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Shipley: For Sano, Twins and MLB, these are high stakes

Minnesota Twins third baseman Miguel Sano (22) hits a 2-RBI single during the second inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Charlotte Sports Park last week. Kim Klement / USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS—Major League Baseball's investigation into an alleged incident involving Twins third baseman Miguel Sano is baseball's first real #metoo moment. It was right there in a freelance photographer's Dec. 28 accusation of unwanted sexual advances via Twitter.

"This is my story. #metoo," she wrote.

That was on Dec. 28, shortly after the #metoo movement began sweeping the country in the wake of allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Betsy Bissen, a photographer who often shoots Twins and St. Paul Saints games, made it clear she was inspired to tell her story by other women who recently had come forward about experiences of assault and harassment.

"Every day stories come out. More women come out about their sexual assaults and rapes," she wrote in a brief statement attached to her Twitter account. "When will it end?"

Baseball has disciplined a handful of major leaguers for domestic assault, but not with so many people watching. Whatever MLB does or doesn't do with Sano — or with ongoing investigations into allegations involving Cubs shortstop Addison Russell or Red Sox pitcher Steven Wright — will reverberate beyond the clubhouses, press boxes and online forums.

According to Bissen, Sano, 24, grabbed her and forcibly tried to take her into a restroom after an autograph session at Ridgedale Mall on Oct. 3, 2015. She described a scene in which she fought with Sano for several minutes before he relented, and said the altercation left her physically sore the next day.

Sano immediately denied the accusation, telling TMZ Sports, "It never happened."

Baseball immediately announced that it was launching an investigation under a domestic violence policy created as a joint agreement with the players union in August 2015. The policy dictates that investigations be conducted by the commissioner's office and that players must cooperate.

On Feb. 28, Sano told reporters that he met with MLB officials for four hours as part of the investigation. Neither Bissen nor an MLB spokesman returned a request for comment.

Without a ruling, the Twins are in a sort of personnel stasis that was exacerbated when shortstop Jorge Polanco received an 80-game suspension last week for testing positive for the steroid Stanozolol.

Since baseball's domestic abuse policy was enacted, the league has handed down discipline four times, including an 82-game suspension for Braves outfielder Hector Olivera in April 2016. That kind of suspension would wipe out the left side of the Twins' infield for half a season.

It's been so quiet with regard to the investigation that it's hard to imagine that kind of suspension popping out of the box, but with Opening Day less than a week away, some sort of resolution seems closer — although that's not guaranteed.

It took the league eight months to conclude that Jeurys Familia, the Mets' all-star closer, did not physically attack his wife in a Nov. 1, 2016, incident. Nevertheless, baseball gave him a 15-game suspension on May 29, 2017, nearly two months into the season.

Sano's case is different. In the case of Jose Reyes, Aroldis Chapman, Olivera and Familia, the investigations were triggered by well-publicized criminal investigations, and Bissen's accusations were never reported to police. Likewise Boston's Wright, also waiting for word from MLB.

Russell was accused in a now-deleted Instagram post, but he, like the others, is married to the alleged victim.

That is not the case with Sano, whose situation is unique but probably only for the time being. That might be why MLB is moving deliberately. If there is discipline in this case, the severity will mark an important, and heavily scrutinized, precedent.