Some combination of my age and just the chaotic times we live in have drastically reset the thresholds for events to shock or outrage me. I’m becoming more dead inside. Things that get most people riled up, and would in the past do the same to me, are now met with a “meh” or a “well, that was bound to happen”. More and more, this applies to the sports media beat, which by comparison seems so much more lower stakes than everything else going in the world. That being said, ESPN and Jessica Mendoza have awoken the sports media critic in me as I sit here in utter bewilderment of how terribly asinine and obtuse this morning’s events were.
You can read our earlier recap here, but long story short, Jessica Mendoza was paraded across three popular ESPN shows where she spit out the same talking points pertaining to the Astros sign stealing scandal. First, the initial appearance on Golic and Wingo that opened the floodgates of criticism.
“To go public with it and call them out and start all of this, it’s hard to swallow.”
— Golic and Wingo (@GolicAndWingo) January 16, 2020
Mendoza would go onto appear on the two ESPN main network morning shows, Get Up and First Take, and stuck to the script on both shows which only caused criticism to snowball.
Jessica Mendoza, a Mets employee, is on a self inflicted credibility killing PR blitz doing the entire ESPN carwash. On First Take, She goes after Fiers again saying he “ratted out” on everyone (ratted being repeated by ESPN host) and then says she got “fired up” about it. pic.twitter.com/8hddkQ1Arv
— Ben Koo (@bkoo) January 16, 2020
Before getting into this, a few quick things for those not familiar with some of the nuances here:
– Mendoza is one of the color analysts on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, a broadcast booth that has been generally pummeled.
– Mendoza is also a baseball operations adviser for the Mets, a secondary role ESPN has allowed her and other talent (including Alex Rodriguez and David Ross) to pursue, but one that has drawn the ire of other teams who see a conflict of interest.
“I think it’s pretty cut and dried. It’s hard for me to see the other side of it, personally. If that’s not the case, then I think there will be an arms race in hiring announcers to work for our front office to go get information on players.”
– Andrew Friedman
— Marc Carig (@MarcCarig) November 19, 2019
– Mendoza’s trifecta of appearances came as the heat of the Astros scandal was now squarely on her other employer, the Mets whose rookie manager, Carlos Beltran, was named as one of the former players who participated in the sign stealing scandal. With the terminations and resignations of Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch in Houston and Alex Cora in Boston, Beltran was essentially now the last high-profile individual whose fate was now up for debate.
With all of that context, it’s not hard to connect the dots and see how Mendoza imploded her credibility while making a mockery of ESPN. Mendoza, at the very least, was a far, far cry from a neutral broadcaster during those appearances. At worst, she seemed like a modern-day politician making the rounds of Fox News or MSNBC, regurgitating the same handful of talking points in hopes of swaying public opinion or deflecting criticism away from the core issue at hand.
She didn’t just misspeak, she went on ESPN’s most popular radio show and two of ESPN’s biggest studio brands and shilled for the Mets. And she didn’t just try to play defense for the sake of preserving Beltran’s job, but inexplicably went on the offensive going after Mike Fiers using offensive verbiage like “ratted”. Her three-show performance was so brazen, so obvious, and so cringeworthy, it couldn’t be ignored by her peers, her fans, nor her coworkers.
Mike Fiers is the sole named figure in this entire mess who has behaved honorably. https://t.co/3S6eNkpGlR
— Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) January 16, 2020
The only acceptable take on Mike Fiers goes like this:
Thank you for putting your own name on the line to help baseball eliminate one of its most embarrassing scandals in history.
End of story.
— Brodie Brazil (@BrodieNBCS) January 16, 2020
Man, I've been a huge Mendoza fan for nearly two decades, but this is a super bad look, and is frankly incredibly disappointing. https://t.co/Rye8BE7dIx
— Matt Tamanini (@BWWMatt) January 16, 2020
Two predictable things then happened. 1) Mendoza was leaned on by ESPN to do some damage control, something she really failed miserably at and 2) the public pressure only intensified and Beltran and the Mets parted ways, with him doing the predictable “I haven’t been fired, I’m not resigning, but I’m leaving because I don’t want to be a distraction” thing. Whoever came up with the whole “distraction” PR two step, should really be in some type of Hall of Fame at this point. Here’s Mendoza’s statement:
— Jessica Mendoza (@jessmendoza) January 16, 2020
So, beyond this recap, why is my heart rate a bit elevated, you ask? Because this was just an incredibly stupid self-inflicted wound, and one that has undermined the credibility of Mendoza as a lead analyst going forward. ESPN has already been facing intense scrutiny and criticism for Sunday Night Baseball, with our own Joe Lucia saying back in April that the booth “is a disaster and cannot last long-term” (and he was far from alone there). Even with that prevailing opinion that the SNB booth is on thin ice, ESPN seemed to have absolutely no awareness whatsoever of how Mendoza going on three of their most popular shows could spectacularly backfire like it did.
For the record, I’ve enjoyed Mendoza in the booth, thought she was an inspiring hire, and know both her and ESPN have had to endure a ton of undeserved grief because she’s a woman in the announcing booth. In a day and age where that uphill struggle is still trying to get a toe-hold of footing, in just a few hours, a pre-orchestrated media blitz has tarnished Mendoza’s reputation to the point where I’m not sure she can regain that credibility with the huge swath of fans who were aghast or offended by Mendoza’s attack on Fiers. Think of it this way-Could Mendoza call a SNB or playoff game with Fiers on the mound? I seriously doubt it.
