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Gallardo OWI case illustrates need for MLB reform

Caught driving while nearly three times over the legal limit, the harshest penalty Gallardo is likely to face is a few hundred dollars in fines


Yovani Gallardo got the starting nod on the mound today and tossed a great game. That would be an ordinary enough event, but for the fact that Gallardo was arrested at 2 a.m. on Tuesday for suspicion of operating while intoxicated. Gallardo's blood alcohol content was nearly three times the legal limit of .08, well into "pretty drunk" territory. It was unquestionably a stupid thing to do, particularly for an athlete that has a stacked bank account from which to draw cab fare. Even for those players who aren't drawing seven-figure checks, teams are not oblivious to the pitfalls of the ballplayer lifestyle; a free ride home is just a phone call or two away.

Despite the obvious and potentially dire consequences of his conduct, Gallardo will not face any suspension from Major League Baseball. In 2012, MLB established an alcohol abuse policy, but it has absolutely no teeth. Because of the arrest, Gallardo will be referred to a treatment board, which will conduct an initial evaluation to determine whether he can benefit from a treatment program. However, participation in the program is entirely voluntary. After the initial evaluation, Gallardo can go on his merry way if he so chooses (interestingly enough, Gallardo's response might give us some insight about how seriously he treats his misconduct). The team might conceivably fine him a de minimis amount for a curfew violation, but that's a pretty weak disincentive.

MLB needs a stronger disciplinary policy for OWI violations, which seem to be occurring with more frequency. But earlier this week, I told a few people that Gallardo should not be the standard-bearer for this movement. That is because Gallardo, even if convicted, did not commit a crime. To my knowledge, Wisconsin is the only state in which first-offense drunk driving is a civil offense punishable by a mere forfeiture. Basically, Gallardo received the functional equivalent of a parking ticket (though, because of his heavily intoxicated state, he may also be required to have an ignition interlock device). He will not face any jail time.

As I've given the case more thought, I've changed my mind about not making Gallardo the focus of a campaign to change MLB's alcohol abuse policy. It is precisely because Wisconsin stands alone in not criminalizing first-offense drunk driving that MLB must take action. By using the collective bargaining process to deal with these matters, baseball can take a consistent approach to disciplining clearly dangerous conduct that does not depend on the nuances of state law.

It's a little disconcerting to know that Gallardo will face only a light fine for conduct that would have been a jailable offense had it taken place in literally any other state (say, after a road game). The fact that it happened in Wisconsin is purely a fortuitous circumstance for Gallardo. By adapting a common-sense policy levying suspensions and substantial fines, MLB would not only show its serious about curbing drunk driving among players; perhaps more importantly, the league will be ensuring the same rules apply to everyone.