Deesha Thosar: Women should not be responsible for fixing harassment in MLB

·7 min read

NEW YORK — Years ago, Mickey Callaway reportedly first crossed the first line. He repeatedly texted a female multimedia correspondent, including a picture of himself shirtless, while he was the Cleveland Indians pitching coach, The Athletic reported this week. The woman, who was young and new to the baseball industry, had already told Callaway she was not sexually interested in him. For a week, Callaway persisted and sent more texts. She thinks he eventually stopped because she didn’t answer his messages.

This behavior, detailed by The Athletic in accounts from five anonymous women, is a pattern of Callaway’s that led to him getting suspended — and soon, likely fired — from his current position as Angels pitching coach. Callaway was behaving inappropriately toward women for at least the past five years. Of course, Callaway’s fall from grace is his own fault. But who else is responsible for letting Callaway continue to cross a line across three cities and three Major League Baseball teams?

The Indians, who employed Callaway as pitching coach from 2013-17, said they were unaware of his transgressions. The Mets, who hired Callaway to be manager for two seasons from 2018-19, said they conducted an investigation in Aug. 2018 (the conclusion of which they did not release) into a past incident involving Callaway. Other than that, they didn’t know. The Angels, who hired Callaway to be pitching coach in 2019, said they were unaware of Callaway’s misconduct until The Athletic report brought it to light. Major League Baseball also said this week was the first time they learned about it.

When no one takes accountability for the Mickey Callaways of the world, and of their organization, the responsibility to rectify and prevent actions like Callaway’s ultimately falls on women. Women, who are inflicted by the emotional trauma that men like Callaway cause, end up bearing the responsibility of his actions because no one else — the Indians, Mets, Angels or MLB — stepped up and accepted that the burden was theirs to carry.

“How would that be possible? At this point, it’s his reputation,” a woman in The Athletic report said, questioning how teams were unaware of Callaway’s behavior. “If they are vetting him, even an ounce of his personal life should reveal this.”

Sandy Alderson hired Callaway to be the Mets manager in Oct. 2017. By then, Callaway had already spent five years as Cleveland’s pitching coach. He’d already pursued at least two women who worked in baseball. He was recommended to the Mets by Indians manager Terry Francona, who enthusiastically endorsed his former coach for his demeanor and experience. Callaway said he was prepared to make the transition from pitching coach to manager thanks to Tito, who he leaned on throughout his years in Cleveland.

In a statement released Monday night, the Indians said they were “made aware for the first time [Monday] of the allegations in The Athletic regarding Mickey Callaway’s behavior towards women.” Cleveland said the “organization unequivocally does not condone this type of behavior.” A source told the Daily News a respected employee of the Indians was “not surprised” by Callaway’s behavior and he can’t “defend or make excuses for anyone” in the organization who may have known about it. No points are awarded for knowing Callaway well enough not to be surprised by bad behavior, but not being aware of specific wrongdoings. One should lead into the other.

Cleveland and Terry Francona’s endorsement allowed Callaway to take his lewd behavior to a new city: New York. There, according to The Athletic, Callaway massaged one woman’s shoulders in the dugout and sent her shirtless pictures two or three times a month. He asked another New York-based reporter to get drunk in exchange for Mets news. The Mets’ 2018 investigation into Callaway, which we now know was a failure since the outcome let him manage for another season, allowed them to sidestep accountability. Meanwhile, Callaway was continuing to abuse his power over less powerful women in a giant media market.

“I was appalled by the actions reported today of former manager Mickey Callaway,” Alderson said in a statement on Monday. “I was unaware of the conduct described in the story at the time of Mickey’s hire or at any time during my tenure as general manager.”

To Alderson’s credit, he is the only person so far to sit in front of a camera and answer questions about harassment in an MLB workplace. The 73-year-old did so two weeks ago, after the club swiftly fired former GM Jared Porter for sending explicit texts and photos to a female reporter while he was a Cubs employee in 2016. Alderson showed bravery when responding to those questions, even if some of his answers were not the best. But this courage escaped him in his statement about Callaway.

It’s possible Alderson was altogether unaware of Callaway’s behavior while he was Mets GM. He stepped down from his position in June 2018 due to cancer. The Mets said they investigated Callaway in Aug. 2018. So the timeline precludes Alderson from even knowing about the team’s investigation, let alone Callaway’s misconduct that forced a probe in the first place. But Alderson was the GM who hired him. It was his responsibility to know. It’s still his responsibility to own up for Callaway’s actions.

But sidestepping accountability isn’t just on Alderson. The Indians did it. The Angels are still doing it. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred hasn’t accepted responsibility for one of his employees in a position of power who caused several women to feel uncomfortable, preyed upon and trapped under his watch. Teams are just passing the buck. It was someone else’s responsibility then, it’s someone else’s responsibility now. No one in MLB has held themselves accountable for the hiring of Callaway. No one has sat down and said, ‘Sorry guys, this one’s on me.’

The brunt of this responsibility has fallen on women. Thanks to women, who are already suffering from the emotional overhead of routinely dealing with men like Porter and Callaway, this misconduct was made public.

Women, who have reason to fear retribution for speaking up, are the ones bringing this unacceptable behavior and horrific work environment to light. Women are the ones being asked to appear on radio and TV shows when reports like The Athletic’s come out. Women are the ones reliving their trauma, while bearing the responsibility of leaving the field better than they found it. Women are asked dumb questions, like ‘Is this a systemic issue across MLB?’ or, ‘Should executives consider asking women and female reporters during the hiring process?’ A more useful question than asking women what is to be done would be to ask the men in power just what they’re going to do.

It’s not a woman’s job to answer these questions or fix the problem. It’s the team’s responsibility to foster an environment in which questions like these shouldn’t even have to be asked. Instead of fixing the problem or taking accountability, teams are passing the buck.

While women grapple with their emotions after being the target of inappropriate and unwanted sexual advances from men they work for or with, while women show immense courage to speak up and share these instances so others will not be victims of harassment, while women consider the implications of what speaking up will mean for their careers, what is everyone else doing? Well, they’re just claiming they didn’t know.

There is a fundamental flaw within the industry. MLB has to start by saying, ‘Even if we didn’t know, we hired these men to work for us. And for that, we bear responsibility.’ For MLB to accept that there is a fundamental flaw, it has to start being accountable.