Roberto Osuna‘s return to Toronto will spark many emotions, but there should be only one response from Blue Jays fans.
This day was coming, everyone knew that. The second Roberto Osuna was excommunicated from Toronto, everyone had the series circled at the end of the year. September 25, Houston comes to town.
So now that he’s here, how should Toronto treat him on his return?
It shouldn’t come down to such a glib question in the context of exactly what this man stands accused of doing. Something that hit this team harder than past self-generated controversies. This was no Yunel Escobar writing a slur on his eye black. This was no Kevin Pillar shouting a slur in the midst of a game. Those were easily condemned and a clear punishment to be made. Osuna, the precocious boy wonder of the playoff runs, was not so cut and dry at first.
When the 23-year-old was arrested on May 9 and charged with domestic assault, the innocence was gone. Blue Jays fans wanted to believe that it wasn’t what it was made out to be. There was still enough wiggle room for fans to express doubt. Innocent until proven guilty, they said. Don’t know what happened that day. Fact was, enough happened for Osuna to be hauled down to jail and for peace bonds to be sought. Even outside of the #MeToo era, a pro athlete sitting on a tiny metal bed says a lot about a situation, and it’s not good.
Yet for all that was done in the wake of the arrest: MLB placing Osuna on administrative leave, the eventual 80-game suspension, it still didn’t seem like it was enough.
MLB hoped that the 80-game suspension would show that it was serious about tackling a problem that has been baked into the culture of the game. It hasn’t. Four of the five AL playoff teams are now employing men (Aroldis Chapman, Steven Wright, Jeurys Familia, Osuna) who have been suspended for domestic abuse, and the only one that doesn’t, Cleveland, has its own aesthetic problems. When Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star initially reported on Osuna’s arrest, he listed cases dating back to 1999, cases that are known of MLB players punching their pregnant wives (Pedro Astacio) or slamming their partner’s head off a car hood (Julio Lugo). Neither of them missed more than a week, and in Astacio’s case, missed no time at all.
If MLB was hoping that domestic violence would have faded by the time Osuna’s return brought it up, Addison Russell made sure it wouldn’t. The powerful post written by his ex-wife, Melisa Reidy, details the systematic abuse that a player of mediocre talent like Russell was able to get away with for years. Some of the things the Cubs knew about. Enough to tell Russell to cut down on the adultery around playoff time. Suddenly the cute and cuddly Cubs’ acquisition of Chapman in 2016 didn’t seem like an anomaly. It seemed like it was par for the course. Between Russell and Daniel Murphy, there are a lot of questions to be answered in Chicago this year.
Questions the Astros had to answer when they acquired Osuna just before the trade deadline. Ones about whether winning a World Series is worth the cost of a team’s integrity. The Yankees answered that when they gave Chapman an $80M contract, but Houston made its own commitment and trotted out Justin Verlander to answer to the doubt about Osuna’s actions and what his addition would do to the clubhouse. For someone who had vehemently praised the expulsion of Danry Vasquez from the organization, it was tough to watch Verlander explain how Osuna was different.
The Blue Jays aren’t blameless either. They made it possible for the closer to be traded. It’s easy to say that Osuna would never play for Toronto again after he is already out the door, but the Jays held onto him for almost the entirety of his suspension. Ross Atkins said he would still be the closer while he was a part of the franchise. Clearly it was a ploy to keep Osuna’s value up in the eyes of other general managers, but it still felt dirty watching him act like it didn’t matter what the closer had done. Plus, instead of getting nothing for doing the right thing and dismissing him immediately, Atkins got three pitchers, one of whom (Ken Giles) is a vast improvement so far on what Osuna was for the team.
The dilemma that many fans have to grapple with when faced with this situation is where the separation between athlete and club lies. It can be very tough to turn against another player when they are on your team. Yankees fans made up their minds. They only booed Chapman when he missed the plate. Josh Hader made his first appearance following his terrible tweets at home, and Milwaukee fans gave him an ovation.
However, the Blue Jays are going to be the first fans to see him again on the other side. Roberto Osuna is not on the team anymore. So what do the Rogers Centre faithful do? Are they going to cheer the man who closed the 2015-16 seasons in the playoffs? Or are they going to boo the man whose vile behaviour rightfully got him drummed out of town? I know what I would do if I had my Jays Blue seat at the dome.
See, I am fortunate that I have not been in a relationship where my partner has abused me, but I know people who have been in that situation. I have talked to them about what happens when someone they cared about betrays them so badly. It is not an 80-game suspension of healing or trust. It is an act that ruins a victim’s life. Victims can not open up to anyone else for fear of being hurt again. Victims flinch every time something happens that reminds them of the actions that came before the pain. Victims are left to pick up the pieces for years after the abuse. They don’t just trot back out on the field and gaze towards any kind of championship glory.
So I know what I would do if I had my seat tonight. I would express my disgust at his actions, at his lack of a proper punishment, and at the absolute lack of contrition he has shown for the incident. I would let him, and MLB, know that he has not atoned for what he did to his partner. Not even close. I would loudly let him know how much he has hurt others, at least as much as can be allowed.
I would boo. I hope the Blue Jays fans in attendance tonight will too.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of Freaktography via a Creative Commons 2.0 license
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Andrews has been immersed in sports from a young age, since they could read Jr. Jays comics that filtered into the backwoods of Northern Nova Scotia. The Canadian has been blogging about sports since high school, writing on FOX Sports.com’s blogs as well on the Tailpipe Sports blog. The 20-something has been with Jays From the Couch since its humble beginnings, and continues to contribute while forging a career in the sports journalism industry. Andrews brings a discerning eye, a smoking keyboard, and a brain that made Jeopardy! briefly rethink letting Canadians onto their program.