This post is not about Andrew Bellatti. It is about Rays fans, but it needs some background before we get to that…

Andrew BellattiTampa Bay Rays pitching prospect Andrew Bellatti was called up and made his Major League debut this weekend.

The move went mostly unnoticed even though it comes five years after Bellatti was a minor leaguer convicted of vehicular manslaughter after he lost control of his car and killed another driver and seriously injured the driver’s son.

Bellatti had a history of driving recklessly according to testimony and details of the accident are ugly:

“According to testimony in a previous hearing, Bellatti was rushing his girlfriend to a high school basketball game when he lost control of his car, which crashed head-on into a van…Witnesses testified that they saw Bellatti’s Ford Mustang approach the Steele Canyon High campus at a high rate of speed, cross into the opposite left-turn lanes to avoid a car exiting the school parking lot, and return to his lane before the car spun out on rain-slick pavement.”

In short, Bellatti was doing going 80 MPH (25 over the speed limit) and driving on the wrong side of a wet road.

Bellatti was ultimately sentenced to eight months in jail and was released after three months.

This is not the first Rays prospect with a disturbing criminal history. The very nature of the organization — I don’t want to say “makes them” or “forces them” because they could choose not to — fosters a situation where the team must take chances on buy-low assets with tons of upside. In this case, the Rays see talented players other teams don’t want and roll the dice.

Despite his past, the reaction to Bellatti’s ascension to the big leagues has been almost completely non-existent. On the surface and from a distance it can far-too-easily be dismissed as Rays fans being homers.

But like most things, it is far more complicated than that and we need look no further than former Rays pitcher Josh Lueke to truly appreciate how complicated it can be.

Lueke, who was charged with rape while in the minors, was considered by a large percentage of Rays fans to be an embarrassment to the organization. Many wanted him gone while he was with the Rays and yelled “HALLELUJAH!” when the Rays finally decided his talent was no longer worth more than all of the negative attention.

So why do we as Rays fans accept Bellatti and reject Lueke? Both players were accused of horrific things but it was Bellatti who was convicted of something more heinous.

Is it because Bellatti didn’t get away with the crime and seemed to own up to what he had done? Lueke ultimately plead to “false imprisonment with violence” and served just 42 days in jail because the victim no longer wanted to go through with a trial.

It is because Bellatti is “one of our own”? Bellatti is a prospect who was drafted by the Rays in the 12th round of the 2009 draft while Lueke was an outsider, acquired via trade from the Seattle Mariners.

Is it because of the alleged intent? What Lueke was accused of could be considered a conscious decision with ill intent while the other was at its core still an accident. Still, at various levels, both were careless and reckless and how do we weigh the outcomes of such acts (death vs. physical and emotional harm)?

Is it because the wife and mother of Bellatti’s victims forgave him? Bellatti asked Lynette Reid for forgiveness and she granted it. It is unclear if Lueke’s victim ever did the same.

Complicating matters is that Bellatti was never disciplined by the Rays. The Rays once suspended Josh Sale for most of the 2013 season for “conduct detrimental to the organization” for disparaging comments he put on Facebook about a stripper and yet the Rays didn’t feel the need to suspend a player who killed somebody and was convicted of the crime.

It is hard not to notice that one of these events mostly flew under the radar of the national media while the other made national headlines. The flip-side of the argument is that Bellatti did not go unpunished. Rather, his punishment just came from a different source and had different implications.

But imagine the reaction if a player in the Major Leagues or one of the other major pro sports leagues was convicted of vehicular homicide and went unpunished by the league or his team? It would never happen in today’s world. Not even Roger Goodell would dare let a player go unsuspended for something like that. In 2009, Goodell suspended Donte Stallworth for the entire 2009 season after he was convicted of vehicular manslaughter.

So, what is the answer? I don’t know. There are plenty of theories and maybe at some level they are all right and all wrong.

But at the end of the day, we are now rooting for a player who was responsible for the death of another human being while we rejected a player who was accused of raping somebody and I don’t know how to wrap my mind around that.

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12 Comments

  1. Gus says:

    Mitigating factors include: he was a high school teen who drove poorly and recklessly, something many people have done; it happened when he was in high school; it was not a decision made under the influence and he served his punishment. We want ex-cons to rehabilitate themselves. This guy seems to have done that. The traffic crash is between him and his maker. It is not a good thing, but it seems unlikely to reoccur. I think he should be given the chance to Make something of himself.

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    • Cork Gaines says:

      He was not in high school at the time. He had already completed his second year of professional baseball as a minor leaguer. It happened in the off-season and he was dating a high school girl at the time, which is why he was on his way to a high school.

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      • Gus says:

        Mitigating factor on age withdrawn. I thought it was a pre draft deal. In domestic abuse and sexual battery cases there is often a belief that the crime is not fully prosecuted because of witnesses not wanting to press or continue charges (cases like Lueke and Winston), that justice was not done and the sport should fill the gap with discipline. I think that is why these cases resonate differently. But a life recklessly taken is a tragedy and shouldn't be disregarded.

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      • Kellyann says:

        How could Bellatti have completed his second year of professional baseball when he was drafted in June of 2009 and the accident occurred Jan. 2010? He was 18 at the time.

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  2. Matt says:

    It's certainly an interesting situation Cork. If Bellatti proves successful, it'll only be a matter of time before his story becomes known by all baseball fans in the country. Unlike Matt Bush, he had a clean history and made a mistake (obviously a grave one).He served his time in jail and bettered himself as a person. Also, like the widow said in the TB times article, no good comes from ruining two people's lives. I personally will root for him, especially if he takes advantage of his position as a major leaguer. Here's a guy who made a terrible decision at a young age, and has the power to influence others of the dangers of driving. He should be telling his story to high schoolers to get the message across that driving is no joke, and needs to be taken seriously.

