Content warning: This story discusses sexual harassment and assault. It contains graphic descriptions and strong language that may be disturbing to some readers.
“Spitballing” is a column by Nathan Ackerman about Major League Baseball.
Spring Training is finally here. Pitchers, catchers and now most position players have reported to their respective facilities, you actually think your team has a chance (go away Dodgers fans) and the aromas of leather, freshly cut grass and toxic labor relations are once again upon us.
There are so many intriguing storylines going into this season. The NL East is a straight behemoth, though the Mets are once again overhyped. My high school baseball team might have a good shot against anyone from the NL Central. Rumor has it the Dodgers and Padres should be halfway decent. No one cares about the American League, but I’m sure some cool stuff is happening over there in Designated Hitter land.
Let’s get to some of that another time. Why don’t we first take a trip down memory lane? Because it’s been a rough offseason for pieces of trash in Major League Baseball.
Jan. 18: ESPN MLB insider Jeff Passan and ESPN reporter Mina Kimes publish a story exposing then-Mets general manager Jared Porter for sending countless unsolicited, sexually charged text messages to a female reporter over a span of several weeks, including a picture of, well, just read Passan’s tweet:
Jan. 22: Mere days after Porter’s exposé, the Mets fire hitting performance coordinator Ryan Ellis after three women approached the team detailing sexual harassment perpetrated by Ellis. Included: Ellis telling one that “I stare at your ass all the time” and expressing to one that he wanted to “put her up against a wall.”
Feb. 1: Brittany Ghiroli and Katie Strang of The Athletic write that five women have accused current Los Angeles Angels pitching coach and former New York Mets (hey!) manager Mickey Callaway of sexual harassment. Some of Callaway’s actions: asking one of the women to send nude photos, promising insider information to one if she got drunk with him, shoving his crotch near one’s face as she interviewed him. Sounds like a charming guy.
Feb. 21, literally Sunday: Video emerges of Mariners president Kevin Mather making fun of Japanese former pitcher and current special-assignment coach Hisashi Iwakuma for speaking imperfect English and requiring a translator and of Mather insulting the English of Julio Rodriguez, the Mariners’ second-best prospect and a native of the Dominican Republic, who actually speaks English quite well.
I know, I know. Mather said like 92 other wack things in that now-infamous Breakfast Rotary Club (ironic) event. But while openly admitting to manipulating No. 4 overall prospect Jarred Kelenic’s service time, (incorrectly) calling the face of your own franchise Kyle Seager overpaid, fabricating a story about a locker room fight between Marco Gonzales and Mike Leake and lying about Mitch Haniger’s comments on incoming prospects is horrible PR, rude and downright stupid, they’re not the kind of wrongdoing I’m trying to get at.
What’s the common thread between the Porter, Ellis, Callaway and Mather stories? They were all enabled or horribly mishandled by their respective teams.
In the press conference following Porter’s firing, Hannah Keyser of Yahoo! Sports asked Mets president Sandy Alderson if any women were among the many folks the team supposedly consulted when narrowing in on Porter for the general manager vacancy. The answer, of course, was no. Hm.
You didn’t quite hear about the Ellis story until recently, did ya? That’s by design. The Mets tried to sweep his firing under the rug and only announced it in response to a mid-February story by The Athletic detailing the three women’s allegations — which, by the way, were reported to the team in 2018. Hm.
Callaway has worked for at least three different teams — the Cleveland Indians, New York Mets and Los Angeles Angels — since word began to spread that the dude is a bona fide creep. In fact, according to that story in The Athletic, at least one female reporter in Cleveland and multiple in Los Angeles were warned about Callaway’s harassment, which one woman said “was the worst-kept secret in sports.” Well, apparently, the Indians were left out. And the Mets. And the Angels, who ***suspended*** Callaway upon learning of the allegations. Hm.
And Mather. Mather resigned Monday, the day after his comments went viral. No way the Mariners organization had any role in this, so why don’t we let them off the hook, eh? Not so fast. This is the same Kevin Mather, you might recall, who reached an approximately $500,000 settlement with three women after they accused him and other executives for inappropriate workplace conduct, triggering staff-wide sexual harassment training.
That took place from 2009 to 2010. When did we learn about it? Why, in 2018, of course, only because of a Seattle Times investigation. The Mariners decided to keep silent, sweep it under the rug and keep the absolute beam of sunshine around for the next decade so one day, he can say racist garbage to a rotary club.
Wait for it ...
Where am I going with this?
Baseball has a culture problem. This much is clear. Jared Porter, Ryan Ellis, Mickey Callaway and Kevin Mather contribute to it. Obviously.
But I won’t extrapolate those four men to claim that they define baseball. They don’t. They are not causes of the culture, they are products of it. The worst of the worst, yes, but symptoms nonetheless.
The root of baseball’s culture problem is so much deeper. It lies within the enablers. Because for every Jared Porter, Ryan Ellis, Mickey Callaway and Kevin Mather, there is a team — literally, often, a team — of enablers who choose one of two routes.
The first, like the one the Mets took with Porter — just don’t bother doing the work. Don’t look into his behavior. Hope there are no red flags. When it pops up, claim innocence. Play dumb. Ignorance is bliss.
The second, like the one the Angels took with Callaway, the Mariners with Mather — sweep it under the rug. Underreact. Hope it’ll go away. Condemn it, but excuse it. Let it fester.
So the next time a team like the Mets claims it will revamp its hiring processes moving forward to avoid another Porter-esque fiasco or a team like the Mariners claims that Mather didn’t meet its organizational standards, don’t blindly accept their platitudes. Don’t think that because they’re gone, the problem is solved, or closer to it.
The individuals are a problem, but they’re not the only problem. The problem is organizational. Systemic. Procedural. Cultural.
And until baseball finds a way to get at its roots, it will persist.
“Spitballing” runs every Tuesday.