Jessica Mendoza, former United States softball star and current ESPN baseball and softball analyst, replaced the suspended Curt Schilling on Sunday Night Baseball this week. Spend five minutes on the internet and you can see a host of savvy baseball people who do not want ESPN to go back.
It took one game for Jessica Mendoza to show MLB fans she's a better game analyst than Harold Reynolds. One.
— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) August 31, 2015
Jessica Mendoza is making interesting, intelligent points and I am learning things. Please keep her in this booth @espn
— Molly Knight (@molly_knight) August 31, 2015
Jessica Mendoza knows more about baseball than you do
— Nathan Bernhardt (@jonbernhardt) August 31, 2015
Not sure who was better, Jake Arrieta or Jessica Mendoza.
— John Shea (@JohnSheaHey) August 31, 2015
Jessica Mendoza is a true pioneer among Sunday Night Baseball analysts in that she's gone 8 innings without saying anything extremely dumb.
— Ted Berg (@OGTedBerg) August 31, 2015
I’ve heard like 10 minutes of Jessica Mendoza over two broadcasts and without question she should be doing MLB games as often as possible.
— Dave Brown (@AnswerDave) August 31, 2015
It seems Mendoza’s inclusion in the Sunday night booth will be short lived though, as Richard Deitsch of SI.com reported that Schilling will be back on Sunday Night Baseball on September 6th.
As heinous as Schilling’s tweet comparing Muslims to World War II-era Nazis may have been, it’s probably not a fireable offense at ESPN. I say probably because ESPN consistently moves the goalposts when it comes to policies of commentary on social media, suspending high-profile pundits less for their incendiary comments on Facebook and Twitter and more for when those comments create too big of a stir, forcing the higher-ups to react.
To that point, Schilling has said and tweeted and Facebook’d much worse in his time at ESPN — heck, he said and tweeted and Facebook’d much worse last week — which led some to question why ESPN chose now to step in and suspended him.
The short answer? He got caught. Schilling plays to his base all the time on social media, and in most cases the liberal media lets him play in his conservative sandbox all he wants. But this time, the sand got into the yard, and now the grass is dead in a pattern that looks like a Seig Heil salute. That tweet was enough for ESPN to finally step in, set Schilling in the timeout chair for a week, and let Mendoza play in the sandbox while he’s gone.
And here’s the thing, by all accounts — or at least by most accounts from those who cover the sport — she did a wonderful job.
This could put ESPN at a crossroads when it comes to the Sunday night booth. Schilling and Kruk have known each other for more than 20 years and share a rapport that Kruk may take time to develop with Mendoza, if they ever can at all.
Schilling also has the cache of being a very good Major League pitcher who has won at the highest level many times. Kruk knows about hitting, Schilling knows about pitching. It works, for the most part.
It’s just that Schilling isn’t that good at presenting his opinions in a live-game setting. And Mendoza, while lacking in some of the Major League expertise Schilling does have, presents her points in a more palatable and dare-I-say relatable manner.
After Sunday’s game, there are just three more Sunday Night Baseball telecasts this year, so it would have been easy for ESPN to slow-foot a decision to reinstate Schilling until after the reviews of Mendoza come in, the react to the audience — just like they did with Schilling’s suspension in the first place — and decide what to do with the position at that point. If it took another week, why not two or three?
By confirming to Deitsch that Schilling will return next week, ESPN actually made the easier call. It would be an enormous story if ESPN pulled Schilling completely off television for the rest of the season after his gaffe, and even relegating him back to the studio — where he is a better baseball analyst anyway — would be bigger news than letting him finish out the season through September and then making a decision about his future.
It begs the question, however, of whether or not the easy decision was the right decision. Should Schilling get Wally Pipp’d by Mendoza?
Think about it another way. Would this happen at your job?
Let’s say you run a sales department and there is an older guy who is really gruff, and a little racist (okay a lot racist) and he always wears short sleeves with a tie and that bothers the hell out of you because just roll up your damn sleeves, Brent, how hard is that?!!?
Anyway, Brent — let’s go with Brent — is always hitting his numbers just fine, but never brings in much more than that. And then in his spare time Brent goes wild on social media, posting all sorts of racist stuff, despite the fact your company has a strict policy against such things. Eventually, Brent goes too far the day before a big client meeting. Knowing Brent is a lighting rod, you decide to take Melissa with you instead, as she’s new to the job — the first woman your company has ever hired for sales — and full of energy.
Melissa is the exact opposite of Brent in almost every way and she kills it with the client. They laud you for adding a woman to the sales staff, and applaud the choice of Melissa. The client likes Melissa so much they go out of their way to talk about how much better she was to work with than Brent.
Would you bring Brent to the next client meeting?
We are ESPN’s clients. If enough of us were offended by what Schilling said to warrant a suspension, and his replacement did a good enough job that she is being widely lauded in the role, why would ESPN go back?
Now, part of the reason might be because other clients still like Brent, er Curt, in this case. And if there are enough people who weren’t offended by his tweet that canning him would be considered an abject over-reaction, then putting him back in the rotation for the next game makes the most sense from a business standpoint.
Still, ESPN should be — and undoubtedly will be — monitoring the situation. Schilling has locked down his Facebook page and blocked many of us from seeing his Twitter feed (protip: we can still see your tweets if we don’t log in, Curt) in a clear effort to keep his agenda with those who share those sentiments. And yet, that may not be enough. ESPN has jettisoned loud-mouthed pundits in swaths this summer, so one has to wonder what’s one more, especially if naming his replacement would not only be an upgrade, but a groundbreaking move in the industry.
Come to think of it, maybe ESPN didn’t make the easy choice after all. What decisions they make next will certainly be worth watching.