.
Although, we can all agree that it is the best move to hold Ozuna out of all team activities, the matter seems to be quieted down, at the very least. This case is similar to Bauer’s case because the MLB is not taking any disciplinary action besides extending the administrative leave of the player, this does not solve anything. Both players are not currently charged, as Bauer has not been convicted of any charges and Ozuna had his charges dropped.
As a result, the MLB should either let both players play if they are cleared under the law or enforce a strict/ bright-line rule around domestic abuse like many other leagues have enacted. Instead, it seems that they are not taking any action while keeping the players away from the sport until the story cools down. As a result of not having a firm disciplinary rule around domestic related instances, it is tough to know whether how much longer this story will go on for. This is also not making manners any simpler for the MLB to investigate in future cases. I hope the MLB will get their act together sooner rather than later and stop keeping fans like me in the dark.
The ball is in the MLB’s court on whether Ozuna will be subjected to discipline, and if there is how harsh will it be.