Ethics Dunce: ESPN Baseball Commentator Jessica Mendoza

(Jessica giggles too much too...)

This answers a question I’ve had ever since softball player Jessica Mendoza was added to the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball broadcast team: how can a nice, all-American girl like Jessica not gag having to work with Alex Rodriguez, one of the most loathsome personalities in baseball history?

Rodriguez, after all,  was caught twice using banned  PEDs (performance enhancing drugs), lied repeatedly throughout his career to the public, the press, and team authorities, was handed one of the longest suspensions ever given to a player, and was caught cheating in various ways whenever he thought he could get away with it. (My personal favorite was when he shouted “Mine!” as he ran from second to third while a pop-up was over the infield, causing the opposing shortstop to let the ball drop because he thought a team mate had called for the ball. ) His odious presence in the ESPN booth is why I  usually refuse to watch games broadcast by the trio of A-Rod, Jessica and play-by-play man Matt  Vasgersian—well, that and the fact that they are terrible, habitually engaging in inane happy-talk that often has nothing to do with what’s happening on the field.

Yesterday Mendoza appeared on ESPN Radio’s “Golic and Wingo” show to discuss the baseball’s sign-stealing scandal that has—so far, because more is coming— led to the firing of three teams’  managers, the dismissal of a successful general manager, and  cast a long shadow on the World Championships of the Houston Astros in 2017 and the Boston Red Sox in 2018. Oakland A’s pitcher Mike Fiers made himself a likely permanent pariah in his sport by blowing the whistle to the press on his former team, the 2017 Houston Astros, who engaged in an elaborate sign-stealing scheme via hidden cameras, electronic relays and, uh, trashcan banging for the entire 2017 season and post-season. The consensus, at least in public, around the game is that Fiers did the right thing for the long-term integrity of baseball.

Jessica disagrees. Her basic position is the same as inner city gangs and the Corleone Family: don’t be a snitch. She told Golic,

“I mean, I get it. If you’re with the Oakland A’s and you’re on another team, I mean heck yeah, you better be telling your teammates, “Look, hey, heads up. If you hear some noises when you’re pitching, this is what’s going on.” For sure. But to go public, yeah. It didn’t sit well with me. And honestly, it made me sad for the sport that that’s how this all got found out. This wasn’t something that MLB naturally investigated or that even other teams complained about because they naturally heard about, and then investigations happen. But it came from within. It was a player that was a part of it, that benefited from it during the regular season when he was a part of that team. When I first heard about it, it hits you like any teammate would. It’s something that you don’t do. I totally get telling your future teammates, helping them win, letting people know. But to go public with it and call them out and start all of this, it’s hard to swallow.”

Perhaps this is the time to note that Mendoza only has her job because her predecessor, former star pitcher Curt Schilling, committed the unforgivable sin of opining on social media in a politically incorrect fashion. Now, as baseball is trying to clean up the ethics of its sport ( I recommend this excellent article by Sports illustrated reporter Tom Verducci), Mendoza is criticizing the player who told the truth and revealed a serious problem. It was also admirable that Fiers did not choose to remain anonymous, as he could have, and as indeed the players confirming a Boston Red Sox cheating scheme have. As NBC’s baseball blogger Bill Baer correctly writes (and Baer is hardly an ethics savant), “By criticizing Fiers, Mendoza is helping to create and maintain social pressure against those who dare to speak out. For Major League Baseball, that is antithetical to its mission.”

After Mendoza’s disturbing A-Rodesque ethics void was revealed and attracted near universal criticism, ESPN apparently got Jessica together with someone who understands the importance of flagging wrongdoing (because Jessica clearly does NOT “get it”) and appended her name to one of those “let me explain what I meant though it is completely the opposite of what I said, because what I said will get me in big trouble if I don’t deny that I meant it” statements:

Thought it was important to clarify my earlier remarks about the sign stealing situation in MLB. Most importantly, I feel strongly that the game of baseball will benefit greatly because this sign stealing matter was uncovered. Cheating the game is something that needs to be addressed and I’m happy to see that the league is taking appropriate action. The point I should have been much more clear on was this: I believe it’s very critical that this news was made public; I simply disagree with the manner in which that was done. I credit Mike Fiers for stepping forward, yet I feel that going directly through your team and/or MLB first could have been a better way to surface the information. Reasonable minds can disagree. Ultimately what matters most is that his observations were made public and the game will be better for it. In regards to the Mets, I want to make it extra clear that my advisor role with the team does not shape my opinion in any way, shape or form on this matter. I feel this way regardless of what teams, players or managers are involved.

