With Julio Urias returning to the Dodgers, the team’s fans had to ask themselves a particularly uncomfortable question Tuesday.
Could they in good conscience continue cheering for Urias?
The answer is as unsettling as the question.
We don’t know.
We don’t know because of the uncertainty that remains over what happened in that Beverly Center parking lot on the night of May 13.
There is no more evidence to judge Urias now than there was a week ago, when the 22-year-old left-hander was placed on administrative leave by Major League Baseball after his arrest for suspicion of misdemeanor battery.
Urias was able to rejoin the Dodgers not because he was cleared of wrongdoing, but because baseball lacked the evidence to suspend him or the authority to extend his leave without his consent. The commissioner’s office made sure to point out this distinction, stating its investigation into the incident continued.
The sport’s collective-bargaining agreement mandated the Dodgers return him to their active roster, allowing them to pass the buck when explaining his presence in their locker room.
“It’s something that MLB took control of,” president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman told reporters in Tampa Bay.
The case remains open. The ambiguity is distressing.
Either Urias will be playing baseball when he forfeited the privilege to do so or he has been wrongly accused of battering his girlfriend.
It’s one or the other. There’s no in between.
And herein lies the problem: There is no way MLB’s domestic violence policy could simultaneously hold Urias accountable if he is guilty and protect him if he is innocent.
Right or wrong, this is not a court of law, where a priority is placed on protecting the rights of the accused. The rules here are designed to protect the MLB brand and its franchises.
Surveillance video could clarify what happened in this particular instance, except that the Beverly Center won’t share it with MLB.
“As a matter of policy, we do not release surveillance footage to any party other than law enforcement when it is formally requested in writing as part of an investigation, or when we received a subpoena through the court system,” mall spokesperson Mary Mainville wrote in an email. “We did inform MLB of this policy when they contacted us directly after the May 13 incident.”
The position is understandable. Malls want shoppers to feel as if they have reasonable privacy.
So all MLB can do now is wait.
Witnesses told police they observed Urias shoving his girlfriend to the ground. Urias and his girlfriend claimed they were involved in nothing more than a verbal altercation. If the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office charges Urias with a crime, MLB could have grounds to discipline him. Or if the legal case is closed, the league’s investigation could end.
Last year, when MLB looked into domestic abuse accusations against Chicago Cubs shortstop Addison Russell, his ex-wife initially declined to cooperate. She later changed her mind and Russell was suspended for 40 games.
Russell was never charged with a crime.
Another possibility would be for the alleged incident to fade from memory, only for surveillance footage to later emerge and reveal an act of violence.
Visual images can be powerful. Video radically changed the perception of the Ray Rice incident, for example.
Such a scenario would be a nightmare for the Dodgers.
The greater the role played this season by the talented Urias, the more damage would be inflicted to the Dodgers’ brand.
The Dodgers are looking to win their first World Series championship in more than three decades. If they realize their ambitions, they don’t want their once-in-a-generation triumph to be equated with a compromise in values. They are the franchise of Jackie Robinson.
Of course, the opposite could also be true. Their cautious backing of Urias could be viewed as a lack of support, the abandonment of a loyal player who has never complained about the unorthodox methods the team has used to develop him.
If only the Dodgers had the facts, they would know how to proceed.