Breaking late on Monday night there was an article in The Athletic detailing the accusations by five women in sports media against former New York Mets manager and current Angels pitching coach Mickey Callaway. The accusations spanned five years, three teams, multiple cities and ranged from comments about looks, aggressive unsolicited e-mails, and in some cases lewd pictures.
This is all detailed online, as once The Athletic broke the news it was picked up by the rest of the media. These accusations come on the heels of the recent firing of Jared Porter by the Mets over lewd texts he sent while working for the Cubs. Something that stands out in the reporting by The Athletic is one very telling phrase:
“It was the worst-kept secret in sports,” said one of the women.
Let that sink in.
If that was the worst-kept secret in sports, imagine what else is out there.
Mickey Callaway’s behavior was clearly not a secret by any stretch of the imagination. Women had been warned about him (though not necessarily approached by him). It stands to be seen whether the organizations that hired him knew and when they knew, though if history has taught us anything, it is a fair assumption that someone working for the teams knew and either chose to sit on the knowledge (I’d like to start referring to this as the Urban Meyer Principle) or reported the behavior and no investigation took place. Callaway, of course, is denying the accusations, while MLB and the Angels have promised to launch investigations into his conduct.
With two very similar cases emerging in less than a month, it would probably be naïve to think that there will not be others coming out. As fun as it is to “LOL Mets,” this has put a bit of a damper on fans’ excitement during the start of the Steve Cohen era (his involvement in the RobinHood v. hedge funds fight notwithstanding), who came out strong in promising a new era in Queens and a “culture shift” in the org. To be fair to Cohen here, Callaway was the manager under the previous disastrous Wilpon ownership but it was Cohen’s decision to bring back Sandy Alderson — who hired Callaway to begin with — so there is still plenty of blame to go around.
Callaway and Porter are a symptom of a larger issue within Major League Baseball, a land full of promise ... and men. The glass ceiling of front office positions was broken with the Marlins hiring of Kim Ng, albeit for a job she’s been more than qualified for since the early 2000s. In 2019, NPR NPR reported on on MLB’s gender problem, and a slew of articles tend to pop up when there’s a woman hired in by a team (usually coming after the onslaught of men like Aubrey Huff asking if Alyssa Nakken is qualified, for example). These articles don’t stick around, and neither do the articles examining the behavior of the Callaways and Porters of the league. But here’s the thing: These actions don’t take place in a vacuum, and these behaviors aren’t recent developments.
MLB has had a gender problem for a very long time.
MLB/MLBPA only agreed on a domestic violence policy in 2015. That does not mean that there was not a problem before then — only that MLB was willing to acknowledge that they had a role as a professional organization when these accusations came down. Prior to 2015, neither the league nor individual clubs took action.
Famously, the first player charged under the policy was Aroldis Chapman, who continues to play for the Yankees (despite some pretty horrifying details of him firing a gun at an ex-girlfriend). There is an occasionally discussed case in 2015 that may have played a role in triggering a policy from MLB, one that involved current San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler.
For the unfamiliar, Kapler is the player who was the victim of “The Catch” that is currently memorialized on the wall in left-center field, and burned in the collective memory of every White Sox fan’s brain. Beyond that, he retired and was picked up by the Dodgers to work in player development in 2014.
However, in late February 2015 Kapler was made aware of a situation involving a 17-year old being beaten up and allegedly sexually assaulted by one of his players the night before. The girl had been drinking with two of L.A.’s minor league players, as well as two other women, in a hotel in Arizona. One of the players passed out drunk, while the other recorded a video of the girl being beaten and uploaded it to social media. Instead of reporting this to the police, Kapler attempted to set up a dinner between the girl and his players, in which he stated to the girl’s grandmother that “… we can teach valuable lessons to all involved through this method of follow-up.”
It’s worth noting that Kapler’s method of follow-up ensured that the players would not be reported to the organization or punished by law enforcement. It later came out in reporting by Sports Illustrated that Kapler and other members of the player development staff were aware of two other incidents involving minor leaguers, one with sexual violence and another involving stalking. Kapler later disputed the events, and then apologized for how he handled them.
These incidents are not news to anyone who follows baseball. Neither is the list of players who have been accused of domestic violence and punished by MLB. Most recently are investigations against both Yasiel Puig and Sam Dyson. Dyson’s ex-girlfriend Alexis Blackburn laid out some horrifying behavior by Dyson in an interview with The Athletic that included violence against her cat that triggered her leaving. One thing standing out from Blackburn’s detailing of the events is that the while MLB provides a seminar on domestic violence and numbers that can be called to report incidents, the onus is on the victim to report as well as on the players to provide the information to their family. Then there is the commentary around reporting it (“Is she lying?” ... “Well, he’s a pro athlete, you can’t do anything” ... etc.).
While compiling an exhaustive list of incidents would be warranted to hold up evidence to MLB’s gender problem (including recent accusations against HOF candidate Omar Vizquel and the 2019 firing of Brandon Taubman) it is not going to go anywhere to getting to the root of the actual problem. These stories come up again and again, while the culture of MLB is moving at a snail’s pace of change along with the mostly white male fanbase. As great as it is to finally see women getting hired in to jobs that they are more than qualified for, it is not enough.
The deeper question here is how many more stories like these are we going to hear before the blatantly misogynistic culture of baseball is changed?
It’s always amazing and to be celebrated when Ng, Justine Siegal, Raquel Ferreira, Nakken, Bianca Smith, Rachel Balkovec, and Rachel Folden are hired to work in organizations, but there’s inevitably a conversation around the hires that dampen the enjoyment of the “first female X” asking if “she” is qualified for her new job, most likely because women play softball instead of baseball (ignoring that the fundamentals are the same, with few differences). No one asks if the Porters or Taubmans are qualified; it could be argued that ex-investment bankers are less qualified than anyone to be working in front offices, especially by those decrying women hires for tainting the integrity of the game or for not having the baseball credentials.
While teams are making strides in hiring practices, the actual culture of baseball continues to struggle when players like Trevor Bauer are marketed as superstars when a simple Google search of “Trevor Bauer harassment” brings up article after article of Bauer’s bad behavior, most of which involves sending his Twitter followers after anyone who criticizes him — the majority of whom are women. Bauer and his attack drones, in lieu of an actual apology, declare that Bauer is defending himself against “online trolls.” A college student saying he is their least favorite player isn’t exactly trolling, nor is anyone saying that they don’t want him on their team during standard offseason contract talks (which tend to lead to him being tagged in the post by a fan).
Why is Bauer’s behavior wrong? Simple: there’s a power imbalance of someone with thousands of Twitter followers retweeting comments that inevitably lead to those followers harassing the critic. These actions show a thin-skinned obsession with those who don’t like him. A lesson that all of us learned at a young age was that sometimes people don’t like you. That usually means turn the other cheek and ignore it, not launch an attack.
MLB cannot continue to pretend that Bauer (and by extension #GirlBoss agent Rachel Luba, who appears to condone the behavior of her client) does not represent an ongoing problem with baseball culture, given that as of now has only gotten a hand slap for his behavior.
At the end of the day, there are some looming questions about culture that MLB needs to answer. Until there is action where the bad behavior is addressed in a meaningful way, baseball’s problem of toxic misogyny, violence, and harassment are not going to go anywhere.