June 28, 2023 is now an indelible part of Major League Baseball history. As the marine layer settled in over the Bay Area, then-30 year old Domingo Germán spun the best start of his career, and indeed by at least one standard, the best start by a Yankee since David Cone 25 years previously. A perfect game, even one against the Oakland Athletics, is a surefire way to etch yourself into the everlasting story of the game.
Of course, everything before and certainly all that happened after the perfecto we’d more or less like to be forgotten entirely. At the end of the season, Germán had been removed from the roster after spending more than a full month on the IL, wrapping up a year where he was a meh starter and facing an uncertain future in baseball.
2023 Statistics: 19 games, 108.2 IP, 4.56 ERA, 4.65 FIP, 4.04 xFIP, 9.36 K/9, 2.82 BB/9, 0.9 fWAR
2024 Contract Status: Arbitration eligible
In the run-up to that perfect game, it began to look like Germán may be onto something. He rattled off seven straight outings, split as a starter, long reliever, and “following” an opener, with a 2.20 ERA and 3.72 FIP over 40+ innings, working his curveball more into the zone rather than using it as a way to exclusively expand.
As Nestor Cortes, Luis Severino, and Carlos Rodón both struggled to be reliable pieces of the rotation, Germán did manage to step in and if nothing else be at least an average starting pitcher. It wasn’t without controversy though, as Twins manager Rocco Baldelli was ejected when Germán was allowed to stay in an April start after raising some foreign-substance suspicions, and indeed, the pitcher later got hit with a suspension in mid-May in wake of a midgame heave-ho:
Yankees Starting Pitcher Domingo German get ejected from the game for having a foreign substance on his hands pic.twitter.com/5uHpIGUfDN— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) May 17, 2023
If that were the low point of Sunday’s season, given that a month later he threw the perfect game, I think we would have all forgotten about it — indeed, I had forgotten about it before sitting down to do the grades for each Yankees’ report card.
Of course, this suspension wasn’t the low point. On July 31st, Germán was scratched from a start with a suspected injury, only to pitch 5.1 innings that very night in relief!
In a season full of medical-related miscommunications — Anthony Rizzo playing through brain damage and Luis Severino seemingly disagreeing with the Yankees’ prognosis of his injury — the Germán affair was among the most confusing. The next night, Germán was reportedly intoxicated and “belligerent” in the clubhouse, and apparently openly mocked the recently-demoted Ron Marinaccio.
Domingo Germán had arguments with Aaron Boone and teammates during Tuesday’s incident. He flipped a couch, smashed a TV and made jokes while teammate Ron Marinaccio packed his bags for Triple-A. They made him go in a sauna to try and sweat out the alcohol— Talkin' Yanks (@TalkinYanks) August 4, 2023
(via @lindseyadler) pic.twitter.com/E6szzcCJFF
Whether the initial Monday scratch was a recognition by the Yankees that their right-hander had a drinking problem, or conflict over that scratch was the “last straw” as Germán could no longer hide his addiction, we’ll never know. The Yankees moved him to the restricted list the next day, and he did not pitch again in 2023.
It’s very difficult to give Germán the benefit of the doubt, given that this is the second time he’s been unable to play for the team due to off-field issues. I don’t think that substance abuse is quite as cut-and-dry a case as domestic violence, though. High-functioning users exist — there are people in your personal or professional networks who use alcohol, pills, or even what we would conventionally consider “harder” drugs at unsafe levels or with unsafe frequency, and you don’t know.
I live in one of the flash points for daily drug use, and one of the cities with the most progressive and experimental attitudes towards treatment. Addressing addiction as a public health crisis means building in structural assistance for users, it means that shame and stigma does not work and indeed only leads to worse outcomes. At the same time ... a business that gets its windows smashed in once a month, or teachers that have to worry about open drug use around school grounds ... their feelings are valid too. The fear, the caution, these are real things and you can’t just sweep them away.
In the same vein, I’m sure for Marinaccio, being mocked by a drunk and belligerent Germán, while quite literally packing his bags for Scranton, had to be among the low points of his entire career. MLB clubhouses should be tight, familial environments and for at least one night in August, Germán made that space unsafe for his coworkers. That he’s struggling with a very real disease doesn’t make him unaccountable for the harm he inflicted. He deserves treatment and compassion for his addiction, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences for what you do when you’re in a different state of mind.
And that’s why the Yankees have this really tough decision in front of them. They can offer Germán arbitration, keep him around for his final season and the best we can kind of expect is another average-ish to less-than-average swingman. Or the Yankees can nontender him and accept that he’s probably just too much trouble to have in pinstripes, although hopefully after assisting him to get the treatment he needs.
That the Yankees ever let it get to this point is perhaps the bigger story. Like all addiction, systems fail at various points along a user’s trajectory. Whatever underlying trauma drove Germán’s behavior, the Yankees were either unaware of it or unable to address it. Even when his addiction reached a tipping point, the team reportedly put him in a sauna to “sweat it out,” which seems more the reaction of a group of unsure jocks than medical professionals. That structural ignorance doesn’t mean that we immediately and unconditionally forgive Domingo Germán, but does mean that we need to point blame at more than just one person.