SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — If you didn’t know better, and unfortunately so many of us knew better, you wouldn’t have looked around the San Francisco Giants clubhouse Friday afternoon and known the team was embattled in turmoil yet again.
Two hours earlier, a troubling video surfaced online showing Giants CEO Larry Baer pulling his wife Pam to the ground as she screamed. It happened in a public place, right there in San Francisco, where Baer is practically a celebrity. People recorded videos. One person sold a video to TMZ. Soon enough, it had spread across the Internet, as these things always do. It can be viewed here.
At Giants camp, an unfortunately all-too-familiar scene was playing out: Sports was getting interrupted by another case of domestic violence. Like Ray Rice and Jose Reyes and Kareem Hunt and Aroldis Chapman and Addison Russell — why is this list so horribly long? — the details here were disturbing. Baer appeared to wrestle his phone out of his wife’s hand, knocking her to the ground in a moment that looked much more like forceful abuse than a clumsy exchange, as it was initially explained.
Clumsy is a better word to describe the response from Baer himself. We heard a few different statements, some more carefully crafted than others. At first, he told the San Francisco Chronicle that Pam fell off the chair and blamed her hurt foot.
“My wife and I had an unfortunate public argument related to a family member and she had an injured foot and she fell off her chair in the course of the argument,” Baer said. “The matter is resolved. It was a squabble over a cell phone. Obviously, it’s embarrassing.”
The Baers then put out a statement via the Giants, that said close to the same thing without the part about the foot injury:
“Regrettably today we had a heated argument in public over a family matter. We are deeply embarrassed by the situation and have resolved the issue.”
MLB then issued a statement an hour later that was short on specifics:
“Major League Baseball is aware of the incident and, just like any other situation like this, will immediately begin to gather the facts. We will have no further comment until this process is completed.”
Hours later, Larry Baer issued another statement through the team that tried to take more responsibility.
“I am truly sorry for the pain that I have brought to my wife, children and to the organization. It is not reflective of the kind of a person that I aspire to be, but it happened and I will do whatever it takes to make sure that I never behave in such an inappropriate manner again.”
Then finally, Pam Baer put out her own statement trying to cool down the controversy by saying, “we are quite embarrassed” — “we” being the operative word there.
“I would like to clarify the events of today. My husband and I had an argument in public about which we are quite embarrassed. I took his cell phone. He wanted it back and I did not want to give it back. I started to get up & the chair I was sitting in began to tip. Due to an injury I sustained in my foot 3 days ago, I lost my balance. I did not sustain any injury based on what happened today. Larry and I always have been and still are happily married.”
As crisis PR campaigns go, this one needed some work.
While this all played out via social media and statements, the Giants clubhouse was quiet. News of the incident sparked while the team was in various stages of preparing for their day. Pitcher Derek Holland was walking around the clubhouse in a fake mustache and glasses, trying to imitate a younger Bruce Bochy. Did he know what was going on? Backup catcher Rene Rivera was showing his bat to the legendary Willie Mays, who asked the new Giant to shake his hand and then shake it harder. Did they know?
These are the things that happen on a daily basis in a baseball clubhouse during the spring. Not dealing with the fallout of the team’s CEO getting caught in a public tussle with his wife.
Giants players weren’t talking about it. What would they say? Sure, they probably should speak out and rebuke domestic violence in all forms — but can they, when it’s their bosses’ bosses’ boss?
New team president Farhan Zaidi didn’t have his planned media briefing. What would he have said when asked about his boss? Besides, it sure didn’t seem like the right time to talk about the team’s plans now that Bryce Harper had opted to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies instead of the Giants.
The baseball side of the Giants might be used to tap-dancing around controversy involving the higher-ups at this point. Charles B. Johnson, the team’s principal owner, made headlines twice in recent months for controversial political donations — one was to a PAC that funded a racist and misogynistic campaign ad, the other was to the Mississippi senator who joked that she would be “in the front row” of public lynchings.
Frankly, players deserve better than this from their bosses. In an era where it’s harder than ever to separate sports and social causes — and most players would much rather focus on the former — the bosses aren’t doing the players any favors.
It’s the players, not their bosses, who have to face the media every day. It’s the players, not their bosses, who play every day in front of thousands of people — with hecklers among them each and every day looking for ammo. It’s the players who are the public faces of the team.
That’s certainly not the worst part of these ordeals — not by a long shot — but it’s part of the collateral damage.
Players shouldn’t also have to come to work and wonder whether the behind-the-scenes people who sign their checks are making them look bad. Especially at a time when baseball’s owners and its player’s union are more at odds than they’ve been in at least a decade.
We’ve seen players punished for less than we saw in the Baer video. Only time will tell if Baer faces a penalty — he is reportedly subject to the same domestic violence policy as players — and it’s a fair bet that this story isn’t going away quickly.
And it shouldn’t. Because it’s not just players who deserve better. It’s the fans. It’s women who love the game. And it’s baseball itself. They all deserve better than this awful display from Larry Baer.
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