Toronto Blue Jays: Lessons from the Mickey Callaway Ban

TORONTO, CANADA - DECEMBER 4: President Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins pose for a photo after speaking to the media as Atkins is introduced as the new general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays during a press conference on December 4, 2015 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, CANADA - DECEMBER 4: President Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins pose for a photo after speaking to the media as Atkins is introduced as the new general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays during a press conference on December 4, 2015 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /

Major League Baseball has banned former Mets manager and since-fired Angels pitching coach Mickey Callaway at least through 2022 following an MLB investigation into sexual harassment allegations against him.

A February article in The Athletic detailed allegations from at least five women who work in sports media who accused him of lewd behaviour, spanning at least five years, multiple cities, and three teams including the Angels, Mets, and Cleveland Indians.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement:

"My office has completed its investigation into allegations of sexual harassment by Mickey Callaway. Having reviewed all of the available evidence, I have concluded that Mr. Callaway violated MLB’s policies, and that placement on the Ineligible List is warranted. We want to thank the many people who cooperated with our Department of Investigations (DOI) in their work, which spanned Mr. Callaway’s positions with three different Clubs. The Clubs that employed Mr. Callaway each fully cooperated with DOI, including providing emails and assisting with identifying key witnesses. Harassment has no place within Major League Baseball, and we are committed to providing an appropriate work environment for all those involved in our game."

The allegations covered a five-year period during which Callaway worked as the pitching coach for Cleveland from 2013-2017, manager of the Mets from 2018-2019, and pitching coach for the Angels in 2020 before being suspended February 2nd this year, the day after the allegations first appeared in The Athletic.

Cleveland owner Paul Dolan issued a statement saying:

"The information the Commissioner’s Office shared reinforces our own conclusion that we did not do enough as an organization to create an environment where people felt comfortable reporting the inappropriate conduct they experienced or witnessed."

After the allegations first appeared in February, Cleveland team president Chris Antonetti said the club was unaware of the alleged behaviour, which prompted more women to come forward to The Athletic saying they believed that wasn’t true, and that repeated complaints were made along with attempts to alert high-ranking Cleveland officials. But in a Zoom call with reporters following the ban, Antonetti expressed regret:

"What keeps me up at night is thinking about the fact that these behaviors happened in our environment and these women experienced what they experienced and didn’t feel comfortable surfacing and reporting those. That’s what bothers me. So I want to make sure we do everything we can to create a better environment moving forward."

Blue Jays team president Mark Shapiro and general manager Ross Atkins appear to have avoided any direct fallout from MLB’s investigation into Callaway, but recall that Shapiro was team president in Cleveland and general manager Ross Atkins was director of player development when Callaway was first hired there in 2010 to be the Low-A pitching coach, when he was named minor league pitching coordinator in 2012, and then subsequently named pitching coach for the Indians the following year. In fact, Atkins was one of the executives who had initially hired Callaway, who reported directly to him through 2012.

Callaway’s lewd  behaviour didn’t just suddenly start after they’d both left the Indians organization in 2015. It occurred under a toxic workplace environment in Cleveland, as per Rob Manfred’s investigation.

As per The Athletic, 22 people who interacted with Callaway during his time in Cleveland, 12 of them former employees, said “they found it hard to believe high-ranking officials in that organization did not know what was going on.” The allegations against Callaway were extensive and disturbing enough to get him banned from baseball, and “seem to outline an organizational culture in Cleveland that looked the other way.” The report detailed repeated complaints and attempts to alert high-ranking Cleveland officials, and that Callaway’s behaviour was “the worst-kept secret in baseball.”

A 2017 Joel Sherman article in the NY Post further highlighted how close Callaway was to Atkins after those first two coaching seasons in Cleveland’s system, noting they “had become good friends, and Atkins thought it would be good for Callaway’s future to go through the interviews for minor league pitching coordinator” when that role opened up in 2012. And again, after they hired Terry Francona as manager after the 2012 season, “Atkins was among a group of Indians executives who suggested Francona meet with Callaway”, only to see him get the job.

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The Commissioner made it clear that Cleveland had not done enough to create an environment free of harassment in which people could feel free to report inappropriate behavior.

Both Shapiro and Atkins have addressed this. This past March, Atkins stated that while he was “absolutely not aware” of any sexual harassment allegations against Callaway during their time together in the same organization (from 2010~2015), the team had failed to create an environment for such allegations to be properly addressed. Atkins said,

"I see that as a failure on my part – that there weren’t the proper channels for someone to feel safe, to come forward. As a leader in that organization, that’s heartbreaking for me. My thoughts immediately went to the women I work with here today, the women I worked with in Cleveland, and I’m heartbroken that we weren’t creating the right environment to come forward."

Lessons to be Learned

To the extent that Shapiro and Atkins played leadership roles in the Cleveland organization and were therefore in part responsible for a toxic culture that enabled Callaway’s “completely unrelenting” behaviour as per one of his accusers, let’s hope they will take the forward-looking recommendations made by the Commissioner and continue building a better environment for anyone associated with the Jays’ organization.

They certainly expressed such a commitment in a March 4th interview with Sportsnet, with Atkins saying, “We are far too male and far too white, and that is a problem we want to address. There is no doubt in my mind that we have to create a better environment for all women in the workplace and that certainly includes the reporters.”

This led Shi Davidi to conclude that, “Most relevant now for the Blue Jays is that Shapiro and Atkins have both talked the talk on keeping their organization safe for women, and are now to be judged on whether they walk the walk.”

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Clearly, harassment has no place in our society, sports, and workplaces, and it’s positive to see MLB taking these accusations seriously and committing to providing a safe and open work environment for anyone involved in professional baseball. Let’s hope this reminds us all that harassment has no place in any environment, and acts as a further catalyst to improve the culture and workplace environment for the Blue Jays organization.