The Luke Heimlich Mess

I’ve been reading a lot about Oregon State pitcher and convicted child molester Luke Heimlich, and, boy, is it a complicated situation.

At the age of 16, Heimlich pleaded guilty to one episode of molesting his then six year old niece on one occasion when he was 15.  According to his sister-in-law, the molestation happened on multiple occasions when Heimlich was between the ages of 13 and 15.

Except for the formal guilty plea, Heimlich reportedly consistently denied ever doing what he was accused of doing.  He denied it completely last May to the New York Times well after news of the prior conviction broke in 2017.  Heimlich states that his guilty plea was a decision made by his family in order to avoid destroying the family by forcing the now 11 year old girl to take the witness stand.

As a well-read lawyer, I know that sometimes perps falsely confess to crimes because of various pressures, most notably the fact that the sentence will be much worse if they go to trial and lose.  As a juvenile offender with no prior record, the plea deal meant that Heimlich served no jail time and had his record expunged at age 21 when he did not violate his parol terms.

Heimlich comes from a deeply Christian family (his father is an ordained pastor), and such families tend to be pretty patriarchal.  If his parents decided he should plead guilty to maintain family peace, then there would certainly be a great deal of pressure on the 16 year old to plead guilty.  The fact that he wasn’t yet 18 when he entered the plea deal deserves consideration.

On the other, my daughter recently turned five years old.  If she told me tomorrow that someone was molesting her, I would believe her, particularly if there were corroborating factors like abrasions/swelling to her genitals or a change in her mood or behavior.  Heimlich’s niece was six when she told her mother that she was being molested, and in my mind the difference between age six and age four (when the abuse allegedly started) is a big one in accessing the credibility of the little girl and the likelihood that she could have been coached in making the allegations.

In short, without knowing all of the facts behind the allegations, it is nearly impossible to know who is telling the truth or what actually happened.  That said, I can’t see any professional baseball team signing Luke Heimlich in the near future.

Were somebody to sign Heimlich and were he to avoid major injury to his left arm, there is a very high likelihood that he would reach the major leagues.  That’s why the news of his prior conviction is national news.

He wasn’t drafted in either his junior (2017) year or his senior (2018) year, in spite of the fact that he was at least a second round talent both years.  The Royals were reportedly sniffing around a possible signing about a week ago, but it quickly got reported, and I’m virtually certain team management received a lot of very negative feedback as a result.

The only reason for an MLB organization to sign Heimlich is that he is a major league talent.  However, baseball is an entertainment industry, and a lot of people are understandably extremely upset about the prospect of a former child molester earning the kind of riches that come with being a major league player of any duration.

Again, on the other hand, by all accounts, Heimlich was only 15 when the last episode of abuse occurred.  Given his age at the time of the crime, has he paid his debt to society?  The law certainly thinks so, as his conviction was expunged at age 21 when he completed his five year probation period without incident.  These are all very complicated questions with no easy answers.

I just can’t see a major league organization signing Heimlich.  The truth is that MLB doesn’t need any one player no matter how talented that player is.  The Royals likely learned pretty quick what a headache it would be to sign Heimlich.  Even if a team could sign Heimlich quietly and stick him away in the low minors, the moment that Heimlich was ready to pitch in the majors even years from now (the only time that Heimlich would have any actual value to an MLB organization), the issue of his child molestation conviction would become national news again and a huge headache for his team.

I don’t see independent-A league teams signing Heimlich either.  Indy-A teams are even more dependent on fan largess than MLB teams, because the Indy-A teams aren’t putting a major league quality product on the field.  Attending indy-A league games is entirely about the experience and rooting for all the underdogs playing for peanuts for a very slim chance at one day playing in the majors or at the very least making enough money somewhere that they haven’t completely wasted their time pursuing a baseball career.

Any Indy-A team that signs Heimlich immediately kisses away that sympathy from half of its fan base.

The fact that Donald Trump is President does not help Heimlich’s career prospects.  Trump lies so often about things that are easily disproven (the size of his inaugural crowd, illegal immigrants voting for Hillary, the crime rate among undocumented immigrants, the tariff rates the European Union imposes on American exports, the success of the North Korea summit, the education levels of people who immigrate legally from Latin American and African countries, etc.) that he’s given license for others to lie no matter how conclusively in opposition the actual facts.

One result of this is that the roughly 52% of the public that doesn’t approve of Trump is a whole lot less likely to believe Heimlich’s flat-out denials in the face of his guilty plea.  That’s too much of any professional team’s fan base, particularly when it comes to a hot-button issue like child molestation.  Matt Bush was able to make it back to the majors in spite of some incredibly poor decisions he made, but that was only because he never quite succeeded in killing anyone.

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