Hall of Fame candidate Omar Vizquel accused of domestic assault
Plus, more thoughts on Scott Boras and the impending name change for Cleveland's baseball team.
Katie Strang and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic report that longtime Indians shortstop Omar Vizquel has been accused of domestic abuse by his wife Blanca. Though the alleged violence has not been covered by U.S. media until now, Major League Baseball has been investigating the situation. The Athletic’s report also notes that Omar was fired as manager of the Birmingham Barons, the Double-A affiliate of the White Sox, in 2019 for an unspecified incident with a male team employee.
Omar did not have much to say about the allegations. His lawyer said his client “flatly denies any allegations of domestic violence.”
More curiously, Strang and Rosenthal add that one of Omar’s representatives sent an 11-page PDF document to The Athletic pushing back against “the smear campaign against Omar Vizquel.” Included in that document is the line, “Vizquel was accused of fourth-degree assault, the least serious level.”
(Content warning: details of domestic violence)
In that incident, for which Omar was booked for fourth-degree assault, Omar allegedly barged through the bedroom door, which Blanca tried to obstruct, and pushed Blanca to the ground. She injured her shin on the corner of the bed and broke nails attempting to catch her fall. Blanca later wrote the prosecutor asking for the charges to be dropped, but told The Athletic that Omar pressured her to do that.
It is fairly common for DV victims to attempt to protect their abuser. The victim may fear retribution. They may rely on the abuser for their livelihood. In fact, in Blanca’s case, Omar allegedly threatened her with “financial ruin” and to kick her out of their house. That Blanca tried to get the charges dropped against Omar does not discredit her story.
Blanca’s sister Nelly Metler detailed a separate incident in which he saw Omar strangling Blanca in the bedroom of a family member’s house in Alabama back in December 2011. While the police got involved, Blanca filed a joint motion with Omar to dismiss charges related to the incident. Metler also detailed how Omar was routinely condescending to her and was not faithful to Blanca. A former neighbor of the couple said that Blanca was instructed not to speak to him, another common tactic employed by abusers.
Sadly, abuse victims face an uphill battle when they decide to seek justice against their abusers. Not only are the institutions designed to protect abusers, especially famous and wealthy ones like Omar, but even the general public tends to distrust victims when they speak out. Blanca said she received Omar’s fans were hostile towards her, suggesting on her Instagram page that she commit suicide. Blanca said, “I got so much hate from his fans (who thought) I was destroying him and his career.”
While it is not at all important in the grand scheme of things, these allegations against Vizquel will be mentioned alongside his current candidacy for the Hall of Fame. According to Ryan Thibodaux, part of the team that tracks Hall of Fame ballots, Vizquel has received votes on 22 of 37 public ballots, representing roughly 10% of the total ballots. Vizquel, in his fourth year of candidacy, received 52.6% of the vote last year, 42.8% in 2019, and 37% in 2018.
The Hall of Fame ballot is anything but a list of pristine human beings. Barry Bonds has been accused of domestic violence, as has Andruw Jones. Roger Clemens has been accused of statutory rape. Curt Schilling is a virulent bigot who peddles conspiracy theories and has supported the idea of murdering journalists. Respectively, they currently have been selected on 68.3%, 31.7%, 68.3%, and 70.7% of ballots. The “character clause” is often cited. The Baseball Writers Association of America voting guidelines mention “integrity, sportsmanship, and character.” Character is a necessarily vague term, but certainly would encompass being an abuser. It is disappointing that, given their vast platforms, BBWAA writers use it to actively or passively support abusers, supporting their entry into the Hall of Fame.
Some voters have justified voting for the likes of Clemens and Schilling – just as they will for Vizquel – by saying they’re only focusing on things the players did on the field. I understand the impulse but it’s divorced from reality. One cannot separate sports from other aspects of society like politics and interpersonal relationships. A vote for Schilling is a vote against Muslims and against transgender people. A vote for Clemens is a vote against statutory rape victims. A vote for Bonds or Jones – or, now, Vizquel – is a vote against DV victims.
BBWAA voters who have not yet turned in their ballots will have to contend with another controversial case. They will, once again, have the opportunity to side with victims, denying an abuser baseball’s greatest honor. Will they use their platform for good or will they, once again, shirk responsibility?
