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In the Eyes of the League: The Disparity Between Betting and Domestic Violence Penalties in the MLB

Taken from the third annual Women’s March upon the Iowa State Capitol back in 2019. A protester holds a quote from Terry Crews, former NFL linebacker. (Phil Roeder / Flickr)

In 2023, Major League players (on public record) served a combined suspension of over 1,100 games for domestic violence, equating to  roughly seven years worth of regular-season baseball. These suspensions stem from 2015 when a new MLB policy was created to punish players for domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse. 

However, a recent MLB case has resulted in a longer suspension than all the domestic violence cases combined. San Diego Padres infielder Tucupita Marcano received a lifetime ban from the Major Leagues, not for violence or abuse, but for betting on baseball games.

Major League suspensions for betting span across decades, starting with the notorious “Black Sox” scandal. In 1919, eight players on the Chicago White Sox were accused of throwing the World Series. According to the story,  in exchange for a large sum of money from a betting syndicate, the players would purposefully lose—earning them the name “Black Sox.” Although no players were found guilty at trial, Major League Baseball issued lifetime suspensions to those involved. 

As a result, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the first commissioner of the league, created Rule 21. Rule 21 prevents any player, umpire, or coach in the league from betting on baseball. Since its inception, these prohibitions have been prominently displayed  in every clubhouse for players to see. It reads:

  1. Any player, umpire, or Club or League official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has no duty to perform, shall be declared ineligible for one year. 

  2. Any player, umpire, or Club or League official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform, shall be declared permanently ineligible.

On June 4, this rule was exercised in one of the largest betting allegations in decades. After the MLB received a tip from a legal sports betting operator, five players were accused of betting on baseball games. Marcano received the most severe punishment, as he was accused of betting on his own club.  “[Almost] all of Marcano's Pirates bets were on which club  would win the game or whether there would be more or less than a certain number of runs scored in the game," MLB said in a press release.

San Diego Padres infielder Tucupita Marcano who received the lifetime ban. (George Kubas/Diamond Images)

Though the four other accused players received one-year suspensions (for not betting on their clubs), Marcano received a lifetime ban. 

On Marcano’s behalf, the Pirates issued the following statement:  “While the thorough investigation revealed no evidence of any games being compromised, influenced, or manipulated in any way in this case, protecting the integrity of our game is paramount."

To also “protect the integrity” of baseball, the MLB created a thirteen page document detailing their Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy and Program. The policy details definitions of assault and violence, investigation processes, discipline, and resources for affected families. However, the document’s intention appears tailored to rehabbing players so that they may continue playing baseball—not to severely punish abusers and set a precedent for other players. 

Until they are convicted, players are moved to the Restricted List (RL) with paid leave; Section II.B calls this “paid suspension.” When found guilty, players are then suspended without pay. Suspension durations range from 10-20 games, 21-30 games, and 31-50 games. However, despite the public suspensions, players are still allowed to be involved in baseball activities.Section III.D explains, “the Player may participate in non-public practices or workouts, or at the Club’s spring training facility, where all Basic Agreement provisions regarding rehabilitation work will apply.” Additionally, players may resume play in the Minor Leagues for an allotted amount of games depending on their  suspension length. 

Moreover, players who are convicted have the option to forfeit their pay from time served on the RL during investigation. Should they do so, players can subtract the games they already missed during that time toward their suspension total, as specified in Section III.C. These rules suggest that the  league’s statutes are designed to facilitate players’ return to the game as soon as possible, rather than focusing on serious reprimand. 

Comparing the MLB’s attitude toward betting with its domestic violence procedures reveals a disparity in the severity of punishments. Although Marcano was wrong to bet on his club, investigators found that he only won 4.3% of the time and had no effect on the outcomes of the games. Not to mention, Marcano wasn’t even playing; he was on the IL for a torn ACL. This contrast highlights how the MLB prioritizes the integrity of the game over addressing domestic violence with equally stern measures.

Marcano will never play in the Majors again, but players convicted of assault will return to the field after serving their suspensions. This disparity sends a troubling  message to players and viewers: Marcano would have been better off beating his loved ones than betting on baseball. 


Edited by Hadlea Lindstrom

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