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Back when general manager Jeff Luhnow was fired by the Astros for his role in the sign-stealing scandal, I wrote a piece for Baseball Prospectus titled “Jeff Luhnow is gone. Jeff Luhnow is everywhere you look.” The idea was that, while Luhnow, physically, was no longer a part of the Astros or Major League Baseball, from an ideological point of view, his influence was spread far and wide. Getting rid of the man was not the same as getting rid of his ideas, and less than a year later, the minors shrunk and efficiency was put even more at the forefront of the league, just as Luhnow and his former acolytes had been angling for.
The situation with resigned Mariners’ president Kevin Mather is a bit different, if only because Mather isn’t the Luhnow in this situation: he’s not the guy who made the rest of the league focus on gaming service time, or harassing women from a position of power, or being racist to foreign players, or any other number of items you want to pull from his 45-minute speech to a Rotary Club that ended up costing him his job. Mather is only gone because he was caught saying what much of the rest of the league feels and does. His greatest sin, to them, was saying the quiet part loud, and if you think that’s an exaggeration, then it’s a good time to remind you that Mather didn’t just stick with the Mariners after he was accused by three women of sexual harassment: he was promoted. There were settlements, which is a way of quietly admitting guilt without actually admitting it to make an issue go away, but that’s exactly why the Mariners felt they could keep and promote Mather: because the whole thing went down quietly. This video was the opposite of quiet, so away he went.
The Mariners did not invent gaming service time, and they certainly did not invent sexual harassment. The Mets, in the last couple of months, have had three separate current or former employees accused of sexual harassment: new general manager Jared Porter, who is already gone from the role, Mickey Callaway, their former manager and current Angels’ pitching coach who is under investigation for harassment, and former hitting coordinator Ryan Ellis, who was only let go after the Porter release even though claims of sexual harassment were filed by multiple women three years ago.
The Mets, like the Mariners with Mather, kept Ellis on until they didn’t. Porter worked for the Red Sox, Diamondbacks, and Cubs, moving up through the ranks again and again, until he was hired to be a GM of a team. Callaway, too, continued to get hired, even though his behaviors were no secret, and spanned multiple teams and cities over a span of years. While I don’t know any specific individuals still in the game behaving like this group, you know they aren’t the only ones who act this way. And it’s because they’re usually protected, their behavior excused, until it can’t be excused any longer. Like, say, when an article is published at a major outlet that turns the volume up on the quiet parts teams don’t mind, so long as they stay quiet.
The Yankees are currently holding onto another domestic abuser, Domingo Germán, even as teammates spoke out against his return. Aroldis Chapman, who himself was suspended for domestic abuse, felt like it made sense for him to come out and tell the media he had a talk with his teammate about this difficult position he’s in. The Mets, after everything they have recently had unveiled about their lack of attention paid to sexual harassers, still were one of the final teams bidding on free agent Trevor Bauer, who has not been accused of sexual harassment, no, but has very publicly harassed women on Twitter, and directed his followers to escalate that harassment, to the point he had to put on a fake solemn face and try to tell us he’s a changed man when he put on Dodger blue.
There is individual accountability in MLB, but only if you get caught. Structurally, you can do just about anything you want to, so long as it doesn’t make a mess that needs to be cleaned up. Sexually harass others? Just make sure you don’t get caught in a way that can’t be quietly pushed aside, and your career will be fine. Be a complete dingus with hateful political opinions who sends harassment dogpiles after randos on Twitter? Well, at least you pitch well sometimes, here are giant stacks of money. Commit domestic abuse? Well, so long as you’re sorry, even if what you’re mostly sorry for is that you were caught. Don’t worry, MLB’s good old boys will protect you and your reputation, whether it’s from the front office or the announce booth. And those front office folks will be fine, so long as they don’t yell in the face of women reporters about how awesome it is to have a domestic abuser on the roster. Again, you’re supposed to quietly enjoy the low acquisition cost of abusers, Brandon, haven’t you learned anything by watching your peers operate?
As Patrick Dubuque detailed in his Mather feature at Baseball Prospectus, MLB has a Kevin Mather problem. The problem is that the whole league is full of Kevin Mathers:
Kevin Mather is not unemployed because he did something wrong; he never would have become team president if that were the case. He’s unemployed because he told the truth where others would hear. In order to survive, Major League Baseball needs its lies. It needs the fans to believe that there is more to the game than just corporations struggling to maximize profit, that the box score means something different than playing fantasy sports with stocks. It needs to reward its fans for the effort of their devotion, to maintain the fraying division between “fan” and “consumer.” Kevin Mather is a product of Seattle Mariners culture, but the Mariners are a product of MLB culture. At some point, the league needs to stop trying to keep their truths from becoming public, and start trying to make them less offensive.
MLB’s entire culture, from basically every angle, is garbage. The league’s answer to everything is to dismiss or briefly punish anyone caught doing enough wrong that the public notices and cares, and to do nothing of substance to actually address the behaviors themselves, not on any kind of structural level. Mather isn’t likely to be some turning point, just like the firing of Porter and Ellis and, eventually, Callaway aren’t likely to be some kind of turning point. He’s just another individual that benefited from a system that’s working the way it’s designed to, until his behavior became a liability.
There will be other Kevin Mathers, because the league is already full of them, at every level. Much more will be needed than plucking out the Mathers and the Porters and the Callaways out one at a time as they reveal themselves, but MLB hasn’t shown itself particularly interested in more than this surface-level weeding. And that’s the problem that needs solving, the problem that persists, the problem at the root of it all.
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