This is not just another distraction, just another event in a Dodger season that constantly generates news.
Raul Mondesi's arrest on charges of driving under the influence of alcohol early Saturday morning raises concerns that go beyond whether the Dodgers can focus on playing while something else threatens to take their attention from the games, or whether the talented outfielder has what it takes to fill the leadership void on this team.
The problem is, the folks in the Dodger clubhouse acted as though there wasn't a problem at all. So much has gone on this year that the Dodgers have become numb. As long as their name isn't being mentioned in a trade rumor, the players don't care.
"To me, it's no big deal," Roger Cedeno said of Mondesi's arrest. "It can happen to anyone."
Yes, it can happen to anyone. That doesn't mean it isn't a big deal. If you like to go out drinking, chances are you've sat behind the wheel at least once when you shouldn't have and driven home. But for most of us it doesn't take the flashing red lights of a police car to make us wake up the next morning in a cold sweat, thinking about what could have happened the night before, then vow to never do it again.
"There's a lesson to be learned," said Jeffrey Moorad, Mondesi's agent. "Even given the accusatory stage that we're in."
With a court appearance forthcoming, Moorad and Mondesi are in the precarious position of trying to express remorse without acknowledging guilt. The Dodgers issued a statement from (but clearly not by) Mondesi in which he wanted to make clear that ". . . . I take my responsibility as a role model very seriously. Therefore, I am understandably concerned about the seriousness of the allegations."
And at this point--before any verdict has come out of a courtroom--they are only allegations. There are issues about the situation and the implications, though.
I have much less of a problem with Dennis Rodman going to an out-of-town wrestling show during an off day in NBA finals than I do with Mondesi being out at 2 the morning of a day game. Especially if Mondesi had been drinking, although his blood alcohol level was only slightly above the legal limit, police said. But even those late night excursions are pretty much standard fare for athletes these days. If Mondesi wants to live that lifestyle, then he should spend some of that new $36-million contract on a limo.
The problem with baseball is drinking has become a part of the sport's lore. Babe Ruth's legendary boozing habits are mocked in an iced tea commercial. In a recent television interview, George Steinbrenner fondly recalled a time when he had to haul a still-drunk Billy Martin into the the showers to get him ready for a game. Then Martin went out and did a great job of managing, Steinbrenner marveled. That's the way baseball views drinking. Anecdotes, not incidents.
Players in all sports view arrests as someone else's problem, not theirs. When Washington Wizards forward Juwan Howard was arrested for driving while intoxicated in Washington a couple of years ago, teammate Rod Strickland said he didn't think it was such a big deal. Then Strickland was arrested on DWI charges the next summer. Then Chris Webber was arrested in January for driving while on his way to practice.
So now we'll wait for the next thing to happen with the Dodgers, who have put themselves in the position that we have to assume the worst.
After the Dodgers held Mondesi out of Saturday's game, Manager Bill Russell left out Gary Sheffield's name when filling out the lineup card Sunday and was asked why.
"Bad back," Russell said, which would have been a natural assumption in simpler times. On this day, given the other possibilities, it came as comforting news.
Life went on at Dodger Stadium. The calls from the fans still sounded more like "Rauuuuuul" than "booooooo" when he was introduced for his first at-bat.
Mondesi showed he still understands most of his obligations. He walked over and autographed some team baseballs that were sitting on a table near his locker before the game. He hustled to catch a ball hit to shallow left field by Colorado's Larry Walker in the fifth inning. Now he must demonstrate his ability to fulfill his duties after the game has ended, and the other Dodgers have to recognize why that's so important.