Regarding Larry Baer, it’s time to ask more than whether the suspension was long enough

When I was a bratty kid forced to begrudgingly apologize for some infraction or another, my parents would sometimes snap at me, “Do you mean you’re sorry or do you really mean ‘get lost?’”

Back then, I found it remarkable — and incredibly annoying — how well my parents were able to read my mind. But as an adult I understand their frustration. An apology can often be used to unilaterally end a dialogue which should just be beginning. This is a pervasive problem in a society obsessed with pathologizing the patterns of “cancel culture” and comeuppance. Everyone’s impatient and just wants to know the right things to say and to put the problem behind them. And it’s OK if the desire to react correctly to a social failing comes from a fear of societal backlash — that’s what societal backlash exists to do — but sometimes it becomes uncomfortably clear that we’re all just following a playbook.

I think the reason it feels like professional sports, including Major League Baseball, still don’t really care about reckoning with domestic violence in their midst is because even as increasing lip service is paid, and even when everyone follows a relatively progressive plan of response, no one is actually, really, reckoning with domestic violence in their midst. Or toxic masculinity. Or however you want to classify the disturbing level of cruelty that was on display when San Francisco Giants president and CEO Larry Baer looked at his wife — who reportedly fell in part because of an injured foot, the kind of thing my significant other and I hope yours too would be sensitive toward — lying on the ground and seemed entirely unmoved to help her.

When the video of the altercation between Baer and his wife Pam was published on TMZ earlier this month, there was a lot of talk about what the consequences should be. How long of a suspension would be sufficient? How do you enforce a separation between the team’s controlling owner and the day-to-day operations?

Today we were given an answer to those questions: After initially taking a leave of absence from the team, Baer will be suspended without pay until July 1, during which time he is prohibited from having any involvement with the Giants organization. He will “undergo an evaluation by an expert to determine an appropriate treatment and counseling plan.” He will be permanently replaced as the team’s “control person.”

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 12: CEO of the San Francisco Giants Larry Baer looks on before a game against the San Diego Padres at AT&T Park on September 12, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
San Francisco Giants CEO Larry Baer will be suspended without pay until July 1, during which time he is prohibited from having any involvement with the organization. (Getty Images)

Is it enough? That’s what many outlets will be asking, and understandably. Three months, plus a fourth retroactive to early March, is longer than what José Reyes received. It’s longer than what Addison Russell received after MLB investigated claims by his ex-wife, Melisa Reidy, that he had physically and emotionally abused her for years. It’s more than Aroldis Chapman and Jeurys Familia combined. That’s a good thing, I think. Maybe it’s because certain segments of the media and fans are getting better at holding leagues accountable for doling out sufficient punishment, and for demanding a system that’s designed to do so. Or maybe it’s because, as the league would like us to believe, Baer is a CEO who “should be held to a higher standard because as a leader he is expected to be a role model for others in his organization and community.” More likely, however, it’s because there is clear and identifiable video.

Regardless, it’s time to start asking questions that go beyond whether the suspension was long enough. Questions like: How should Baer and the Giants and the league apologize for his actions without sounding dismissive of them? And how should fans factor into their relationship with the team that they know something they cannot unknow about San Francisco’s president and CEO. Namely that he appears to be not a very good guy?

This is not an attempt to grapple with the specifics of how leagues can better conduct domestic violence investigations, or work to actually assist in the rehabilitation of convicted parties. Nor is it an attempt to parse the degree to which a sports league should serve as a law enforcement body at all. Those are crucial issues that should be considered by experts outside of the game.

But rather, I’m personally grappling with how and whether fans can or should allow even a quantitatively sufficient suspension to assuage their discomfort around an unsavory individual.

The San Francisco district attorney declined to press charges against Baer because the altercation, while upsetting, was determined to not rise to the level of criminal violence. Which leaves MLB in the position of issuing a suspension that will carry the brunt of how such extreme public unkindness should be punished — for the sake of seeming fair, and tough on anything approaching domestic violence, and for convincing fans to not jump ship.

I don’t say that cynically; they have to do something. But if these things become too rote — even if the ultimate punishment feels commensurate — can the apology ever feel sincere?

All of the statements released today felt devoid of any direct relationship with what happened between Larry and Pam, whose name failed to appear even once. “I made a serious mistake that I sincerely regret and I am truly sorry for my actions,” Baer said in his personal statement, later calling his behavior “unacceptable.”

Maybe this is voyeuristic, but I want to know: What does Baer think that mistake was? How and when was he persuaded to see it that way after initially telling the San Francisco Chronicle that, “My wife and I had an unfortunate public argument related to a family member and she had an injured foot and she fell off her chair in the course of the argument. The matter is resolved. It was a squabble over a cellphone”? Generalizing the altercation as an uncharacteristic outburst in the heat of the moment fails to acknowledge what was so chilling about the video, which is the lack of kindness and concern Baer displayed toward his spouse.

I understand that you can never know the degree to which another person is truly contrite or even empathetic. And a system in which we don’t even consider the moral compass of a figure in the public sphere until a video of them appears on TMZ is an inherently flawed one.

But it would help me — to sleep at night, to enjoy Giants games, to continue to have faith in the human capacity for growth — to know if Larry Baer understands that his callousness toward his wife as she called out for help was deeply disturbing, regardless of how she ended up on the ground.

I’m asking questions that I don’t know how to answer. And besides, sports fandom is a luxury I can opt out of at any point if rooting for flawed humans becomes too unpalatable. I know that. But I’d rather stay and ask the questions that can’t be answered — not even by making policies more stringent or punishments more extreme — because maybe asking them is the start of something better.

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