Michael Pineda, injured starting pitcher for the New York Yankees, was recently arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol in Tampa, as Chris Carelli wrote yesterday. This looks pretty bad for Pineda, who had already come under criticism for coming into spring training at least 10 pounds overweight and out of shape. However, although his arrest certainly doesn’t say a lot about Pineda’s judgement and professionalism, it shouldn’t affect our perceptions of him as a player, or his future performance with the Yankees.
First of all, let me make it clear that driving under the influence, especially at Pineda’s reportedly high levels of intoxication, is undoubtedly stupid, dangerous, and deserving of harsh punishment. However, Pineda’s awful decision says more about his bad judgment than his work ethic, for on the list of consequences for driving drunk, the negative effect that it could have on the Yankees is surely not at the top. By taking the wheel that night, Pineda was putting not only his own life, but the lives of innocent bystanders, at stake.
Now surely Pineda did not want to die, nor did he want to kill others. Therefore he was either completely ignorant of the risks of driving drunk (unlikely) or he simply chose to drive in spite of those risks, perhaps underestimating the potential risks at the time. Even if Pineda did strongly care about the Yankees and his future performance for them, that wouldn’t not come close to his own life or the lives of others on his list of priorities. Long story short: while we may question Pineda’s personal character based on his arrest, it should not affect our perception of his work ethic and desire to recover from his shoulder injury.
Nevertheless, one may argue that being arrested for a DUI shows that a player drinks and parties excessively, which negatively affects his performance. While this makes sense intuitively, recent examples show this idea to have little backing.
First of all, there’s Miguel Cabrera, who was found by a police officer in his car on the side of the road, absolutely wasted, in February 2011. Not only was he driving drunk, but he took swigs of whiskey in front of the officer and reportedly resisted arrest as well. Well, after much discussion by fans as to whether his performance would suffer, Cabrera put up possibly the best season of his career, with a .448 OBP and 30 home runs. Who knows whether he was clean and sober during the season, but we do know that the DUI didn’t seem to affect his future performance.
Then there’s Josh Hamilton, whose story about fighting an alcohol and drug addiction is now famous, relapsing this past February. He wasn’t arrested for a DUI, but given his history with alcohol addiction, getting drunk at a bar was perhaps just as bad, at least as far as his performance on the field is concerned. Like Cabrera, many fans and writers feared that the incident did not bode well for his performance in the season. And also like Cabrera, Hamilton has proceeded to put up monster numbers this season, with 34 homers and 102 RBI already, and it’s only August. I would be willing to bet that Hamilton has been clean this whole time, but the important thing to remember is that his one lapse in judgment has not affected his performance.
Shin-Soo Choo was also arrested for a DUI this offseason, but is now having a fantastic season after disappointing last year. Of course, there are surely also many players like Joba Chamberlain, who had a horrible year in 2009 after being arrested for a DUI the previous October. But this was Joba’s first full year as a starter, which is a much more likely explanation for his poor performance.
I have no doubt that drinking problems can, and do, have a significant effects on major league baseball players. But recent history has shown DUI arrests to have very little correlation with future performance. In fact, if anything, players who received DUIs performed better the next season. This is probably nothing but small sample size noise, but couldn’t it be possible that when players finally encounter real consequences for their irresponsible behavior, they are forced to reevaluate their actions and lifestyle? Maybe I’m just being idealistic, but I’d like to think that being arrested, humiliated, and criticized by millions of fans would be a wake-up call for athletes whose judgment and priorities have strayed.
I hope that this happens to Pineda. His decision to endanger his own life and the lives of others yesterday made me lose a lot of respect for the man, but I hope that he changes his actions and attitude because of it. Luckily for the Yankees, Pineda’s arrest will probably not affect his performance, and it may even strengthen it. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a changed man in March, in shape both physically and emotionally. If that happens, he could be a force to be reckoned with in 2013.