Kobritz: Mets’ Mendoza faces conundrum in dual roles
The New York Mets’ hire of Brodie Van Wagenen as general manager last year was viewed as unconventional, an out-of-the-box move by a team desperate for change, on and off the field.
In his previous life, Van Wagenen had been a high-profile player agent for Creative Artists Agency. Among his clients were two of the Mets’ top players, outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and pitcher Jacob deGrom, last year’s National League Cy Young Award winner.
Now Van Wagenen is paying it forward. He recently announced that the team had hired ESPN “Sunday Night Baseball” analyst Jessica Mendoza as a Baseball Operations Advisor. Mendoza will focus on player evaluation, roster construction, technological advancement, and health and performance.
Van Wagenen said Mendoza will continue her role at ESPN where she has contributed to baseball, softball and college football coverage since 2007. Mendoza’s first assignment as an analyst for an MLB game came in 2015, and she has been part of the “Sunday Night Baseball” crew since 2016.
Although she’s one of this country’s all-time greatest softball players, Mendoza brings no baseball experience to her new job beyond her broadcasting career. She was a four-time, first team All-American at Stanford and a two-time Olympian with the U.S. women’s softball team, winning a gold medal at the 2004 Athens Games and a silver medal in Beijing in 2008.
Mendoza’s dual responsibilities immediately raised questions of conflict of interest. Can she effectively fulfill both roles, commenting accurately and fairly – even critically — during ESPN broadcasts that involve her new employer without offending the team or its players? And what of the inside knowledge on players she will acquire working for ESPN? Will she share that information with the Mets?
The standard response is she is neither the first nor the only current individual faced with such a conundrum. Her fellow “Sunday Night Baseball” commentator, Alex Rodriguez, is also an adviser with the Yankees. Others who currently have dual roles include ESPN’s David Ross, who is a special assistant with the Cubs, and David Ortiz and Frank Thomas, both of whom do studio work for FOX Sports while working for the Red Sox and White Sox, respectively.
In response to questions related to potential conflicts of interest, Van Wagenen said Mendoza’s deal includes a confidentiality agreement, which prevents her from sharing on air anything she gleans from the Mets’ operation. The agreement also prohibits Mendoza from conveying to the Mets anything she learns about other teams through her ESPN duties. Good luck with that. It’s difficult for anyone to remember exactly what they heard or learned at specific times and places and from what sources.
Nonetheless, those who raise the issue of ethics take sports — and perhaps themselves – too seriously. We’re talking about entertainment — that’s what the “E” in ESPN stands for — not public service where there are laws governing ethical conduct. Mendoza’s dual role doesn’t affect the integrity of the game on or off the field, which means there is no downside to the arrangement.
Jordan Kobritz is a non-practicing attorney and CPA, former Minor League Baseball team owner and current investor in MiLB teams. He is a professor in the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog, sportsbeyondthelines.com. The opinions contained in this column are the author’s. Kobritz can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.