Yesterday we heard about the lawsuit filed against Jeff Wilpon by former team executive Leigh Castergine. My thoughts on the legal merits of it are here. Obviously we can’t yet know what happened, but on the surface anyway the allegations (a) are serious; and (b) have at least some indicia of legitimacy based on how they are pleaded. The Mets have denied the allegations. The legal process will determine what happens with them.
But Major League Baseball does not and should not have to wait for the legal process to weigh in on the matter. Every baseball team, particularly its high-ranking executives and ownwers like Jeff Wilpon, answer to the league and can be called on the carpet at any moment. Baseball has, in the past, used this relationship to its advantage:
- In 1974, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner pleaded guilty to making illegal contributions to Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign, and to a felony charge of obstruction of justice. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn suspended Steinbrenner for two years, though it was eventually reduced to 15 months;
- In 1990, Steinbrenner was banned from day-to-day management of the Yankees by Fay Vincent for paying Howie Spira to dig up dirt on Dave Winfield as a means of trying to get out Winfield’s contract. He was reinstated after a three-year absence.
- In 1993 Reds owner Marge Schott was fined $250,000 and banned from day-to-day operations of the Reds for racially-charged remarks. In 1996 she was banned again for more racially insensitive remarks and praising Adolf Hitler. She was facing another ban when she sold the team.
The common denominator here: executives who committed bad acts, made working conditions for their employees hostile and projected views that were anathema to baseball’s stated values were removed from positions of authority. Steinbrenner’s first suspension waited for the legal process to play out, but that was a criminal matter, so perhaps there was reason to wait. In the other instances, even if baseball did not act with great quickness, it did not wait for civil litigation or other protracted fact-finding to take place. It investigated and it acted.
While the treatment Leigh Castergine faced as one of baseball’s top woman executives is of the utmost importance to Major League Baseball, the specific fate of Jeff Wilpon’s legal defense is of little specific concern to Major League Baseball. Or at least it should be. Major League Baseball has no more need to respect his defense of it than it had to respect Steinbrenner’s or Schott’s various business expectations and arrangements when it weighed in on them. As Jeff Passan noted in his column excoriating Jeff Wilpon today, baseball has every bit of authority and every bit of a right to call Jeff Wilpon into a meeting tomorrow and demand to know from him what happened. It can likewise call other Mets employees and get their stories on the matter. Lord knows baseball has flexed its investigatory muscles recently when players were in the crosshairs. It should have no compunction about doing it now that a team executive is.
Unless Major League Baseball is convinced that there is absolutely no truth to the allegations against Wilpon — and again, it is not a court of law and need not be convinced to such a high standard — it can and should take action against him. Ban him from the Mets offices for an extended period of time, if not permanently. Put its money where its mouth is regarding “inclusion,” and take a stand against anyone who would dare make a Major League Baseball front office anything other than a welcoming and inclusive place for women. A place where they can and should expect fair, equal and decent treatment. Jeff Wilpon is the highest-ranking day-to-day employee of the Mets. He runs those offices. He sets the tone. If what he is alleged to have done is true, even in part, he has no place remaining in that position.
Major League Baseball has likely watched with at least some amount of amusement as the NFL has fallen over itself to avoid doing the right thing in the Ray Rice fiasco. Now it’s time for it to show that it can and will deal with the troubling acts of those it oversees swiftly and effectively.
We’re watching, Bud Selig and Rob Manfred. And waiting.