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How Did MLB, Cubs Not Know About Porter’s Lewd Texts?

A troubled sport faces a new crisis: Was a talented, young executive protected from his 2016 conduct by a network of cronies, including those in Chicago, who enabled a rising career that ended in disgrace?

Jay Mariotti

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Baseball once had an old-boy problem, a network of ownership cronies who ruled the sport’s inner sanctum via backroom politics and finer cigars. Now, it has a bro-dude problem, a sabercreep problem, a new fraternal culture that somehow enabled Jared Porter to remain a coveted young executive for four years after texting a photo of his erect, naked penis to a female reporter.

Jared Porter fired as New York Mets GM after explicit texts

It’s highly improbable, given the loose lips in Major League Baseball, that someone in the Chicago Cubs’ hierarchy didn’t know about the 2016 sexting story involving Porter — then their 36-year-old director of professional scouting — until this week’s ESPN expose. The time gap is disturbingly long, the length of Donald Trump’s presidency, and Porter’s career never should have been allowed to ascend to the high-profile point where the shamed New York Mets finally fired him Tuesday as general manager.

How could this happen? How could the Cubs and the rest of MLB not know? That’s what the Cubs are claiming — and it should be underlined here that the savior-in-charge during the 2010s, Theo Epstein, resigned two months ago. In the story by Mina Kimes and Jeff Passan, ESPN reports “a baseball source” tipped them to Porter’s conduct in December 2017, more than a year after his uninvited barrage of suggestive text messages and lewd photos to a woman who’d moved to the United States to cover baseball. That source was one of several people who reportedly knew about the texts — including, stunningly, a Cubs employee from her home country.

The reporter, fearing reprisal from Porter and unsympathetic people in her native land, said she was connected to the Cubs employee by a lawyer referred by her media bosses back home. According to ESPN, that employee contacted Porter, who said he wanted to apologize in person — a request she rejected. By this point, she also had alerted a major-league player from her native country, seeking further advice.

Come on. How did the Cubs not know? Are we supposed to believe that a team employee, acting independently, didn’t tell anyone at Wrigley Field about the allegations other than Porter? That Epstein, who had groomed Porter as part of his bro-dude posse with the Boston Red Sox, didn’t know a thing about the story? That current Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer, part of the same Boston posse, hadn’t heard a word? How did team owner Tom Ricketts not know? How did the commissioner’s office, with its expansive security and surveillance detail, not know?

Or did they know?

“This story came to our attention tonight and we are not aware of this incident ever being reported to the organization,” the Cubs said in a Monday night statement to ESPN. “Had we been notified, we would have taken swift action as the alleged behavior is in violation of our code of conduct. While these two individuals are no longer with the organization, we take issues of sexual harassment seriously and plan to investigate the matter.”

The investigation should extend to the MLB office, where Epstein was hired last week as a consultant to commissioner Rob Manfred. In any event, this is a troubling indictment of the industry’s bro-dude culture, given Porter’s career arc since the sexting-and-photos flurries. After apologizing to the woman via text and thinking he was home clear, he became assistant general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2016 offseason, after Epstein and the Cubs had broken a 108-year drought and won the World Series in a festive Chicago. Last month, not vetted by the Mets, Porter was named GM in multibillionaire owner Steven Cohen’s new regime — the same Steve Cohen whose investment firm was accused of harassment toward women in 2018.

Mets fans deserve better than Steve Cohen - New York Daily News

“We have terminated Jared Porter this morning,” Cohen wrote Tuesday on Twitter. “In my initial press conference I spoke about the importance of integrity and I meant it. There should be zero tolerance for this type of behavior.”

Then why didn’t Cohen spend more time investigating Porter before hiring him? Making phone calls? Asking around? The owner is new to the sport, but baseball operations boss Sandy Alderson is a baseball lifer — straight from the old-boy network, in fact — and he also whiffed badly here. After Porter’s firing, Alderson delivered a wishy-washy response, suggesting extensive vetting isn’t always possible. It’s 2021, Sandy. Your boss is one of the richest people in America. Don’t pass the buck.

“This is a wake-up call. It clearly suggests something like this can be out there in connection with almost anyone,” said Alderson, back for another tour of Mets duty at 73. “We have do to our best to make sure we know about that information, but there are limits to what we can actually get. I don’t think this reflects a fundamental flaw in the process. I think this is a very unfortunate circumstance that we wish we knew about, but didn’t.”

