According to Trent Rosecrans, president of the Baseball Writers Association of America, “MLB has promised to consider instituting a third-party confidential hotline so that violations can be reported.” While a hotline alone cannot solve all of Major League Baseball’s problems with an increasing number of serious reports of wrongdoing coming to light against players, coaches and managers, and other MLB team representatives, it would be a good start towards identifying problematic behavior and addressing it sooner rather than later.
While it has been decades since the most recognized scandals have roiled the sport – think of the Black Sox World Series gambling scandal of 1919, the Pete Rose gambling scandal of the late 1980s, and the steroids era which followed – recent reports of the firing of the New York Mets’ General Manager, Jared Porter, and the suspension of LA Angels’ pitching coach, Mickey Calloway, have cast a dark shadow over MLB. Both Porter and Calloway are alleged to have sent unsolicited, sexually explicit, text messages and images to female reporters over a period of the past five years.
Unfortunately, these recent reports of serious wrongdoing by MLB team representatives are by no means new to MLB. Just in the last few years, consider the following scandals which have tarnished the sport:
- St. Louis Cardinals’ baseball club illegally accessed the Houston Astros’ baseball club private computer database;
- Former scouting director of the Cardinals was sentenced to nearly four years in prison in connection with his role in the above-mentioned hacking scheme. MLB followed up by fining the Cardinals $2 million in damages;
- Numerous players who tested positive for performance enhancing drugs were suspended for 80 games or more;
- Former Atlanta Braves general manager was banned for life by MLB for violating international signing rules while the Braves lost 13 prospects to free agency;
- The U.S. Department of Justice in 2018 began a sweeping probe into possible corruption tied to the recruitment of international players, centered on potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act;
- Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal during the 2017 and 2018 seasons;
- Ex LA Angels’ employee charged in connection with a pitcher’s overdose death; and
- MLB umpire arrested in connection with an alleged prostitution/human trafficking investigation in Ohio.
There are many reasons for MLB to establish a hotline for its staff and its member teams’ employees, players and coaches. According to Richard and Carrie Kusserow, in their book The Ultimate Hotline Resource Manual, “the principle reason for hotlines is to elicit information from the workforce which will assist management in addressing emerging issues.” The fact is a hotline can enable an organization to ‘wash its dirty linen’ in private, as well as to demonstrate commitment and concern for its employees.” The authors go on to write that “best practice suggests that organizations need to have a reporting mechanism… outside the chain of command.” The Kusserows write further that “… consideration for using the hotline got a boost in the defense industry as a result of the Department of Justice crackdowns on contractor frauds. As scandals spread to other industries, so did the popularity of hotlines as a corrective action measure.”
Most hotlines are designed to deal with wrongful behavior in the workplace. Assuring anonymity in reporting via hotlines is especially important. In the case of Angels’ pitching coach Mickey Calloway – accused by five women in the sports media industry of aggressive and indecent behavior, including sending inappropriate electronic messages – the harassed women and other members of the Angels’ team did not have access to a hotline to report their allegations. The five women who spoke to The Athletic on the condition they not be identified, said that the actions by Calloway spread over at least five years, multiple cities and his work for three teams. Two of the women said they were warned about his behavior from fellow media members and others who worked in baseball. An additional seven women who worked in various MLB markets said that, according to The Athletic, “although they had not been approached by Calloway, they had been cautioned about him.” One of the women said, “It was the worst kept secret in sports.”
While a hotline alone is not the answer, it would provide a valuable resource for complaining parties and could also prompt MLB to pursue the development of other essential elements of an effective compliance and ethics program. Getting started is always the hard part.