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  3. Quinlan Degen says:

    Setting aside any comparisons of the two crimes themselves, I think the biggest difference is the way that this young man has reportedly responded to his mistakes. My wife and I were at the game on Saturday night and discussed Bellatti's potentially getting into the game and what a moment that must be for his parents who were at the game as well. All the reports from Rays team officials and anything I have read suggest that this young man has been accountable for his actions and has moved forward as a positive member of society and this organization. Redemption stories are easy for fans to get behind, such as the much less dramatic story of Souza Jr.
    Lueke on the otherhand was an embarassment due to his lack of accountability for his criminal history. He was a young man who had never really owned up to his crimes and openly lied to the police investigating it. He did not enjoy the same reputation as a person among the organization. The only positive mentioned during his time with the club was the enormous upside given his talent. It's usually a tell tale sign of the kind of person you are by what your teammates and leaders say about you when you are in trouble. When Ben Roethlisberger was under investigation I remember a decided lack of defending among his teammates. Clearly he, like Lueke, had a reputation for talent but not quality as a person. That Lueke ended up a failure on the field obviously exacerbated fan reaction but I for one was unhappy upon his arrival given his lack of contrition for his acts and was relieved when he no longer belonged to the organization.
    From the sound of things Andrew Bellatti has earned his opportunity to play in MLB due to hard work and personal accountability. I am very happy for his family that the crowd was as responsive to his performance as they were. I for one hopes he continues to be a "model citizen" and provide positive contribution to the organization on and off the field.

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  4. Rob says:

    I think intent has a lot to do with. The law considers intent when charging someone, so I think it's natural for fans to make that distinction as well. The other reason to root for him is that there is an agreement with the widow that monetary recompense escalates if he is making major league money. So, the more successful he is, the more compensation she collects.

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  5. Mr. Smith 1980 says:

    The fact that he was not under the influence and that the incident was purely accidental goes a long way in explaining the inherent differences between he and Lueke's checkered pasts.

    Had he been drunk or high then it would've opened up a whole litany of reasons to root against him and want for stiffer penalties, but that is not the case.
    Driving too fast for conditions or reckless driving are common mistakes from which tens of thousands of accidents have resulted, any one of which could have (and sometimes do) result in death of another driver, a pedestrian, or a bicyclist. The fact that it happens often doesn't make it acceptable, it does, however, make it a very relatable crime.

    The key here is intent. When you are of sober mind you don't drive recklessly with intent to commit a crime- it is purely accidental. (Of course that changes drastically when you make those same decisions while impaired.)

    The kid made a common mistake and it changed his life and ended another's, but as the mother of the victim elaborated upon; ruining a second life doesn't make recompense for ruining the first.
    People, at their core, are forgiving and this is a scenario where an innocent mistake caused great harm, but where an opportunity for a positive impact exists which makes forgiveness a reality.

    The kid faced the music, paid his debt, asked for and received forgiveness, and as such has the right to find success. As a result, we the fans have the right to cheer his success with clear conscious and without reservation.

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  6. Cork Gaines says:

    Let me clarify a couple of things since there appears to be some confusion here and elsewhere in social media.

    1. I never said "don't root for Andrew Bellatti." The entire point of this exercise was based on the simple premise of trying to figure out why we do. There may be legitimate reasons (several of which I outline). I am just curious what the reason(s) fans are want to use. Don't make this more complicated than it is.

    2. I never equated vehicular homicide to being accused of rape. In fact, I spent a large chunk of this post pointing out exactly why they are different. And when I wrote one was more heinous I was specifically referring to the actual convictions (read it again) not the accusations. In fact, the only comparison I make between the two players is that they were convicted of crimes and they later played for the Rays. Nothing more, nothing less.

    3. A lot of people defending Bellatti sound a LOT like the people who defended Lueke before it turned out he sucked. Yes, there were a lot of Rays fans who vehemently defended Lueke with comments like "he paid his price" and "he deserves a second chance."

    4. I have ZERO problem with anybody thinking Bellatti deserves a second chance and that he owned up to it and he just made a terrible mistake. That being said, it is a little disturbing how many people dismiss this as "just an accident" as if this was just a fender-bender gone bad or "he was just speeding, all kids do it." He was doing 25 over the speed limit and DRIVING ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD in wet conditions. At least be honest about what happened.

    As happens in these situations, many come into the situation with preconceived notions and then make the words fit their assumptions.

    If you have been a regular visitor to these parts you know I am not afraid to take a stance or express an opinion. When I have one, I don't mince words or dance around with suggestions or inferences. And yet, I beg anybody to show me where I have condemned Bellatti or said Rays fans shouldn't root for him.

    Think it is OK to root for Bellatti? That's cool. Just don't make the argument based on countering something I never said or wrote.

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    • AJNO says:

      you, and this article, are EXHAUSTING. just come out and say it. Leuke had tattoos and a bad haircut. we root for belotti because he looks like an all American kid.

      NEXT!!!

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      • AJNO says:

        one other note, Cork. i wouldnt exactly describe the people who read this blog as a "representative cross section of society" LOL. but im sure you were already WELL AWARE of that when you decided to write this post...

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  7. Political_Man says:

    I confess. In my early 20's I'm almost sure that I was driving excessively over the speed limit and I know there are times in which I was driving on the wrong side of the road during dark conditions because the glare of the lights obscured the road markers.

    I have sympathy for the guy because I was once young and stupid and reckless... I was lucky. Josh Lueke didn't accidentally rape anyone. Matt Bush was drunk. Comparing him to Matt Bush or Josh Lueke is completely unfair.

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