Offseason, Week 3: What a Difference a Week Makes

by DrLefty

I’m glad I had a few days between the news about Gabe Kapler being hired as the new manager of the Giants and writing this post because it’s given me a chance to calm down. I’m still very, very disappointed and honestly saddened by the current state of my beloved Giants, but I’m not as angry as I was when I first heard the news.

There have been a lot of articles and columns written about this news, so I’ve had the opportunity to sort through a lot of information and viewpoints. At the end of it all, though, I still don’t like it any better, but not primarily for the reasons some of you might assume (though I’ll get to that, too).  Here’s my list of reasons why I don’t like the decision.

  1. This hire is cronyism at its finest. It’s obvious that there’s one reason and one reason only for Kapler getting the job: Farhan Zaidi likes him from back in their Dodger days. There were many other fine possibilities, from Joe Girardi to in-house candidates Ron Wotus and Hensley Meulens, to up-and-coming younger manager prospects like Joe Espada, Mark Kotsay, and Matt Quatraro. It’s frankly hard to believe that Kapler was objectively the best choice, especially in light of…
  2. Kapler’s failure as manager of the Phillies. Yes, failure. What else can you call being bounced from a job after just two years, especially when the team went out and loaded up with talent such as Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen, and Jean Segura? After a hot start this year, the Phils faded badly, finishing 8-20 in September and 81-81 for the season, good for only fourth place in the NL East. Now, I know the argument that sometimes managers do better the second time around (A.J. Hinch), but it would seem that a failed manager should take some time to reflect on why they failed, maybe work in a lower position such as bench coach somewhere, before being entrusted with another team. Kapler was unemployed for about five seconds after crashing and burning in Philly, and I think that’s a pretty damn strange approach to hiring. This leads to me to believe that…
  3. Farhan Zaidi is still working through his wounded ego over losing the argument to hire Kapler to manage the Dodgers in 2015. It is well known that Zaidi and Andrew Friedman wanted to hire Kapler but that a couple of prominent players (Clayton Kershaw and Adrian Gonzalez) helped convince Dodgers ownership to overrule them. Dave Roberts shocked everyone at the time by beating out Kapler for the job. When one is used to being the smartest person in the room, as Zaidi usually is, it’s hard to get over losing an argument. I think Zaidi saw hiring Kapler for the Giants as a way to vindicate himself, to right a wrong that he’s been stewing over since 2015. Unfortunately, in the intervening four years, there is now actual evidence of what kind of manager Kapler turned out to be (see #2 above). It’s clear that Zaidi thinks he was right in 2015, that Kapler’s failure in Philly somehow doesn’t matter or count, and that he’s therefore justified in overlooking other excellent alternatives and alienating a substantial portion of the fanbase. That’s a lot of “I’m right and everyone else is wrong” surety, and some would call it arrogance or hubris. One thing’s for sure…
  4. Zaidi’s wagon is now firmly hitched to Kapler’s, it didn’t have to be this way, and that dynamic could really hurt the Giants for years to come. Zaidi’s involvement in the incidents with the Dodgers’ minor leaguers only became highly scrutinized because Zaidi was hell-bent on hiring Kapler. Now not only does Kapler have to answer for his decisions back then, but Zaidi does, too. Hire Joe Espada or Ron Wotus, and no one’s talking about what happened in Arizona in 2015. But Zaidi opened that door and put both himself and Kapler on the defensive. He made a lot of fans angry. If things don’t go well for one or both of them, there will be no slack, no patience, no benefit of the doubt, no honeymoon period. Nor should there be. Zaidi hired Kapler against common sense and public opinion. If it turns out to be a wild success, then he deserves credit for being courageous and the “light years ahead” genius who saw something the rest of us didn’t. But if things don’t go well, Zaidi (and Kapler) deserve the close scrutiny and harsh criticism they will receive. Again, Zaidi chose this path when he absolutely didn’t have to. And finally…
  5. Kapler himself is a problematic personality. Even if the stuff with the Dodgers hadn’t happened, and even if he’d never managed the Phillies, there are things about Kapler himself that are jarring and that many people don’t like and won’t like. I don’t think I’ve ever read the word “polarizing” so many times in one week. As Susan Slusser’s excellent piece yesterday detailed, some people have very strong negative reactions to Kapler, and some feel very positively about him. There’s a risk in hiring someone like that–especially to replace a legendary and beloved manager. Besides the obvious risks–the players might dislike him, he might not work well with his coaching staff, and the fans might loathe him (as it seems the Phils’ fans did with Kapler)–there’s the very real prospect that the manager will become way too much of the story. Think Bobby Valentine with the Red Sox in 2012. Think Ozzie Guillen. Colorful/charismatic managers are entertaining, but who wants them to be the center of attention?

Oh, and P.S.: Zaidi missed a prime opportunity to hire either a manager or general manager of color. Considering the troubling decline in African-Americans playing baseball and the enormous Latin presence in MLB, there should be more than four (13%) major league managers who are non-white. Zaidi could have hired Joe Espada. He could have hired Kim Ng to be GM. Instead we just got two more white guys. I’m not one who believes in quotas or hiring just for diversity’s sake, but by all accounts, Espada was a very strong candidate with none of Kapler’s negatives. Like I said–a missed opportunity.