Of course, nothing in Mendoza’s previous remarks hinted that she “gave credit” to Mike Fiers, and that’s because she doesn’t really feel that way.  Moreover, we know that it was only Fiers’ revealing the Astros’ cheating to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich that prompted MLB to act when it did. As with the sport’s previous scandal involving steroids, MLB did not want to let the public know the degree to which the game was tainted. Fiers knew if he kept the information “inside,” as Mendoza would  like, it might never have gotten “outside.”

Despite her risible “clarification,” what Mendoza said in defense of covering up cheating in baseball should be far more worthy of dismissal by ESPN than Curt Schilling’s criticism of transgender bathroom policies and Islamic jihadism, except that by employing A-Rod, ESPN has made it clear that it doesn’t see cheating as a big deal.

I get it.

And I would love to know what cheating Jessica Mendoza may have participated in or kept quiet about as a member of the United States women’s national softball team from 2004 to 2010, now that we know her definition of sportsmanship….

_______________________________

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9 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce: ESPN Baseball Commentator Jessica Mendoza

  1. I just completed an interesting book by Rob Bauer of SABR: “Outside the Lines of Gilded Age Baseball: Alcohol, Fitness, and Cheating in 1880s Baseball” There were actual examples of using primitive electronics to sign steal well back in the day. Is Fiers similar to the whistleblower that started the Ukraine dust-up? As a Red Sox fan, the only shred of respect I have for the 2018 team was they accomplished the playoff victories without the pilfering.

  2. How was calling “Mine!” cheating?

    Was there a rule that he violated?

    Doesn’t the shortstop have priority to call for a ball (it has been so long that I forget). If so (I have not seen the play), he should not have yielded.

    I agree that it is sneaky (and cleverly so), but is it any different from other sorts of misdirection in the game (like when infielders fake a toss to a bag to get a runner to slide when the ball was actually hit into the outfield)?

    -Jut

    • The idea is to both deceive and distract and usually, the outfielders have a priority on popups or short fly balls that can cause confusion and collisions in that neverland between infield/outfield – I had a few crashes. This is similar to a baserunner making dance captain moves to distract a pitcher. It all comes down to sportsmanship and interpretation or a fastball directed at a body part of the offender. A-Rod had pulled this stunt a few times on infield balls to cause confusion. Generally professional or amateur curtesy prevents possible meyham.

    • If players did it with any regularity, it would be illegal. No rules can cover everything, and there are always loopholes. There’s no rule against a ballpark blaring out music loudly while a fly ball is in the air so the other team can’t hear each other calling for it, but it’s still cheating. There was no rule against a team putting a midget up to bat so nobody could through a strike to him, but it was cheating, and once it was done, there was a rule passed.

      • But, your whole point in the cheating scandal was that players are able able to steal signs and it is not against the rules, but there is a rule prohibiting non-players from doing it and using equipment to relay it to batters so it is cheating.

        And, the argument that if it happened frequently it WOULD be against the rules is not clear (since sign stealing by players is ubiquitous, and it is not cheating).

        I still don’t see how yelling “Mine!” is cheating if there is no rule. It might be no different than catchers who talk trash to the batter, which I think is permitted.

