TORONTO — There is an ongoing and long-overdue reckoning within baseball, and the clubhouse culture cop-out no longer flies.
After more allegations surfaced this week in a detailed report by The Athletic of Mickey Callaway’s sexually inappropriate behaviour during his seven years with the Cleveland Baseball Team, Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins became a central figure, one who needed to answer some questions surrounding what he knew and what he didn’t during his time with that organization.
In the report, 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.
Atkins, who was Cleveland’s director of player development at the time, was one of the executives who originally hired Callaway in 2010 to be the Low-A pitching coach.
From there, Atkins had a hand in promoting Callaway on numerous occasions, all the way up to the time he became the big-league pitching coach in 2013.
The allegations against Callaway are extensive and disturbing and seem to outline an organizational culture that looked the other way.
Atkins is vehement that wasn’t the case.
Now five-plus years into his tenure as Blue Jays GM after joining former Cleveland president Mark Shapiro in Toronto in late 2015, the 47-year-old addressed the media on a Zoom call Thursday morning.
Atkins was direct.
“I can tell you with 100 per cent certainty and confidence that I was not aware of those allegations,” he said.
“No, I wasn’t [aware] and that is very unfortunate that I wasn’t, and I regret that as a leader. It’s our responsibility to ensure that our staff feel safe, supported, and I deeply apologize to anyone who ever faced harassment or didn’t feel comfortable to come forward. This the type of behaviour that is not tolerated, should not be tolerated and something that we need to work harder on in the game, in this industry, in this world, to ensure that it doesn’t happen. It’s a very difficult and troubling situation.”
Atkins stepping in front of the media comes a month after Cleveland president of baseball operations 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 the case.
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.”
“All of it is so disheartening and sad on so many fronts and to think about it going back that far is very difficult for me, personally,” Atkins said Thursday.
“As I said, I was absolutely not aware of these allegations and deeply saddened by the fact to read those players’ comments and 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.”
Atkins added that he “felt good” about the people who were leading that organization and the culture that Shapiro, his current boss and the reason he’s the Jays’ general manager in the first place, created there.
In Toronto, Atkins and Jays’ brass have built their core values on respect and communication, having talked about hiring more women and creating a more diverse workplace on numerous occasions.
Some of their recent hires at various levels of the organization prove that to be true. Atkins said their hiring process has evolved and gotten better with time, but he admitted it clearly wasn’t good enough.
“We feel good about our current process, but we can’t rest on that,” Atkins said. “There’s no room for complacency there. The fact that this occurred, the fact that that happened on our watch and on my watch, is very difficult for me and again I apologize deeply to anyone that felt harassed or wasn’t able to come forward.”
An anonymous MLB hotline is now in place and Atkins said the Blue Jays have an anonymous route through human resources that his employees can use.
“There are several avenues for people to come forward and we’re striving to improve upon that,” Atkins said. “We see it as our responsibility to make sure our staff feel safe and comfortable coming forward.”
Atkins said he hasn’t not been contacted by Major League Baseball during its ongoing investigation into the matter, but would be willing to help in any way possible.
Not only did Atkins hire Callaway, but as with any close co-worker relationship that spans many years, they’ve also been described by many as friends.
“At this point, my relationship with Mickey is to try to understand how I’ve failed, how I failed the Cleveland Indians,” Atkins said. “That’s how I would describe it. I feel horrible for his family, but mostly my attention and my energy as I’ve thought about the incident has gone to people who were harassed or those that weren’t comfortable coming forward.
“When you work with someone on a regular basis you establish relationships and it is very difficult again for me to think about the fact this could’ve occurred under my leadership, under the leadership of others, not just me,” he added. “It’s very difficult for me to process that and to think about what I could have done better, why I wasn’t aware, and why people weren’t comfortable coming and telling us they weren’t feeling safe or feeling harassed.”
On the heels of a Houston Astros front office member taunting a female reporter in 2019 about a domestic violence incident — that one, as we all know, has Jays’ ties in a way, too, since it was about former closer Roberto Osuna — and Jared Porter’s one-month tenure as New York Mets GM ending swiftly earlier this year after it was revealed he sent explicit, unsolicited texts to a female reporter in 2016, the Callaway allegations are another example of baseball men not getting away with things they would have even as recently as five years ago.
From women working in front offices to merchandising departments to the reporters dealing with players, Atkins recognizes things still need to continue to change and it starts with how people are treated initially, as well as how seriously complaints are taken when they do arise.
“We are far too male and far too white,” Atkins said. “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.”