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[NOTES on a SCORECARD] For Trevor Bauer, a Quick Return to MLB Looks Increasingly Unlikely

Trevor Bauer, who pitched for NPB's BayStars in 2023, wants to return to MLB, but past accusations of sexual assault appear to be impacting that goal.

With roughly one week left until MLB teams require pitchers and catchers to report for spring training (February 14 or 15 for most teams), free agent pitcher Trevor Bauer remains unsigned. The 33-year-old spent the 2023 season with the Yokohama DeNA BayStars, where he compiled a 10-4 record with an ERA of 2.76 in 19 games as a starter.

Bauer's situation is complicated, to say the least, in that previous allegations of sexual battery against him never resulted in any criminal charges being filed. However, they have cast a shadow that has followed from the United States to Japan and back.

While playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2021, Bauer was put on administrative leave by MLB over the allegations. He was then suspended by MLB in April of 2022 for a record 324 games as a result of its investigation into his conduct. On appeal, the ban was later reduced to 194 games.

The Dodgers' decision to release him in January of 2023 made Bauer a free agent and cleared the way for him to play in Japan.

Why is the 2020 National League Cy Young Award winner still unsigned?

The answer is simple.

MLB owners, executives and managers don't want the distraction that would come along with signing Bauer. 

In the social media era of the past 15 years or so, one does not have to be indicted or convicted of a crime to be ostracized in the court of public opinion. They only have to have allegations leveled at them.

Trevor Bauer
Then-Yokohama DeNA BayStars teammates Trevor Bauer (right) and Shota Imanaga chat in the dugout on April 26, 2023, at Yokohama Stadium. (ⒸSANKEI)

Past Allegations Tarnish Trevor Bauer's Reputation

Bauer could clearly still contribute to many MLB teams. But some of his previous behavior along with the allegations leveled by multiple women of physical abuse at his hand, are making clubs reluctant to step forward and offer him a chance.

The pitcher tried to put a new foot forward with a high-profile interview on Fox News in January where he admitted he "made mistakes" and was "reckless" in his personal life.

"I agreed to do things I shouldn't have done," Bauer said in the interview. "It hurt a lot of people along the way."

He then said, "It made things very difficult for Major League Baseball, for the Dodgers, my teammates, friends, family, people close to me. So, I've done a lot of reflection on that and made a lot of changes in my life to address that."

When Bauer signed to play the 2023 season in Japan, I remember thinking that if he thought one year here was going to clear the path for him back to MLB, he was mistaken. There was just too much fallout from the allegations against him.

I thought he would have to play in Japan for two or three years to ever get another shot at playing in the majors.

Just to reiterate, Bauer was never indicted nor tried for any crime, much less convicted.

Trevor Bauer
Trevor Bauer attends an introductory news conference on March 24, 2023, in Yokohama. (ⒸSANKEI)

An Advocate for a Second Chance for Trevor Bauer

Robert Whiting, the best-selling author of You Gotta Have Wa and The Meaning of Ichiro, believes Bauer deserves another chance.

"If I was a GM, I would hire him with provisions," Whiting wrote in an email. "The press would die down after a month. He hasn't been found guilty of anything yet."

Whiting has a point, but it is that month the teams are worried about. That last thing an MLB club wants to do is sign a player, then get immediately roasted in the court of public opinion to the point it has to turn around and release him.

Professional athletes don't have the greatest record when it comes to the treatment of women. But it must also be pointed out that they can be targets for financial gain because of their wealth and profile. Whenever a case like Bauer's comes up, the general public has to rely on the media for information about it, and it is not always presented in a fair and balanced manner.

It's just a shoe!

Similar Allegations Wrecked NFL Hopeful Araiza's Career

A case like Bauer's happened back in August of 2022, after San Diego State punter Matt Araiza had been selected as a sixth-round draft pick by the NFL's Buffalo Bills. The 22-year-old rookie had won the job as the team's starting punter during the preseason. But he was released a day after a woman filed a lawsuit against him claiming he took part in a gang rape of her at an off-campus party in 2021.

No charges were filed against Araiza after an extensive investigation by the San Diego County District Attorney's Office, and the woman later agreed to drop Araiza from the lawsuit. But the damage to Araiza's reputation was done. And in the ensuing 18 months he has had just one tryout with an NFL team.

Araiza, the 2021 Ray Guy Award winner as the top college punter in the United States, may never play in the NFL as a result of what happened.

Hotaka Yamakawa
Former Saitama Seibu Lions slugger Hotaka Yamakawa bats against the Chiba Lotte Marines on May 10, 2023, at Belluna Dome in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture. (ⒸSANKEI)

NPB Slugger Yamakawa Sent Packing Even After No Charges Were Filed

Recently there have been two high-profile cases in Japan similar to Bauer's. In May 2023, Saitama Seibu Lions slugger Hotaka Yamakawa was alleged to have sexually assaulted a female acquaintance at a Tokyo hotel in November of 2022. 

Yamakawa, like Bauer and Araiza, denied the claim and no charges were filed after an investigation by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police.

However, the impact on Yamakawa's reputation and that of the Lions was irreversible, and the team essentially suspended him for the rest of the season before allowing him to leave as a free agent. 

Japan national tam forward Junya Ito competes against Thailand on January 1 at Tokyo's National Stadium. (ⒸSANKEI)

Ito is the Latest Japanese Pro Athlete Confronted with Allegations

The most recent case involves national team soccer player Junya Ito, who was accused of allegedly sexually assaulting two women at a hotel in Osaka in 2023. Those allegations, which Ito denies, were first published on the Daily Shincho website on January 31, and within days the 30-year-old forward was sent home from the Asian Cup in Qatar.

Samurai Blue teammates wanted Ito to stay, but the Japan Football Association ultimately thought better of it and told him to leave. 

If Ito, who plays for Reims in France's Ligue 1, is ultimately cleared of the allegations, one has to wonder if the JFA will want to deal with the attention that will result from bringing him back into the national team.

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Author: Jack Gallagher

The author is a veteran sports journalist and one of the world's foremost figure skating experts. Find articles and podcasts by Jack on his author page, and find him on X (formerly Twitter) @sportsjapan.

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