When Derek Jeter retired from baseball, one of the biggest things said about him was how he managed to play in New York for 20 years and avoid any major controversies. One of the ways he was able to avoid scandal was by giving the most vanilla answers when speaking to the media. Derek Jeter was a baseball player and nothing else and everyone loved him.
The Yankees, understandably, want all of their players to follow this model. It’s not that they want to suppress their players’ personalities (maybe it is), but it’s more likely that the Yankees just want to avoid any negative PR. They’d love it if the only thing their players would talk about is baseball, so there aren’t any unnecessary distractions for the team.
ESPN’s Jayson Stark wrote an article yesterday talking about MLB’s overall silence during one of the more divisive political times in this country’s history. In the article, Stark specifically points out that the Yankees have an annual media training session for their players.
"The platform of the baseball player is a very powerful one," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman says. "It's a free country, and you can always utilize that platform whenever you so choose. But just know, when you choose to do so, what the potential ramifications are."
While they’d never come out and tell players specifically not to talk politics, the message was clear. Choose your words carefully or don’t speak at all or else what you say will come back to haunt you.
Last year, after the Broncos beat the Panthers in Superbowl 50, a clearly emotional Cam Newton left his postgame press conference early after barely saying a word. The year prior, the Patriots beat the Seahawks in Superbowl 49 and Russell Wilson’s postgame press conference couldn’t have been more different from Newton’s. Wilson was gracious in defeat.
Seeing how much was written about Newton after the game, the Yankees directed their players to be more like Wilson instead of Newton. Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib surprisingly was the one who came to Newton’s defense and shed some light on the situation.
For unknown reasons, the two teams were near each other for postgame conferences. Newton could hear the team that just crushed him celebrating. “I would have been mad if I was Cam too,” Talib says. Of course, anyone would.
It was too late though. The circumstances didn’t matter, the narrative had been told. All the negative attention that came with it focused on Newton. Naturally, the Yankees don’t want something similar happening to one of their players, nor do they want them stirring up some controversy, so what did they do? They told them how to act.
The players, to their credit, have obliged. No players have said anything that created unwanted attention or sent Jason Zillo, the Yankees’ Executive Director of Communications & Media Relations, scrambling to do damage control. Notice how I keep talking about the Yankees’ players? That’s because only the players are on their best behavior.
Less than two weeks ago, Yankees’ President Randy Levine opened his mouth and took over headlines. After winning the arbitration battle against Dellin Betances (and if Levine is reading this, it’s DELLIN not Dylan), Levine held a press conference to basically gloat about their victory over their ace reliever and trash him for no reason at all. He talked about how Betances was “used” by his agents to change the market, and Betances isn’t worth closer money, “at least based on statistics.”
Before that, Hal Steinbrenner opened his mouth about Aroldis Chapman. Specifically talking about Chapman’s domestic abuse incident and how the team was able to “manage” the situation Steinbrenner said:
“He was great. Look, he admitted he messed up. He paid the penalty. Sooner or later, we forget, right? That’s the way we’re supposed to be in life.”
Forget. Sure, later he clarified that he meant “forgive” and not “forget,” but the story was already written. And whether he meant “forgive” or “forget” becomes moot.
Last year, COO Lonn Trost notably made headlines when he opened his mouth about the Yankees’ battle with StubHub. Trost said that the team doesn’t mind fans selling tickets on the secondary market but it could be “frustrating” to fans who paid full price for their tickets to learn others might have paid substantially less. Which isn’t an awful thing to say.
He then goes on to say, “quite frankly, the fan may be someone who has never sat in a premium location. So that’s a frustration to our existing fan base.” That effectively said don’t let the riffraff sit with our rich patrons, who are the only ones we really care about.
The Yankees’ front office even failed while talking politics, Stark’s article’s main focus. Last year Levine posted an article in Newsmax about Donald Trump, complaining about members of the Republican Party wanting to block Trump if he fell short of the majority delegates needed to secure the nomination.
Supporting Trump is one thing—I’m not here to tell people who they should or shouldn’t support. Levine going out of his way to complain about the system’s flaws though, brings exactly the kind of unwanted attention the team warned against.
"There's a quote," Cashman says. "The higher on the tree the monkey climbs, the more you see of his ass. So if you're going to choose to climb that tree, you're putting your ass out there. So I think you just educate everyone on dealing with the media."
There’s another quote to think about, Cashman. It’s “practice what you preach.” It’s unfair of the organization to expect their players to behave one way if they can’t heed their own advice.
The Yankees want their players to avoid controversy but don’t hold their executives to the same standard. The players seem to have this lesson learned so maybe it’s time to invest in training their executives on the same subject. Until they do, they’re just hypocrites.