Matt Bush screwed up. Again. According to Roger Mooney, the former first overall draft pick was arrested Thursday night for DUI. As if that weren’t bad enough, Bush is also responsible for a hit and run in which he seriously injured a 72-year-old motorist and fled the scene before he was picked up by law enforcement.
Bush had already been trying to rehabilitate his image following a night club brawl in 2004 and an alleged assault in 2009. After washing out with the San Diego Padres, Bush, now 26-years-old, was attempting to comeback as a reliever with the Tampa Bay Rays.
Considering the severity of this incident, it doesn’t seem appropriate to bring up Bush’s baseball history. Unfortunately, it’s part of the reason he was still in the game. Bush did not produce as a hitter in the minors and this comeback was a last chance to prove himself in the majors. Due to his live right arm, the Rays decided to take a chance on Bush despite his past legal issues. While an organization is always going to be tempted by talent, character is also a factor in which players deserve contracts. That’s not to say the Rays completely ignored Bush’s past, but they also knew the risks involved in bringing a player with his history into the organization.
In the end, though, talent often wins out, and people you wouldn’t want marrying into your family continue to get chances as long as teams think they can help them win baseball games. Milton Bradley was known for his off the field issues, but played on eight different teams due to his baseball skills. Elijah Dukes was a more serious case, but still received multiple chances based on his potential. Delmon Young once threw a bat at an umpire, but the Rays stuck by him due to his prospect status – at least, until they realized he was not very good and traded him to Minnesota. More recently, Alex White was arrested for an “extreme DUI”, and yet the Rockies declined to punish him in any way.
Talent usually buys players multiple chances to clean up their act, but Bush’s situation is different than the players listed above. What made those players attractive to other teams was the fact that they offered tantalizing potential. Bush washed out as a shortstop and had to be converted to a reliever, limiting the value he can bring to a franchise. His strikeout rates and big arm suggest that perhaps he have made it as a big league setup man, but the reward part of the value calculation is significantly lower with a guy who only pitches for an inning at a time.
This incident also highlights a significant problem for MLB. The number of DUIs appears to be growing, and even if that is just due to heightened media coverage of the sport, the appearance of an increase is a problem for the league. Yet, it’s rare that these players ever get officially punished beyond the legal system. While one can argue that an employer shouldn’t be involved in the personal lives of its employees, celebrities make a conscious decision to give up some privacy in exchange for greater financial reward, and their status demands a higher level of responsibility than the average man on the street.
With Bush, it’s not even a what-if scenario. According to a witness, the situation could have turned into a much larger tragedy.
“Literally the tire on the SUV ran over the driver’s head,” said a witness to the crash. “Without the helmet, the gentleman would have been dead instantly.”
If that doesn’t make MLB react and start evaluating what they should do to curb drinking and driving by the players who represent the league as a whole, then what will it take? The league should not wait until a Major League player kills someone while being drunk behind the wheel to intervene.
Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.