        -Jut

        • No, I’m saying that there is wide consensus that certain acts are unethical ways to get an advantage, as in “cheating,” that there may may be no rules against because either they are enforced informally, or infractions happen so seldom that no rule has been considered necessary. There has never been anyone in baseball who regarded sign-stealing as unethical (cheating), if done by human beings in uniforms. Using devices has always been considered cheating, but it wasn’t until recently that explicit rules were seen as necessary. It has always been considered unethical for a batter to try to steal the signs himself, by turning around and watching the catcher give them. When batters in the past tried it, they were beaned by the pitcher. It is, however, considered cheating, and nobody does it—nobody does it because the game couldn’t be played if “everybody does it.” When ARod did this in 2007 it provoked the usual ethics-dead debate by baseball journalists, as if this was even a close call. The players kept saying that A-rod was only getting flack because 1) it worked and 2) it was him…except nobody could come up with a time where anyone else did it. And if a player tried it every week, there would have had to be a rule against it. There was no rule against the catcher switching the ball with a potato to trick a base-runner into thinking he had thrown the ball into the outfield trying to pick him off—until a catcher tried it in a game, and it was made illegal. There are deceptive acts that are regarded as ethical gamesmanship, like fielders decoying runners. There are deceptive acts that are against the black and white rules. There are acts that are regarded as unethical within the game that literally nobody tries….like what Rodriguez did. (and there are other examples of A-Rod trying other cheats.) There are cheats that involve deliberate rules violations that can’t be enforced well—like batters standing with a foot outside the batters box to hit, or batters letting themselves get hit by pitches–which are eventually shrugged off because they can’t be stopped. There are cheats like pitch framing, which can’t be addressed by a rule because enforcement is literally impossible, and every catcher tries to do it, so it’s regarded as part of the game. The lines between all of these contain some gray areas, but not what A-Rod did. If something is unethical, it’s unethical whether there’s a rule or not. It would take about two instances in a season of a player calling “mine” to force a rule with a harsh penalty to be installed. None was put in in 2007 because the uproar was so great, and because everyone knew Rodriguez was an asshole. (He denied that he said “mine” –he said that he shouted “Hah!” “I would never shout ‘mine'” he said.)

  3. I know that nowadays it is considered corny (or at least quaint) to speak of sports as being a “microcosm of life” and of good sportsmanship as being a condensed version of how to live life, but corny or not, many of us were raised that way and find it difficult to accept the cheating (among a myriad of problems) that seems to run rampant in many of todays sports, particularly as those sports have morphed into multi-gazillion-dollar businesses.
    When any recognized “spokesperson” for a sports genre or organization, either insider or a member of the commentariat, has an opportunity to address unethical conduct of any sort, it is always disappointing when they fail to take the high road and condemn the misconduct and remind all of us of the level of ethical conduct to which sportsmen and sportswomen should aspire. Failing to grasp the opportunity to do so is always of signature significance for me, whether it involves justifying or defending he misconduct or minimizing it. Failing to elevate or even defend heroic conduct deprives us of heroes.
    Can’t we all just play by the rules?
    I can hear it already: “Okay, Boomer!”

  4. Tom Verducci is a recommended read on just about everything – he is a great writer. I suspect he could write about paint drying and I would love it. He kept me interested in Sports Illustrated long after I realized that I don’t really care that much about sports. I like baseball. I can tolerate football. Curling? Yes. I love it. Hockey? Well, . . . growing up in Cleveland, you were required to love it and play it (I could do neither). Soccer? Ho-hum. Swimming? To the extent that The Boy excels at it, I am interested. I do, though, believe that sports is a microcosm for the life. Sports requires integrity, determination, dedication, and discipline. Those are important life values. Baseball, as America’s game, has suffered a ton of bruises over the past twenty years. I saw it in the home run races. I was not surprised that a 190-pound hitter in October would return in March the next year weighing in at 225 pounds of finely toned muscle. That defies logic and biology. Sosa? McGuire? Bonds? Yeah. We weren’t fooled.

    Verducci does raise interesting points, though. The shift away from the game to actuaries is a driving factor in cheating, as are probably contract bonuses based on attaining certain benchmarks. A player gets $X for so many home runs, RBIs, touchdowns, yardage on carriers. Then, there are post-season bonuses. Professional sports is now a huge, multi-billion dollar enterprise. Actuaries in the front offices control almost all of the games, valuing franchises, players, etc. That horse has left the barn and will defy being reined in anytime soon.

    jvb

  5. I wonder whether Jessica is a cheater and all women’s softball players are cheater or if she made her original comments to sound like “one of the boys” and gain some “cred” with “the guys.”

    A girl doing play by play is fine. Color commentary? She’s an expert on MLB hitting and pitching? Bizarre.

    She also has no idea how to dress. ESPN really needs to get her a full time wardrobe consultant.

    Every time I see A-Rod, I feel as if I need to take a shower. He’s Ricky Ricardo gone bad.

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