Baseball Works to Confront Its Treatment of Women

Baseball Works to Confront Its Treatment of Women

- in Baseball

Fury built inside Melissa Ludtke when she read about a second recent revelation of sexual harassment of female reporters in Major League Baseball. She had fought against sexist treatment when she was in the same role earlier in her career, so the topic is personal.

In 1977, Ludtke and Time Inc., the parent company of her employer at the time, Sports Illustrated, sued M.L.B., among others, when she was denied access to the clubhouses at Yankee Stadium. A year later, a district court judge ruled that denying Ludtke the same access male journalists enjoyed was a violation of the 14th Amendment.

“I’m dismayed that after 42 years since the decision came down basically saying that women reporters should be treated equally to men, the attitudes don’t seem to have evolved in the way you might have expected they would,” Ludtke said in a recent phone interview.

Over the past month, news reports have exposed accusations of sexual harassment against Mets General Manager Jared Porter, who was swiftly fired, and the Los Angeles Angels pitching coach Mickey Callaway, who remains suspended pending an investigation. These have been painful examples of the way women in and around baseball are treated. In response, M.L.B. tweaked its harassment and discrimination policy, established an anonymous third-party hotline to report issues and mandated training for top club executives.

“What’s happened in baseball most recently is just a wake-up call,” said Renée Tirado, who joined M.L.B. in 2016 as its chief diversity and inclusion officer before leaving in 2019. “And it was inevitable. We’re in an age of social media. We’re in a different type of age that demands a different type of accountability.”

Tirado added that she thought baseball currently had “the fundamental and foundational components to do better.”

“It’s just now a matter of actualizing them and prioritizing them,” she said. “And that’s where not only sports but all industries fail — we react instead of being proactive. I will rest on the fact that I think baseball will now operate in the sense of being proactive. And they had to learn. Everyone had to learn. This is their #MeToo moment.”

Once excluded from the sport, women have made notable inroads in improving their representation in M.L.B. More women are joining front offices and coaching staffs, such as Bianca Smith of the Boston Red Sox or Alyssa Nakken of the San Francisco Giants. And after being passed over for several openings, Kim Ng finally broke through when the Miami Marlins hired her in November as their general manager, making her the first woman to hold that title in major league history.

Progress, though, doesn’t mean the deep-rooted problems have evaporated in an industry still dominated by men and sometimes referred to as a boys club, and where a commonly repeated refrain is, “what happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse.”

“I don’t know that we’ve begun to even skim the surface on how to address what’s both cultural and at times generational issues,” said Lonnie Murray, who has been a baseball agent for 15 years.

She pointed to the criticism that Sandy Alderson, the president of the Mets and a longtime baseball executive, received for admitting recently that no women were consulted in vetting Porter before he was hired in December. She said Alderson is well respected in baseball, but she wondered how much of a blind spot the sport had developed.

“Because in what has been deemed traditional baseball, there hasn’t been really a need to talk to women about how a guy was doing his job because women didn’t exist in the positions to have those reviews,” she added.

M.L.B. updated its harassment and discrimination policy this week, in an effort spearheaded by its new chief people and culture officer, Michele Meyer-Shipp. Commissioner Rob Manfred announced the changes in a memorandum sent to all team owners, presidents and general managers. He attached the new code of conduct and a fact sheet titled “M.L.B. Speak Up,” which outlined the league’s rules and potential discipline, and how to report a complaint. Both, he wrote, should be hung as posters throughout clubhouses and press rooms.

“Depending on the severity of the situation, remedial action may take the form of a warning, a suspension, termination of employment, or any other measures available to a Club or the Commissioner,” read a portion of the hotline poster, which also promised that reports would be taken seriously, handled confidentiality and that there would be no retaliation for any complaints made in “good faith.”

Manfred also instructed each club to send its most senior baseball operations and business executives — five from each side — to anti-harassment and discrimination training slated for next month. He asked clubs to ensure similar training was done for all other staff members.

“Harassment and discrimination have no place within Major League Baseball,” the league said in a statement. “We are grateful for the courage of the women who have shared their stories, and we believe that an open dialogue is an important part in progress.”

The introspection has extended to teams who, suddenly, were trying to update their hiring practices or improve their workplaces. The Cubs’ president of baseball operations, Jed Hoyer, who was the team’s general manager when Porter was the professional scouting director there, told reporters that teams should vet prospective employees as extensively as they do first-round draft picks and make sure their environments are safe for women. Top executives of the Cleveland Indians, another of Callaway’s former employers, and the Angels announced similar efforts.

Murray said much of the conversation of late has involved reporters because “women within M.L.B., no matter what type of policy is put into place, it doesn’t protect them from repercussions.” She cited an incident about five years ago, when she got drinks with several scouts after a tournament. Meeting up at the hotel bar after a long day to talk about work is commonplace.

But when she called it a night, she said, one of the scouts followed her into the elevator and then grabbed her in the hallway. She said she screamed, he apologized repeatedly and left. She said she doesn’t talk much about this or identify the person because of the stigma that would follow her.

“Questions will arise: ‘Well, how late was it, and why was she sitting down there with all those guys drinking?’” she said, adding later: “So where else am I supposed to get information? Who am I supposed to communicate with? How do I go around the good old boys club? You can have video from the hotel that shows exactly what happened and people will still question it. And even if they don’t question, guys will say, ‘Well, don’t invite Lonnie because there was some stuff that went down.’”

Over all, Murray said her experience in baseball has been “fantastic.” She said that she wouldn’t be where she is in her career without some men in baseball, but “I don’t seek to protect anyone by any stretch of the imagination.”

Tirado said harassment in baseball was attributable to “people who have bad behavior unchecked.”

“I think that’s the collective failure of not just baseball but of all sports who do not check the behavior early,” she said.

While Ludtke said she saw and heard inappropriate things while covering baseball, she said she was lucky not to experience the same level of sexual harassment female reporters have faced now. Ludtke, who retired and is writing a book tentatively titled “Locker Room Talk: A Woman’s Struggle to Get Inside,” said modern technology, such as Twitter and text messaging, has made it easier to harass women in and around baseball.

Tirado said that the recent revelations of harassment, as “gross” and demoralizing as they were, may help move the needle for progress because women have been let down by the law, regulations and policies for decades.

“We cannot continue to live under the scriptures of a sport that started where there were no women anywhere,” she added later. “Behaviors that keep getting passed down and on and on. I would love to see baseball have men leading this conversation.”

Tirado said more women at all levels of organizations, particularly in leadership, will help baseball evolve, though the burden shouldn’t be on just them. She said she remained optimistic that baseball can improve in terms of equality.

“The beauty of this, too, as painful as this is right now for the sport, this is a moment of empowerment for women as well,” Tirado said. “The mic is turned on.”

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