However you interpret it, it’s a terrible look for ESPN. Either Mendoza genuinely has some misguided disdain for whistleblowing (very unlikely) or her bias birthed from her Met’s employment blinded her or forced her to recycle the same cringeworthy talking points three times over (very likely). Perhaps we’re too close to the start of the season for ESPN to go through the process of retooling the SNB booth, but I’m not confident ESPN nor Mendoza will ever wash off the stink that was created today. This can’t be undone or forgotten.
How bad of a take is this on a scale from 1 to Jessica Mendoza?
She follows up her WTOAT (worst take of all time) on Fiers with this diarrhea take?
— Doug McKain (@DMAC_LA) January 16, 2020
What’s most infuriating is that this isn’t just Mendoza going rogue and ESPN having to pay the price, but ESPN is a complicit accomplice in this idiocy. ESPN somehow has signed off on talent also having front-office employment with teams they cover. Even if today didn’t happen, explain to me how that makes sense? In college football, fans routinely have a stroke when an announcer went to a rival school or a rival conference of one of the teams playing. While that’s inescapable and mostly just fringe message board crazies, the offense of having someone take a low to mid six-figure job with a team they’re covering on the air is a ‘NO SHIT, IT’S A CONFLICT” problem that ESPN decided was okay (and not just with Mendoza; as mentioned above, other double-dippers have included Ross and Rodriguez) until something terrible happened. That day was today.
Even worse is that Mendoza obviously carefully collaborated with the Mets and ESPN for her appearances. It’s not like a reporter stalked her on the street to get a soundbite or she went on a local radio show and just had a bad quote. This was orchestrated from both the Mets’ side and the ESPN side. The Mets saw this as their best chance to preserve Beltran’s job, and Mendoza either helped craft that defense or frankly took marching orders, because high-earning employees usually fall in line and do as told without speaking up about it (unless you’re Mike Fiers).
I like Jess but man I could not disagree with this point of view more. You’re aware of cheating but you shouldn’t say anything except to your teammates? I strongly disagree. https://t.co/utInR8sttX
— Matthew Berry (@MatthewBerryTMR) January 16, 2020
Mendoza offered to insert herself into the debate, and given how big of a story this has been, ESPN did what they always do and gave her a platform for the sake of “It’s interesting! It’s debate!”‘ I mean, this is the network that took forever to realize enough was enough with LaVar Ball, so obviously they’re going to let of their own go on, even if there were red flags everywhere.
Predictably, it quickly backfired, but not before the damage spread to three different shows. If you watch the interviews, you can see most of the hosts are wise to what’s going on and visibly uncomfortable with what’s transpiring. Mendoza in that moment has shedded all impartiality. The hosts’ only options to seem impartial or push back were to introduce or reintroduce her as someone who also works for the Mets, a note I imagine a lot of listeners and viewers were hearing for the first time and and were disturbed by.
For many that turned on their radio or TV at the wrong time, they missed that note and since it wasn’t noted or displayed through out the entirety of the interview, a good chunk of people were probably unable to figure out the origin story of Mendoza’s thinly-veiled shilling presented as a genuine impartial thought. There is no way in hell Mendoza is on ESPN shows this morning spewing this stuff if Beltran wasn’t the future manager of her employer and was instead going to be the Rays’ new manager. But Mets’ GM Brodie Van Wagenen went out of his way to say Mendoza wasn’t speaking for the organization:
Brodie Van Wagenen says Jessica Mendoza was speaking today "as an ESPN analyst" pic.twitter.com/G99OK3PsC6
— SNY (@SNYtv) January 16, 2020
From one show to another, it caught fire on social for all the wrong reasons. The coordinating producers and show producers didn’t think twice and put a stop to it. The same insane talking points hammered over and over, with the only difference being how the studio talent would dance around the toxic sludge taking over their shows (not uncommon and often self-inflicted). That’s what these shows are, mostly, and this wasn’t THAT different.
And despite Mendoza’s best efforts, nothing changed and it probably only made things even worse. Beltran is on his way out, and perhaps in time Mendoza will be too. ESPN could perhaps put an end to the obvious conflict issues and make Mendoza and others wind down their front office jobs but doing so publicly, opposed to quietly, would be a pretty overt admission of fault for today’s events, let alone the past few years of on air commentary while employed elsewhere.
The premise of whistleblowing is the usually correct assumption that obvious ways of resolving inappropriate behavior have been compromised or a power structure will want to protect itself first. Baseball has been this way since 1871. Fiers is right, did it right, deserves better https://t.co/XCnT8s9ifI
— Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) January 17, 2020
ESPN refused to comment to us or anyone and seemed fine pointing to Mendoza’s half-assed apology, which seemed to aimed to placate both ESPN and the Mets but probably did neither while only drawing more scorn from baseball fans mystified with her comments. Mendoza’s reputation tanked today which is the price to pay when your loyalty and financial entanglements are messy and conflicted. This was her doing with ESPN having long signed off on the doomed arrangement.
So many dumb things, policies, and people had to line up perfectly today to deliver us this bewildering outcome which will loom over ESPN’s baseball coverage going forward. ESPN is a prideful company (and rightfully so) that often struggles at change and introspection. I’m hoping this instance gives them some reason to think about their role in what transpired and the fallout to the brand’s reputation going forward. There are lessons to be learned here, but to be frank, a lot of them are just simple common sense. The blatant disregard for something so obvious is ultimately something I and many other fans and viewers couldn’t ignore, and I’m hoping ESPN can’t either.