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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Jeurys Familia’s suspension shows gray area in MLB’s domestic violence policy

Jeurys Familia #27 of the New York Mets

Jeurys Familia #27 of the New York Mets looks on during workout day at Citi Field on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016. Credit: Jim McIsaac

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — So it’s 15 games for Jeurys Familia. Or if you’d rather look at the dollar amount, roughly $700K. That’s what commissioner Rob Manfred ultimately decided was the price to be paid — negotiated with the Players’ Association, we might add — for what Familia described Wednesday as “unacceptable” behavior involving his wife that Halloween night at their New Jersey home.

Naturally, everyone now will compare Familia’s suspension to Aroldis Chapman’s 30, the 52 that Jose Reyes got and Hector Olivera’s 82-game ban. Is what Familia did only half as bad as Chapman, who fired off a gun multiple times in a fit a rage as his girlfriend cowered in the bushes? Or much less horrible than Reyes and Olivera, both of whom were arrested after brutal physical evidence of domestic violence?

Excuse the crude analogy here, but this isn’t baseball. You can’t crunch numbers and put a value on this. Trying to even apply precedents gets dicey because these cases don’t follow regular disciplinary procedures. Test positive for a performance-enhancing drug and MLB’s rules are easily laid out in black-and-white.

But what if a player is arrested, as Familia and Reyes were, and the charges don’t stick because a wife or girlfriend asks for them to be dropped or chooses not to cooperate with prosecutors? Unfortunately, that’s an all-too-common occurrence with domestic violence, for a variety of complicated reasons. And it shouldn’t be blindly mistaken for innocence, either.

The best that Manfred can hope for when these ugly situations come across his Park Ave. desk is twofold: prevention of further incidents and increased awareness. Manfred is basically the CEO of Baseball Inc., not a policeman or judge. Doling out justice is beyond his reach. Even his jurisdiction between the white lines is limited, thanks to MLB’s checks-and-balances relationship with the Players Association, an extremely powerful labor union.

So if we must explain why Familia wound up with 15 games and Chapman got 30, here’s about as close as one you’re going to get. Familia’s case didn’t involve a gun — Chapman’s was a terrifying red flag for the MLB — and Manfred was confident, after Familia was evaluated by domestic-violence specialists, that his behavior that night was an outlier.

“The evidence reviewed by my office does not support a determination that Mr. Familia physically assaulted his wife, or threatened her or others with physical force or harm, on October 31, 2016,” Manfred stated Wednesday in a statement. “Nevertheless, I have concluded that Mr. Familia’s overall conduct that night was inappropriate, violated the Policy, and warrants discipline.”

MLB’s policy still is relatively new. Manfred fast-tracked it back in August of 2015, with the union’s help, no doubt motivated by the NFL’s own string of gruesome incidents that became public spectacles. Are both leagues trying to curtail domestic violence? Let’s just say they’re getting better at it. The effort appears sincere. But like society at large, a 100 percent success rate does not yet seem attainable in the near future.

Part of the problem is having families caught in the crossfire, and the victim’s relationship with the perpetrator. Those personal ties, and their tangled connections, can be impossible to separate, either in a courtroom or by a commissioner. Aside from the presence of a video, such as the notorious Ray Rice case, sorting out what happened often is tough to do. Manfred felt that both Familia and his wife were compelling witnesses. Is that enough? In the absence of a criminal trial, Manfred had to use his own judgment, and you can decide yourself after listening to Familia.

“It is important that it be known that I never physically touched, harmed or threatened my wife that evening,” Familia said Wednesday in a statement. “I did, however, act in an unacceptable manner and am terribly disappointed in myself.”

Manfred apparently believed him. And based on Familia’s enthusiastic, remorseful dive into the policy’s counseling program, the commissioner has faith that maybe this can be a success story going forward. Kicking Familia, Reyes or Chapman out of baseball is no solution if the true goal is eliminating domestic violence.

If you’re the Mets, or among the Flushing faithful, the 15-game suspension had to be considered good news in a conflict that doesn’t have any winners. Just degrees of losing, and a number alone, whatever it might be, is never going to change that.

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