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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