From 2015 through 2019, Jessica Mendoza served as an analyst for ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball. Ahead of last season, the New York Mets hired her as a baseball operations adviser, but she retained her role as an ESPN analyst and broadcast three Mets SNB games last year. The conflict of interest there took some fire, with teams like the Dodgers even barring her from some clubhouse access granted to media members over concerns about her role with the Mets. Her job with the organization was part of why she was widely roasted this spring for her criticisms on ESPN platforms of Mike Fiers’ whistleblowing, which led to her ultimately leaving the Mets and signing a new ESPN deal (but being taken off Sunday Night Baseball).
Interestingly enough, though, ESPN never seemed to have a problem with that conflict of interest. And they didn’t seem to mind fellow SNB analyst Alex Rodriguez’s stint from 2017 through 2018 as a Yankees’ advisor (a role he held during his first SNB season in 2018, which featured six Yankees games). But they’re now looking to avoid a conflict of interest with Rodriguez because…he might be involved in a new Mets’ ownership group?
Here’s what Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweeted on that front Thursday:
ESPN will shy away from having A-Rod broadcasting #Mets games this year because of potential conflict of interest with Rodriguez and J.Lo bidding to purchase the club.
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) July 16, 2020
Look, of course organizations don’t have to keep making mistakes because they’ve made them in the past. Growth is a good thing, and if ESPN can now recognize that having a game analyst who works for one of the clubs involved in the game they’re broadcasting isn’t ideal, more power to them. And this year at least, keeping A-Rod off Mets games should have a minimal impact; the planned 60-game season only has nine weeks of SNB broadcasts and 10 games, with only one of the seven non-TBA matchups involving the Mets (which is part of an opening-night doubleheader, and yes, ESPN is just going to put him on the other game; that piece also involves him making glaringly pro-ownership comments about a salary cap, his other fun conflict of interest). Yes, there’s a bigger potential issue if it comes to the playoffs, but the Mets were 86-76 last year and finished third in their division, so they’re hardly a playoff lock. So this may wind up being an easy move that just makes sense and avoids some potential awkwardness.
But at the same time, it’s remarkable to see ESPN suddenly taking this apparent stand on conflicts of interest when they didn’t do that with either Rodriguez in 2018 or Mendoza in 2019. And it’s fascinating to see them taking a stand like this because Rodriguez might be part of a group that buys the team, something that very much might not happen, while they were fine with Rodriguez and Mendoza having actual real and non-hypothetical salaried positions with teams they covered. (In fairness to ESPN, many national broadcasters for MLB Network, Turner, and Fox have held positions with teams as well, but those positions also come with some problems, and Mendoza’s position came with particular challenges given how she was regularly described as actively consulting on Mets’ trades.)
It makes sense for ESPN to not have Rodriguez covering Mets’ games while he’s bidding on the franchise, and it makes particular sense to do that if he winds up buying the franchise (but if that happens, he probably won’t be working as a broadcaster anymore). Hopefully, ESPN will use this approach more widely going forward and will limit their conflicts of interest in general instead of just taking A-Rod off a single Mets’ game while he’s bidding on the team.