On Scott Boras
In last week’s newsletter, I talked about how agent Scott Boras said he didn’t buy MLB owners crying poor following the pandemic-shortened season. Every year, the Winter Meetings are held around this time. Many of the industry’s most powerful and well-known people – front office executives, agents, journalists – descend on a location (San Diego last year). A lot of trades are made here, or the wheels for trades are at least set in motion, as are free agent signings. Journalists get plenty of scoops here as well.
One of the biggest traditions of the Winter Meetings is Boras making himself available to the press. He always makes some grandiose and far-fetched analogy before talking shop. For instance, last year, when he spoke about the free agent market, Boras said, “There are sparrows who have a desire to get something big but can’t carry the weight of it. There are some owls, who are wise. You certainly have a lot of hawks this year. Probably the biggest concern is you don’t want to be an ostrich and lay the biggest egg. The Mets right now are birds of a different feather.”
Given the pandemic, the 2020 Winter Meetings were cancelled, moved to online Zoom calls. Boras still made himself available to the press and still kept his tradition alive with odd analogies:
David Lennon @DPLennonScott Boras on #Mets: “In the area of catching, they didn’t let anybody else eat their lunch. They went out and got a Big Mac.”
I have a quirky sense of humor so I’ve always found Boras’ analogies charming. Not everyone is a fan, however. While I don’t want to call anybody out specifically, I will mention that I saw, generally, a fair amount of displeasure over the fact that Boras is more or less guaranteed this platform every offseason. Boras has used it to drum up interest in his clients and more broadly to suggest that the owners were conspiring against the players in free agency.
Why shouldn’t he? We hear from agents so much less frequently than from owners. Phillies owner John Middleton has been one of the most quoted people in baseball over the last few years. New Mets owner Steve Cohen seems virtually guaranteed to have a headline of his choosing whenever he decides to open his mouth. How many times have we heard from Hal Steinbrenner over the years? Unless writers seek them out, agents have to work hard to generate headlines, whether or not it’s for their clients or for the broader fight of players vs. owners. (Can you even name an agent besides Boras? Brodie Van Wagenen doesn’t count anymore.) Why shouldn’t Boras have this platform and why shouldn’t he utilize it? It will, at minimum, tilt the balance of power slightly back towards even.
Don’t take this as blind support for agents, by the way. We’re coming for the players’ and the agents’ wealth, too; it’s just that they have astronomically less of it than MLB team owners, so they’re far down on the list of priorities.
Indians Name Change Set for 2022, Not 2021
In Monday’s newsletter, I talked about a report that indicated the Indians would be changing their name ahead of the 2021 season. That wasn’t quite the case. While the club will be changing its name, the change will occur after the 2021 season, not before, per MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince. The Indians put out a statement on the matter:
Additionally, per Bill Shaikin of The Los Angeles Times, the Indians said, “We will continue to sell selected merchandise featuring our historic names and logos, including Chief Wahoo, as a way to acknowledge our history.” In other words, they’re going to milk one more year out of their outdated name and iconography before making the transition.
As mentioned on Monday, this is something that has been several years in the making. Calls for the Indians to drop the name and logo have been made for decades but reached a fever pitch in recent years, thus the team began looking into a possible name change. This did not take the franchise by surprise.
A branding change is not easy. It is, in fact, costly. For instance, last year, The Washington Post estimated it cost the Washington Football Team around $10 million to make the transition. The Indians are positioned as one of baseball’s poorer teams, but owner Paul Dolan is personally valued well north of half a billion dollars. His family has an estimated net worth of $5.5 billion, per Forbes. This expense is a rounding error for Dolan.
The delay in the name change is strictly about money. They know that, after the news went viral, a subsection of vocal “anti-PC” fans would snap up merchandise with the offending name and logo in protest. There’s plenty of money to be made off of the controversy and the longer they drag it out, the more they can profit from it. The Cleveland baseball team will then profit again when it finally does make the transition, selling tickets, hats, shirts, and jerseys with the new branding. If you’re a wealthy businessman with no moral scruples, why wouldn’t you double dip?