Baseball’s harassment issues extend far beyond Jared Porter
By Tyler Kepner
Jared Porter left the New York Mets no choice. Late Monday night, when ESPN published the lurid details of his lecherous pursuit of a female reporter in 2016, Porter was as good as gone. By 8 a.m. Tuesday, Steven A. Cohen, the Mets’ owner, had fired his recently hired general manager.
It was the first crisis of Cohen’s brief ownership of the Mets, and he handled it swiftly, without equivocation. That was refreshing, though any other decision would have defied logic. If your house is on fire, you put out the fire. The longer it burns, the worse it gets.
This makes two Januarys in a row in which the Mets have dumped a newly hired top decision-maker before spring training. Last year they dropped Carlos Beltrán as manager for his role in the Houston Astros’ cheating scandal. Now Porter has texted his way out of a dream job as top lieutenant to Sandy Alderson, who heard only rave reviews about Porter in the interview process.
“There wasn’t really a dissenting voice,” said Alderson, the team president, who later acknowledged that he did not ask any women about Porter. “From my standpoint, I was shocked. Eventually that gives way to disappointment and a little bit of anger. This was a total surprise to us.”
The Mets will proceed without a replacement for Porter, Alderson said, citing his confidence in the rest of the front office and being in the late stage of the offseason. The team hired another finalist for the general manager job, Zack Scott, as a senior vice president and assistant general manager in December.
Yet this is really not a Mets story. Porter was working for the Chicago Cubs when he harassed the reporter — sending her a photo of a penis, another of a bulging crotch and a barrage of 62 texts without an answer — and was working for the Arizona Diamondbacks when the Mets hired him.
The truly disturbing part of this saga is how it graphically illustrates the garbage many women endure while working in and around baseball.
“It’s so exhausting,” said author Molly Knight, a senior writer for The Athletic who has covered baseball for 15 years. “It’s executives; it’s players; it’s PR people; it’s writers. It’s everywhere. It’s the culture.”
The first time she interviewed a player, Knight said, he asked her repeatedly for the name of her hotel. Another time, she said, a Spanish-speaking player made sexually suggestive comments about her to a teammate, not knowing that she understood the language.
Every woman in the business has similar stories and grapples with questions most male colleagues never have to consider. All reporters must weigh the motivations of a source, but the question is especially fraught when the source might end up making sexual overtures. It often forces women to choose between career obligations and personal comfort or safety.
“I have 100% not gone to events or games or press conferences that would have helped my career, or helped a story I was working on, because I didn’t want to run into someone who was being creepy with me — and I know I’m not alone in that regard,” Knight said. “You wonder how many people have left the business because they didn’t want to deal with it, especially if they’re young or just starting out. They might have an incident and think, ‘Yep, this is not for me.’”
After the Astros won the 2019 American League Championship Series, their assistant general manager, Brandon Taubman, heckled female reporters in the clubhouse, gloating about the team’s acquisition of pitcher Roberto Osuna, who was serving a suspension for domestic violence when the Astros traded for him. The team initially supported Taubman and criticized the reporter’s account — which was verified by multiple witnesses — before firing him three days later.
As an assistant, Taubman was mainly in the background for the Astros. As general manager, Porter was positioned to be a public face of the Mets organization, a daily presence for updates and explanations to the news media. Most reporters strive to build a solid working relationship with the general manager, and Porter’s history would have made that impossible.
Keeping Porter would have been a tacit endorsement of the often hostile work environment for women in baseball. Alderson said he understood that behavior like Porter’s is all too common.
“I think it’s an indictment of the industry, but more broadly it’s an indictment of our society,” Alderson said. “I think this happens in lots of places, and it’s tolerated in too many places.”
Porter was in a position of authority to the reporter; she did not work for him, but he could have helped her as a source in his capacity as the Cubs’ director of professional scouting. His conduct clearly took advantage of that, and showed an appalling lack of judgment and common sense. Perhaps Porter’s reputation was largely a reflection of being in the right place at the right time, collecting a bundle of championship rings with the Cubs and the Boston Red Sox. He was not as sharp as the Mets thought.
“What we’ve talked about the most is a cultural shift, for one,” Porter said when he was hired Dec. 14. “Adding good people to the organization, improving the organizational culture.”
Porter will not be a part of that culture. Though Cohen’s hedge fund company, Point72 Asset Management, has faced accusations of sexual harassment — and a gender-discrimination complaint last summer — Cohen tweeted Tuesday that he had “zero tolerance” for behavior like Porter’s. In a meeting with Cohen before his hiring, Alderson said he wanted their workplace to be a source of pride.
“My vision involved a very significant emphasis on integrity, on ethical behavior, on moral courage, because we were trying to create an environment that could be successful but would be known for how it succeeded,” Alderson said. “And Steve was totally on board with that approach. In fact, he insisted on it.”
Firing Porter was the right move and the only move. But his ascension sent an equally alarming signal of the ongoing cultural struggle for women in baseball.