The Great Shirt Caper: Mike Leake commits an error (of judgment)

You work at a Macy’s in Ohio. A relatively exciting gig, by Ohio standards but, y’know, you do a lot of folding and stacking and hanging around and offering lazily cheerful Midwestern greetings to customers. The highlight of your week is getting to see the occasional shoplifter busted. So when you notice a scrawny young guy with long hair, shifty eyes and a scraggly goatee hanging around the clearance rack fumbling with items and just generally looking suspicious, it’s go time. He even looks a little familiar, like maybe he’s been in here before, maybe acting the same way. You report it to loss prevention, they check the tape and, sure enough, there’s the guy on camera, removing tags from shirts. So when he exits the store without paying, there’s a cop waiting for him in the parking lot – and that’s when you find out who this scruffy kid is. He’s a shoplifter! Oh yeah, and he’s also a member of the Reds starting rotation and the only player in the last decade to skip the minors after being drafted. Say hi to Mike Leake.

Leake came up with the Reds last year and didn’t suffer a single loss in his first ten professional starts – this came after a dominant college career at Arizona State. By hopping directly to the big league club after his eighth overall selection in the draft, Leake did something that hadn’t been done in 10 years. Now he’s accomplished something that hasn’t been done in over 20 years. The last MLB-affiliated shoplifter was apparently an umpire, in 1990. We can only hope that there is a rational explanation for this, but we doubt it. The Reds have reserved comment until after the court proceedings. Here follow some common theoretical explanations from around the web, accompanied by full or partial refutations. We’ll start with the most common one.

Theory: Mike Leake is really dumb and very bad at math.

Refutation: This would be the logical knee-jerk assumption when you read that Leake’s haul consisted of 10 shirts valued at $59.88. And when you consider his roughly $425,000 salary and recent $2.27 million signing bonus, plus the three credit cards and $250 or so in cash he reportedly had on him at the time, you really have to question whether Mike passed third grade arithmetic. However, I hope it is not to the detriment of baseball players everywhere to acknowledge that Leake was a two-time member of his league’s First Team All-Academic team in high school, as well as a two-time member of the First Team Academic All-Pac-10 and a two-time choice for ESPN Academic All-District VII. To top it off, in his third and final college season, he was anointed the Academic All-American of the Year. As far as ballplayers go, Mikey does not lack book-smarts. Perhaps his street savvy is just not up to snuff.

Theory: Leake was under the impression, or was given the impression by a store employee, that the merchandise was gratis due to his gracing the store with his celebrity.

Refutation: Of course celebs do get comps all the time (which seems kind of unfair when they have ample money to pay for the items in the first place). But having recognizable faces hanging around your establishment is seldom a bad thing for business.  Let’s not forget, though, that we have instant replay on this one. According to the report, there is security camera footage of Leake surreptitiously removing tags from the clothing in question, which seems an odd thing to do if Macy’s is on board with the transaction. Wouldn’t this be handled by a customer service rep?

Theory: Leake purchased the shirts legally then discovered after he left that they were the wrong size. He went back into Macy’s, but nobody was available to help him. And, because he was in such a hurry to get to the ballpark, he tossed the wrong-size shirts on some rack or other, ripped the tags off a bunch of right-size ones and whisked out of the store.

Refutation: I don’t buy that he could be in such a hurry (after all, he wasn’t pitching that day) that he would risk tarnishing his reputation over sixty bucks worth of apparel. That would tie back into the “dumb” question. It is not as if he needed these tees immediately. Remember, they have other shirts for him to wear at the ballpark – red ones with big white “C’s” on them. If a return or exchange is what Leake was looking for, it could easily have waited.

Theory: Mikey is a klepto.

Refutation: I mean, he kind of looks like a klepto in his mug shot, doesn’t he? But then all mug shots make people look guilty as hell. Well, there’s nothing solid to offer in defense here except Leake’s allegedly squeaky-clean prior record.  Stealing as an addiction has a tendency to rear its ugly head early and often – during the adolescent years especially. It’s clearly not for the money or the thrill, because he has more reliable sources of both.

Theory: The great heist was carried out as a result of some sort of hazing-related dare or prank.

Refutation: Strange though it seems, this theory has potential. Having skipped the minors last year, young Leake could well be getting a double-dip of freshman hazing. And we all know Dusty sides with veterans over youngsters.  Ballplayers are notorious for high jinks of this sort, though, in reality, they usually shy away from the illegal. It is certainly an ill-conceived test or prank, if it is one. But again, though peer pressure can be a momentous force, one would hope Leake would have the presence of mind to ignore a dare involving theft (even misdemeanor theft). And of course one would hope that the Vottos, Phillipses, and Arroyos of the world wouldn’t put a kid up to it. Hang on a sec, Arroyo? That must be it! Leake is already adopting his look in the hair department, now he’s acquiring hippie-chic American Rag shirts any way he can, in the hope of hanging out and jamming tunes with his guitar-wielding hero, Bronson.

All in all, it is a mildly sad story, but also a funny one. On the police report, the cop must’ve given some thought before checking “no” after “mental health court screening recommended.” Also, for “name and address of employer,” Leake hilariously reported, “Reds Stadium” (close enough to “Great American Ballpark”), to which he did not know the phone number. We’ll see what comes out of the court appearance in terms of a real explanation. Perhaps it can be chalked up to misunderstanding, more likely it will be chalked up to immaturity and bad judgment. Leake’s on-field maturity doesn’t seem to be an issue. A mere two days after his arrest, he recorded a victory over the D-Backs amid a frenzy of wisecracking media scrutiny and fan taunts. Even if he’s bumped from the rotation this year, Leake should live this embarrassing incident down, if he stays on course and harnesses the Maddux-like command that could make him an All-Star. Oh and Mike, if you do end up at the All-Star game some day – they provide the shirts there, don’t inconvenience yourself.

FYI: Mike Leake Police Report

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