On Comfort, Perfect Games, and Domingo Germán

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Content warning: This story contains details of domestic abuse.

Professional sports are enthralling for the action they produce on the playing field. Highlights of home runs, slam dunks, and touchdowns can create lifelong relationships between fans and the sports they enjoy. Yet it’s necessary to remember that sports are situated within the world around them, and often mirror wider trends within it.

It’s easy to think of baseball players as little figures on a screen who appear at 7:00 every night, run around for a few hours while being televised live, and blink out of existence until the next evening when network cameras are back on. It seems that the closer we get to perfectly measuring a player’s value on the diamond, the more we detach the dots on the television from real people who, like us, have lives even after the camera operators go home for the night. People with hobbies, homes, and families, people who matter to other real people besides the fans on the other side of the screen with emotions, bragging rights, or even money staked to what the little humanoid figures do. Every baseball player possesses the same traits that make those watching at home human, and with that unfortunately comes the capacity to cause indescribable harm to others.

Last Wednesday night in Oakland, Domingo Germán threw the 24th perfect game in AL/NL history. Four years ago, he also served what was at the time the fourth-longest suspension under the joint MLB/MLBPA domestic violence policy, missing 81 games across 2019 and 2020. Reporting from The Athletic after his 2021 reinstatement detailed the actions that led to his suspension:

In September 2019, Germán and his girlfriend attended a charity gala held by then-teammate CC Sabathia. Many of Germán’s 2019 teammates were also there with their families. Germán slapped his girlfriend at the event, sources said, but the MLB investigation focused primarily on what happened at his home later that night.

According to multiple league sources, including a person with knowledge of the MLB investigation, Germán was intoxicated and became physically violent toward his girlfriend until she hid in a locked room. The victim is said to have contacted the wife of another Yankees player, and the couple drove to Germán’s home late at night. The victim remained with the teammate’s wife, while the player attempted to calm down Germán, who is said to have been angry and belligerent.

Germán’s actions didn’t occur when he was a set of pixels on a monitor, but when he was a human being directly impacting the lives of other human beings. When the details of his violence were revealed, Germán faced near-universal condemnation, and for good reason. Teammates like Zack Britton and Luke Voit were strongly critical of Germán and stressed the importance of him reforming himself and his life. Earlier this year, Germán spoke about his efforts to move forward, of counseling and learning to communicate better, and he praised his teammates in helping him be a more accountable player and person. And yet his actions to make his now-wife feel safe going forward will be taken by Germán the complete person – the human who spends a considerable majority of his life away from public view. And this can be scary for fans who can only evaluate him through the lens of his occupation and what he decides to share in interviews, who don’t get to track his personal improvements when the cameras are turned off.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline reports that more than one-third of women and one-fourth of men have experienced intimate partner violence in their lives. The abuse that Germán committed isn’t a vague “off-field issue” that he was suspended for, it’s a lived experience for over 12 million people each year. The continued presence of players who have served these suspensions sits uncomfortably with the goal of making survivors feel like they have a place in baseball. But when considering the safety and well-being of domestic abuse survivors, most experts believe that “zero tolerance” policies pose a greater danger than the alternative by reducing the likelihood of a survivor seeking help from the proper channels. It’s quite difficult to balance the knowledge that removing these players from the sport entirely could lead to poor outcomes on all sides with the understanding that their on-field accomplishments grant them a level of personal elevation that feels inappropriate given their prior acts of violence.

My primary background is in education, and there’s an important word that comes up in discussions of how to teach and learn about difficult topics: comfort. Specifically, the most crucial question for any educator to consider is “whose comfort is being prioritized?” Answering this is often key to understanding the broader power dynamics at play between different groups. Baseball is an occupation for some, and a source of entertainment for millions. But to MLB, baseball is also a brand, and it’s a brand best consumed when its viewers don’t consider who their decisions provide comfort and power to. MLB wants us to depersonalize the pixels we see on the screen from the humans that exist after they go home for the night, people with the capacity to build families and lives, but also to hurt others.

Given its druthers, I imagine the league would prefer we be able to celebrate Germán’s achievements independently of his transgressions as a person. The articles commemorating the perfect game on MLB’s official website didn’t really attempt to reconcile his record of domestic violence with his on-field accomplishments; the game story mentioned the incident but quickly turned its attention to Germán’s subsequent inconsistency on the mound. But inherent to the moment are difficult, necessary questions about how two such incongruous realities can converge in an individual, and who gets to feel comfortable. How should baseball media address this accomplishment? On the one hand, praise for abusers may force survivors to see people they view as monstrous deified in online spaces, or at the very least given credit for a character commensurate with their abilities on the diamond. However, it’s also necessary to consider the pitfalls of zero tolerance policies, all while acknowledging that abusers shouldn’t be automatically granted redemption for completing a league-mandated suspension. How should teams evaluate the behavior of players after they have served a domestic violence suspension beyond them simply not reoffending? With the work done to grow and change necessarily occurring beyond our view, how do fans of the sport assess these players as people going forward? How can the league improve the way it handles these situations, especially in ways that center the safety and well-being of survivors?

Needless to say, Germán’s perfect game will leave behind a complicated legacy. In addition to being the first perfect game in over a decade, Germán is the first Dominican-born pitcher to achieve this feat. With over a 10th of the major league player population and a meaningful portion of its fanbase hailing from the Dominican Republic, it seems reasonable for his community and his country to take pride in his accomplishments, especially when considering the factors that have historically prevented international amateur signees and other players of color from making careers as starting pitchers.

Most of our prescriptions here hinge on whether or not Germán, or other players who have committed domestic violence, should have a place in the sport at all after their offenses. It’s uncomfortable watching these players on the field knowing what they’ve done away from it, and it’s uncomfortable to accept that immediately writing off all cases as irredeemable would only be counterproductive to the goal of preventing future violence. It’s also impossible to deny that Germán’s perfect game was an event of significance for many, from his community to his country to the many fans watching who don’t know what players are like when they’re not just pixels on a screen. There are many reasons to celebrate the Germán on the television broadcast, one of few hurlers to achieve perfection. But after the lights go out in the Oakland Coliseum and the players leave for the night, we must grapple with the uncomfortable imperfection of the person behind the perfect pitcher.

Kyle is a FanGraphs contributor who likes to write about unique players who aren't superstars. He likes multipositional catchers, dislikes fastballs, and wants to see the return of the 100-inning reliever. He's currently a college student studying math education, and wants to apply that experience to his writing by making sabermetrics more accessible to learn about. Previously, he's written for PitcherList using pitch data to bring analytical insight to pitcher GIFs and on his personal blog about the Angels.

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9 months ago

Why are you bringing up something that happened years ago when he has taken steps to better himself? He did something awful. I’m glad for his wife’s sake and for his sake that he seems to have made improvements. I hope he learned from the past and he never does anything like that again. I think you should celebrate the great game he pitched and get over yourself.

9 months ago
Reply to  lavarnway

Seems like you didn’t read the article. I feel like it answers your question quite well!

Smiling Politelymember
9 months ago
Reply to  4onejr

I’d only add that I appreciate how and when FG writers decide to broach these topics. I haven’t always agreed (probably a good sign), but I walk away thinking in more ways than I used to, even if it doesn’t help me find resolution (as Kyle notes at the end); I don’t know if it makes me a *better* person, but it doesn’t make me *worse*

Last edited 9 months ago by Smiling Politely