Major League Baseball has a major problem on its hands that requires immediate action. This issue revolves not around performance-enhancing drugs, gambling or hacking, but a substance which has become a staple in professional sports: alcohol.
On Sunday, January 22, pitcher Yordano Ventura and infielder Andy Marte died in two separate car accidents in their home country of the Dominican Republic.
According to ESPN, both Ventura and Marte were both driving under the influence.
The deaths of Ventura and Marte are not isolated incidents. On the contrary, they are unfortunately beginning to become the norm.
Four major-leaguers, including Ventura and Marte, have died as a direct result of drunk driving in the past three seasons.
In the midst of last season, José Fernández and two friends died in a boating accident near Miami Beach. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission confirmed that Fernández was not operating the ship. The actual driver was never confirmed, but both of Fernández’s friends had alcohol in their systems at the time of the deaths.
Dating back to 2014, Oscar Taveras and his girlfriend Edilia Arvelo perished in a car accident of a similar nature to Ventura and Marte in the Dominican Republic. A toxicology report stated that Taveras’s blood alcohol content level at the time was 0.287, more than five times the legal BAC of the Dominican Republic.
Ventura established a relationship with Taveras in the Texas League. When Ventura’s Northwest Arkansas Naturals visited Taveras’s Springfield Cardinals, Ventura would stay at Taveras’s apartment, where the two would discuss their futures as ballplayers.
After Taveras’s death, days after the San Francisco Giants eliminated the St. Louis Cardinals from postseason contention, Ventura honored him in Game 6 of the 2014 World Series by marking his cap, cleats and glove with Taveras’s initials and number.
With “El Fenómeno” figuratively by his side, “Ace” blanked the Giants over seven innings while only allowing three hits, the second rookie in World Series history to accomplish that feat.
Fast forward two seasons to September 30, 2016, when Ventura inked both Taveras and Fernández’s initials and numbers onto his cap, with Taveras on the left and Fernández on the right.
Many knew that start would be the final one of Ventura’s season. No one knew it would be the last one of his life.
Ventura, Marte, Fernández and Taveras were all under the age of 35.
In addition to the men named above, former ballplayers Jose Olivia, Rufino Linares and Jose Uribe have died as a direct result of automobile accidents in the Dominican Republic.
The deaths of Ventura and Marte are representative of an alarming trend in the country.
According to a 2015 study by the World Health Organization, the Dominican Republic is the most dangerous place to drive in the Western Hemisphere and the 15th in the entire world.
Part of the reason as to why the Dominican Republic holds that title is because of police negligence. On a 1 to 10 scale — with a 1 being loose enforcement and a 10 being strict enforcement — the World Health Organization rated the Dominican Republic a 2 and a 3 regarding its enforcement in the event of a violation of drunk driving and speeding laws, respectively.
Bad roads and reckless driving also play into the plethora of accidents which occur, but the problem is rooted in the culture and the preferential treatment of men who make their living with a pearly-white ball decorated with red stitches.
For Ventura, the fatal accident was not his first time operating a vehicle with alcohol in his system.
On October 21, 2016, Matthew Marotta, an advisor to Baseball Operations at Guerrero Academy, tweeted that he witnessed multiple players and prospects drinking and driving. After Ventura’s accident, he noted that Ventura was one of those players.
With a problem expanding beyond its reach, what course of action can Major League Baseball take to prevent more tragedies of this variety from occurring?
If Major League Baseball legitimately wanted to do its part in eliminating the possibility of driving under the influence, it would stop glorifying the consumption of alcohol.
Alcohol is everywhere. Similar to hot dogs, cracker jacks and cotton candy, alcohol — namely beer — is a staple of the ballpark diet, one which generates millions of dollars for the predominantly 21-and-over crowd every season.
The naming rights of three ballparks, Busch Stadium, Miller Park and Coors Field, are owned by respective beer companies. Furthermore, the name of the Milwaukee Brewers, who play in Miller Park, is an ode to Milwaukee’s various breweries.
Teams celebrate postseason achievements by dousing one another with some form of alcohol, a tradition which has been in place since 1955, when Duke Snider and Don Newcombe invented the tradition.
For all these reasons, plus the fact that baseball fans who enjoy the beverage would not take kindly to the removal of the iconic beverage, Major League Baseball cannot ban alcohol from its stadiums, plain and simple.
Forcing the players to remain in the United States is not a viable option either. Individual players help generate billions of dollars for the institution as a whole, and MLB has no right to confine its players to American soil regardless of the circumstances of player’s home country.
Given the circumstances, the only realistic course of action is for teams to teach ballplayers about the dangers of driving under the influence and monitor the alcohol consumption habits of their various players.
A seminar or two teaching the risks that come with driving under the influence would be of help to ballplayers who grew up outside of the United States, especially those who are experiencing wealth and fame for the first times in their lives.
Many athletes, such as Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, have struggled with alcoholism and will likely continue to battle with these demons.
If the MLB cannot prevent its players from consuming alcohol, it must take initiative and ensure its players have an overabundance of available resources.
Having to teach grown men about the dangers of drunk driving sounds like an odd course of action, but considering the recent tragedies, Major League Baseball has every right to take the necessary measures to keep its players safe.
Contact Justice delos Santos at [email protected]