In covering his own tail, Alderson said the Cubs, Diamondbacks and Red Sox praised Porter during his discussions with team executives. Keep in mind that an Epstein link threads through all three franchises. “There really wasn’t a dissenting voice, so from my standpoint, I was shocked. Eventually that gives away to disappointment and a little bit of anger,” Alderson said. “There’s always a risk associated with hiring. There was no disclosure of this conduct. I don’t think we would have hired Jared if we had known about the conduct beforehand. Should we have known? We did a background check. We asked if there was anything else we need to know.”

He didn’t ask enough.

In a case of extreme sensitivity, credit ESPN for resisting any journalistic temptation to report what it knew and corroborated in late 2017. Realizing it could be accused of sitting on explosive information and protecting Porter and the network’s high-priced partnership with MLB, ESPN rightfully ceded to the female reporter’s request to not publish the story then when, according to Kimes and Passan, she had “concluded her career would be harmed if the story emerged.” As the aggrieved party, her wishes took precedence.

Someone should explain journalism ethics to WFAN’s Craig Carton and Evan Roberts, who accused ESPN of just that: sitting on the story for years. Passan responded in kind on ESPN Radio in New York.

Jeff Passan on Twitter: "Jared Porter is working on a deal to be the new GM  of the New York Mets, sources tell ESPN. A longtime executive in Boston,  Chicago and Arizona,

“There’s another radio station in New York that’s been pretty damn irresponsible today about its coverage of this, and I hate giving them any shine because they don’t deserve it,” Passan said. “But the notion that ESPN has been sitting on this story since 2017 is the most giant load of irresponsible garbage that I’ve heard in a long time. We have duties as journalists to protect our sources and to look after the people who give us the stories that we get to tell. It is their story, it is not ours. And the idea that we have been sitting on this, because this woman, who went through a horrendous thing with somebody in a position of power and ended up having to move back to her country and get out of journalism because of it, the idea that she wasn’t ready at that time is perfectly rational and normal and the type of response that I think any of us could go through. She wasn’t ready.

“The story waits for when the person whose it is, is ready to tell it. And so, she waited, and she left the industry where she was worried she was going to have backlash and potentially have her job harmed. And she saw Jared Porter’s rise to general manager of the New York Mets, putting him in a position of great power and great authority, and thought to herself, ‘This man, who has his dream job, ended up facilitating me losing my dream job. And I didn’t do anything … I didn’t do anything.’ And so the idea that this story, four-and-a-half years after this incident happened, has any less resonance, has any less importance, and has any less right to be told — anybody who thinks that needs to shut up.”

And, no, ESPN was not obligated to alert MLB, the Cubs, the Diamondbacks or the Mets about what Kimes knew, though we’re not stupid. Enough people knew about the story to circulate it around a gossipy industry.

Carton also didn’t do his homework about Passan, accusing the baseball insider of knowing about Porter’s texts when he praised his hiring last month. Passan said he only recently was assigned to report the story with Kimes — after Porter was hired. “The issue isn’t about protecting the victim. Of course you do,” Carton tweeted. “Issue is that Passan endorsed Porter said he had the perfect ‘temperament’ for NYC knowing he was a stalker and had harassed a woman.”

ESPN sometimes flouts journalistic rules. Not this time.

When Porter was named Mets’ GM, the woman decided to go public with her story, telling ESPN through an interpreter, “My number one motivation is I want to prevent this from happening to someone else. Obviously, he’s in a much greater position of power. I want to prevent that from happening again. The other thing is, I never really got the notion that he was truly sorry.”

Porter’s “apology” came after she had asked the major-league player from her home country to help compose a response. She subsequently wrote Porter: “This is extremely inappropriate, very offensive, and getting out of line. Could you please stop sending offensive photos or msg.”

“Oh I’m sorry,” Porter responded.

“I will stop.”

He stopped texting. But his career carried on, the perpetuation of which is the latest crisis in a sport that cannot get out of its own way. Here we thought Epstein might rescue MLB from its self-destructive plague the way he smashed curses in Chicago and Boston.

Theo Epstein saved the Red Sox. Now he's rescuing the Cubs. Here's how.

Now, he might be baseball’s newest problem. Why didn’t he know? And how couldn’t he have known?

BSM Writers

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.

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WRONG BAD

In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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