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Daily coverage of the Mariners during the season and all year long.

July 12, 2010 at 6:32 AM

The politics of crime, baseball and the Mariners

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Lots of comments online about our stories in recent days concerning the Mariners and their decision to trade for Class AA pitching prospect Josh Lueke in the Cliff Lee deal.
Lueke, it turns out, pleaded no contest last year to a charge of unlawful imprisonment with violence against a woman who was at his apartment in Bakersfield, Calif. in May 2008. Initially, he’d been charged with rape and sodomy, but, after several weeks in jail, agreed to plead no contest to the lesser charge.
He was sentenced to 40 days in prison, but released immediately because he’d already served that much time.
Many of you had opinions that go back and forth on this matter. Some of you asked online, or have emailed me, demanding to know why this is a story.
For me, that’s easy.
The Mariners have made it a point to be front and center in their support of groups that oppose violence against women in any form.
The team runs a Refuse to Abuse campaign in which the Mariners Care Foundation, Verizon Wireless and the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence raise awareness and support victims of domestic violence. It’s a big reason why when Mariners relief pitcher Julio Mateo was arrested for beating his wife in a Manhattan hotel room during a team road trip in 2007, he never pitched for the big league club again.
Mateo was given counseling, resumed his career briefly in the minors, then was traded soon after.
So, it was a little tough to reconcile that team president Chuck Armstrong and CEO Howard Lincoln had signed off on Lueke being one of the four players in the trade package for Cliff Lee. Turns out, they hadn’t signed off knowing Lueke had pleaded no contest to the charge he did.
Armstrong said he was “not aware” of the full extent of the case. Lincoln says the same thing. Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik won’t comment on whether or not he knew about the no contest plea beforehand,but in an an interview Friday, right after the trade he said he’d been told Lueke had been “cleared”.
No, he hadn’t been cleared.
For those of you who keep asking, there is a difference.
And yeah, this was obviously a story. It turns out, it was “news” to the team’s top officials.


Some of you have asked whether we’ll report on other players every time they get a parking ticket. I have little time for questions like this, other than to remind folks that there is a big difference between a parking ticket and falsely imprisoning a woman and committing violence against her.
There have been comments about how the woman might have brought some of this on herself by drinking and partying with Lueke and other players at a bar that night. I thought this type of thinking went out of fashion in the 1970s, but apparently not.
To those people, I’ll remind you, that one type of behavior does not justify another. The same way that just because a guy flashes money around in a casino, it doesn’t mean they are allowed to be beaten and robbed afterwards.
Some of you have focused on the gray areas of this case. You say we don’t know the full extent of what happened with Lueke and the woman that night. That it’s a “he-said” and “she said” deal.
It’s true. We may never know the full details.
What we do know is that Lueke made a no contest plea to a criminal charge involving violence against a woman that got him 40 days in jail. By the way, that carries the same legal weight as pleading guilty.
Some of you suggest Lueke took the plea merely to get out of jail and that he could have just been “giving in” even if he was innocent. Might be, but you don’t know that.
Another reason lawyers recommend pleading no contest in such cases is to avoid potential damage later on in a civil lawsuit. If the victim in this case decided to sue Lueke, a guilty plea, even to a lesser charge, could have been used against him as an admission of something in a civil trial where the standards of evidence would not have been as high as in a criminal case. Even had he gone to trial and been found not guilty on the original rape and sodomy charges, evidence in any trial could have been used against Lueke in a civil case.
So, the short of it is, none of you know why he plea bargained. And guessing at it and speculating really gets us nowhere.
What we do know is that he pled no contest to a crime and got sentenced.
Some of you say that should not be a public issue now, but I’ll argue that Lueke became a public figure in Seattle the minute he was involved in the biggest baseball trade of the year. And as such, a very serious part of his past is going to be scrutinized.
The minute Lueke agreed to take that plea, he was agreeing to a certain culpability, by default, in a very serious matter that would follow him for years, if not the rest of his life. If he didn’t grasp that when he made his decision, his lawyer should have done a better job of explaining it to him.
And it is going to follow him.
Ben Rothliesberger just got suspended six games by the NFL and has had his reputation nearly ruined and he hasn’t even been charged with a crime.
Lueke had been charged with serious crimes and has now been held responsible for a lesser — though still serious — one and punished for it. With that, comes the adult responsibility to live with the consequences. And he felt those consequences Sunday when the Mariners flew him in for a face-to-face meeting about his past.
Some of you have gone to the other extreme, suggesting our coverage is letting Lueke off too easy.
That’s another gray area here, one the Mariners are grappling with.
Lueke served his time for the crime that our legal system says he committed. He’s now, in theory, entitled to go out and earn a living just like anyone else.
I say, in theory, because had he been a politician, or an aspiring one, his career would likely be over. Had he been a teacher, or babysitter, he might have a hard time finding work.
So, no. Not everyone who does the time is entitled to go out and earn a living any way they want to. That’s just not how it happens in our society. It depends on the job that person chooses.
In Lueke’s case, the Texas Rangers were willing to let him work for them in spite of what they knew. And now, it looks like the M’s, for the time being, will do the same thing.
And believe me, they will take a PR hit for it on some fronts. Some of the women’s groups they do work with, as well as their own employees, will no doubt have questions, based on everything this team has stood for in public.
That’s the team’s call to make in the end. And, just like Lueke, the Mariners will have to live with the consequences of their judgments and decisions.

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