TORONTO – What happens next time if it’s someone who isn’t on the bubble of the roster like Anthony Bass sharing an intolerant post, or making a hurtful statement? What if it’s a key contributor or a franchise cornerstone? How will the Toronto Blue Jays handle things then? When do values trump all other considerations? What’s their line that can’t be crossed?
Relevant questions, since designating the reliever for assignment Friday, 11 days after he reposted to Instagram a video that cites bible verse to justify an anti-2SLGBTQ+ boycott of Target, hours before he was to catch the Pride Night ceremonial first pitch, was no act of principle by the club.
The Blue Jays essentially spent a week-and-a-half trying to feel their way through the mess, testing the waters to see if they could either trade him, saving some or all of the remaining portion of his $3 million salary in the process, or if Bass could carve out enough goodwill for a second chance by making some genuine amends. When neither happened and the need for a roster spot arose so Mitch White could be activated, they made what GM Ross Atkins called “a baseball decision,” adding that the “distraction was a small part of it and something that we had to factor in.”
Make this a case study for MBA students on how to make sure no one ends up happy.
To be fair, once Bass shared the post, there were few pathways to a good outcome. His meeting on Tuesday with Pride Toronto executive director Sherwin Modeste offered one route but Modeste made the point to Bass that “he’s going to have to work to regain the trust of the community” and the right-hander’s public comments Thursday blew that up.
Still, a day after insisting that Bass being apologetic and accountable “was absolutely necessary for us to be together,” Atkins refused to take a similar stand, going no further than saying “there are times that things get momentum and become a distraction in our clubhouse and that was a variable.”
Whatever the reason for that, it all added up to incongruent messaging.
If non-inclusive behaviour is a red line one day, why wasn’t it at the end if the club felt he wasn’t going to come around? If Bass was genuinely contrite and willing to learn, why give him only one chance to draw upon team resources, since a lifetime of bias can’t be unlearned in such a short span? If this was all about baseball, didn’t Jay Jackson merit Bass’s roster spot well before White did?
Crisis-management always has more layers than meets the eye and is certainly far more complicated than it looks from the outside. But sailing ships is easy in calm waters.
That all this happened just before the first of two Pride Weekend games, with a crowd of 35,222 on hand, only takes away from the focus on where it should be – welcoming and helping to build acceptance for communities under duress. The Blue Jays and Jays Care Foundation do lots of important work year-round within the 2SLGBTQ+ community and that’s been overshadowed. People the organization want to help have been hurt.
Worse, the past week-and-half has turned Bass into a cause celebre for online hate-mongers who had no idea who he was before he reshared the post, and will have no use for him once the next flash-point emerges. And lost in the back-and-forth since is the damage done to people in vulnerable situations and the uncaring ways they’ve been talked about.
Modeste stressed that to Bass during the meeting this week, saying “we spent a good chunk of the time just really looking at the impact of statements and whether it’s him, whether it’s politicians, whether anybody in authority that puts a hateful message out, what impact it can have on individuals, on groups of people. We unpacked it together.”
“We were able to look at it not just from the 2SLGBTQ lens, but also look at it from the race lens,” Modeste continued. “Anthony shared with me, you know, ‘Sherwin, you’re making sense because I have a biracial daughter and I do get this.’ And I’m like, exactly. So I felt that he understood the impact on youth during our conversation, potentially, when they were being told on social media to go do something to themselves.”
Small moments of humanity like that may be why Atkins said, “I don’t feel Anthony wants any harm or for anyone to feel anything less than equal.”
So, baseball decision then, which again begs the question, had Bass been a more significant contributor, would he have had more runway?
“I’m not going to speculate on that,” said Atkins, and why would he, since doing so would create precedent for the Blue Jays, which could tie their hands in a similar crisis down the road.
An executive once told me there’s a sliding scale of BS clubs are willing to tolerate from players and the more talented someone is, the more crap he can get away with. Given how the Blue Jays handled Bass, that sure seems as true as ever.