 

What the Zaidi/Kapler assault history says about sports fans and society

Let’s get this out of the way: No one is saying Kapler himself assaulted anyone. He is not Roberto Osuna (or Osuna’s #1 fan, the now unemployed Brandon Taubman). Kapler, as director of player development for the Dodgers, had some awkward circumstances to deal with, and he was over his head and made lame decisions. I also take the point that Kapler did send the information up his chain of command and can’t be held uniquely or even primarily responsible for the way the incidents were mishandled. I think it’s fair to say that his judgment and decision-making in the moment were poor but that he was neither evil nor even completely uncaring toward the young female victims. He’s admitted his mistakes and apologized for them, it seems unlikely that he will repeat them, and I think we can probably move on from that particular concern about Kapler.

What I find interesting, though, is the predictable patterns these types of storylines go through. News comes out–about Kapler/Zaidi and the Dodgers, and Osuna/Taubman and the Astros, about Aroldis Chapman or Addison Russell and the Cubs/Yankees–and there is outrage, there is denial (“he was never convicted of anything”–yeah, that’s typical in DV/SA cases, but that’s not the same as saying “nothing happened”), and there’s a sizable group that shrugs and says “stick to sports.” There are people who truly, truly don’t care what someone did as long as he helps their team win. And there are far too many people, not just sports fans but in society, who are quick to minimize and dismiss assaults on the safety and dignity of women.

The sad truth is that too many people just don’t really care that much if a woman is beaten up by her boyfriend or husband or if a woman is groped or raped by a date or a stranger at a party. They don’t see it as a big deal, and they certainly don’t think a guy should have his life or career prospects derailed by it. “It happens,” they shrug. “She’ll get over it,” they think. Or worse–“What did she do to bring this on herself?” Take that notorious Stanford swimmer, Brock Turner. Despite a gut-wrenching, eloquent victim-impact statement by the young woman he raped, the judge decided that a harsh sentence would ruin his life, so he got a slap on the wrist. Turner’s father thought it was terrible that his boy had to experience any consequences whatsoever for “20 minutes of action.” The young woman whose life was also destroyed didn’t even matter to those men.

Another disturbing thread in this discussion is the instantaneous call for “second chances” and “forgiveness.” When people would criticize Osuna or Taubman on social media, someone else would inevitably jump in and say something like “So I guess YOU are perfect. I guess YOU’ve never made a mistake.” And so forth. I think all of this “judge not” and “forgiveness” stuff is too facile and glib and is another way of dismissing the seriousness of the issue at hand when it’s not convenient to deal with it. It’s a way for sports fans to still tell themselves they’re decent people even if they cheer for a guy who was suspended 75 games for beating up the mother of his child or for the Cubs’ brass to justify continuing to employ Addison Russell. After all, “second chances” and “don’t judge” sounds awfully noble and moral, doesn’t it?

Anyone who’s studied forgiveness in religious ethics knows that it’s not that simple. For one thing, the person who did the harm needs to acknowledge it and ask for forgiveness. Even then, forgiveness is not, and should not be, synonymous with restoration. Trust has been broken and it has to be earned back. As for second chances, well, there are some things you just don’t get to do and then go on with your life as if nothing ever happened.

Again, on the relative scale of offenses against women, I think Kapler’s missteps were on the milder end, and I don’t necessarily think he should be disqualified from working in his chosen profession because of them. I’m more interested in how some people are just tripping over themselves to screech “SECOND CHANCE” and to vilify other fans or members of the media who are not ready to move on quite yet (and some never will). I myself am grateful that writers such as Grant Brisbee and Ann Killion are taking honest, thoughtful, uncomfortable looks at this societal problem that has come way too close to home several times in Giants Nation this calendar year.

 

Other stuff

  • We have a GM, and even if he’s not Kim Ng, I think Scott Harris seems like a perfectly fine hire. Nor do I hold him responsible at all for the Kapler decision.
  • Will Smith said “Sign me by Nov. 14 or I’m taking the Giants’ qualifying offer,” and it paid off with a handsome three-year contract with his hometown Braves. Good for him. It’s a little funny to think of Smith and Melancon in the same bullpen again, and when next season starts, maybe we’ll have an over-under for how quickly Smith replaces Melancon as the closer.
  • Rumor has it that a lot of teams are interested in Madison Bumgarner–I’ve heard Braves, Yankees, Padres, and Nationals so far. I still can’t bear the thought of him signing elsewhere, but I greatly fear that’s what’s going to happen.
  • Both Andrew Baggarly and Henry Schulman made it into the news this week with their respective award votes. Baggarly kept the Mets’ Pete Alonso from being a unanimous Rookie of the Year, and Schulman gave his tenth-place MVP vote to Kevin Pillar. Mets Nation is ready to burn Baggs at the stake, and Jon Heyman of all people sneered at Schulman on Twitter.

It would be nice, wouldn’t it, to hear some actual baseball news about the Giants?–You know, beyond “our two best pitchers are probably leaving as free agents.” Will Stephen Vogt be back? Will Kevin Pillar be tendered a contract? Will Brandon Belt be traded? Who will be next year’s version of “Opening Day left fielder”? Will we have a rotation? A bullpen? I for one could use something more positive about the Giants to think about.  Lefty out.