The raised voices, the audible gasps, the screams of disbelief that have followed Aroldis Chapman since the day he first put on pinstripes have not been born of outrage or disgust.
Just the opposite.
Chapman served a 30-game suspension for domestic-violence allegations earlier this season but was never arrested nor charged. And when the closer takes the mound at Yankee Stadium — as he did Friday night with a 5-3 lead and Saturday afternoon with a 2-1 lead — people no longer seem interested in the ugly incidents of the past.
The only thing fans are fixated on is the scoreboard, and particularly the radar gun. It crackled Friday night with triple-digits: 101 . . . 102 . . . 103 . . . 104. As the velocity increased, the crowd responded on cue: “Ohhh. (Glove pop, pause for the number.) Ahhh.”
Whatever initial shock the baseball public displayed at the Yankees’ trade for Chapman in January has almost completely dissolved to awe. The transformation from accused domestic abuser to bullpen marvel is just about complete. Not only that, but if the Yankees choose to trade Chapman in the next month, there will be no shortage of suitors. Some already have called.
Six months ago, Chapman was radioactive, with the Dodgers choosing to walk away from an agreed trade with the Reds when the domestic-violence allegations first surfaced. But after what Brian Cashman described as exhaustive research into the Oct. 30 incident involving Chapman and his girlfriend, the Yankees were comfortable acquiring him.
“I think we mentally prepared for turbulence,” Cashman said Friday. “But I think we took the approach of being very honest in how we communicated about it, and whatever was going to occur was going to occur.”
It’s worth revisiting the Yankees’ process, along with Chapman’s current rock-star status in the Bronx, in light of the Mets’ signing of Jose Reyes — the former Flushing boy wonder who himself recently completed a 52-game suspension for alleged domestic abuse — to a minor-league contract.
In doing so, however, there are some important distinctions to make, as detailed by the two police reports. Reyes was arrested last Halloween in Maui for alleged domestic abuse, and his wife, Katherine, was taken to a hospital to be treated for her injuries. Charges were dropped after Reyes’ wife refused to cooperate for the trial.
Chapman’s case never made it that far. According to the Davie, Florida, police, Chapman allegedly fired eight gunshots in the garage of his home after an argument with his girlfriend, who accused him of choking her and later was found hiding in the bushes outside the house. Chapman told police that he had “poked” her on the left shoulder during the verbal altercation. She said Chapman placed his hands around her neck but did not prevent her from breathing, and the officers at the scene noted “there were no injuries or even redness anywhere on her neck or chest.” The police did not make any arrests because of “several inconsistencies in the victim’s statements” and conflicting stories from witnesses.
A further investigation yielded no charges, but Major League Baseball, after its own independent examination of the details — including an interview with Chapman — decided to suspend him for 30 games, making Chapman the first player disciplined under the sport’s new Joint Domestic Violence policy. In explaining the verdict, commissioner Rob Manfred said Chapman’s “acknowledged conduct [was] inappropriate under the negotiated policy, particularly his use of a firearm and the impact of that behavior on his partner.”
Chapman, in consultation with the Players Association, declined his right to appeal Manfred’s ruling. But he did not necessarily agree with it, nor did he explicitly admit any wrongdoing.
“I want to be clear, I did not in any way harm my girlfriend that evening,” Chapman said in a statement then. “However, I should have exercised better judgment with respect to my actions, and for that I am sorry . . . I have learned from this matter, and I look forward to being part of the Yankees’ quest for a 28th World Series title.”
From the outset, the Yankees made no attempt to shield Chapman from the media, but the team did not stage anything specific for his arrival at spring training in Tampa. When the Yankees acquired Chapman on Dec. 28 for four minor-leaguers, none of them considered elite prospects, he still was under investigation by the Florida authorities and MLB, so Cashman handled the bulk of the questions, as limited as his answers were by the ongoing case.
Even so, Chapman usually was accessible at his Steinbrenner Field locker each day and did not duck reporters. Once the suspension was announced March 1, the Yankees decided against a news conference, other than having Chapman at his locker. There was no push for any televised mea culpa or any additional efforts by the Yankees regarding domestic-violence awareness.
As for public blowback from the Chapman trade, perhaps the most notable burst came from New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who told reporters in December that the deal was “very disturbing” and threatened to boycott Yankees games.
“I think it was really wrong for the Yankees to have signed this guy on,” Mark-Viverito said then. “We all want the Yankees to do well, but at the expense of what? We have unfortunately very high statistics of domestic violence in the Bronx. In the city we’ve seen a rise, and so it’s something that we need to take a stand on.”
Otherwise, a Yankees spokesman said the team did not see a spike in complaints stemming directly from the Chapman trade. As of Friday, the Yankees ranked fifth overall, and first in the American League, with an average home attendance of 38,252.
For Chapman, there really hasn’t been any of the “turbulence” Cashman initially braced for. When Chapman returned from the suspension to make his Yankees debut on May 9, he received a warm welcome in the Bronx. A large majority of the fans cheered. Many were standing.
Since that night, Chapman seemingly has been a model citizen — and, for the Yankees’ purposes, an outstanding closer. Chapman is 15-for-16 in save chances, with a 2.70 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 20 innings.
“I think it’s [gone] well,” Joe Girardi said. “I think he’s come in and done his job. I think he’s come in and fit in the clubhouse. Goes about his work the right way, works extremely hard. Doesn’t ask for any special treatment. Gets along with all the guys. He wants the ball, he’s durable, so he’s done what we’ve asked.”
Girardi expressed conflicting emotions in February when he was asked about Chapman’s presence on his roster. The overriding factor in his mind, however, seemed to be the team concept, with the manager and the players “having a responsibility to each other, to help each other.” Girardi added at the time, “My thought is to make people better people. And try to help them through the situations that they’ve gone through. Because no one is perfect.”
As second chances go, Chapman couldn’t have done much better if he had penned the script himself. The length of the 30-game suspension (he actually missed only 29 games because of a rainout), by sparing enough of his service time, preserved his pending free agency at the end of this season.
And the image makeover? The Yankees had no qualms about putting him on a T-shirt as part of the “NO RUNS DMC” nickname the team has publicized. Chapman could even wind up representing the Yankees at next month’s All-Star Game in San Diego. That’s quite a rebound.
“I never lost faith in my abilities,” Chapman said Friday through an interpreter after electrifying the Bronx crowd. “Although I was out for 30 days, I kept working hard and stayed focused on my job.”
So what are we to make of Chapman? Cashman referred to him as an “asset in distress” that the Yankees bought low on — a calculated risk that has paid off three months into the season. The fans, from our vantage point, also sound more than OK with him.
But some will see a monster, unwilling to look past the domestic-abuse allegations in that police report. The scared girlfriend cowering in the shrubs. The nerve-rattling image of Chapman allegedly firing a handgun into a garage wall, though he inflicted no physical punishment.
Where is the line? And when, or how, does a team or its fan base decide to cross it?
“We’re happy to have him,” Cashman said. “He’s been a very productive member of our team. He’s acclimated extremely well in the clubhouse. He handled the circumstances as well as you could ask somebody. He went through the process, dealt with Major League Baseball, accepted the punishment and has moved forward from it.”