The New York Mets announced Tuesday their hiring of Jessica Mendoza as a baseball operations adviser to General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen. The official release stated that Mendoza will work on player evaluation, roster construction and technological advancements.
The news was complicated by the fact that Mendoza, a member of the U.S. Olympic softball team in 2004 and 2008, will remain in her role as an analyst on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball” broadcasts.
That means that every Sunday evening during the season, she will comment on teams and players from around the league for a national TV audience at the same time she is on the Mets’ payroll.
In a news release, Mendoza said she would “balance both tasks moving forward.”
ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz said in a statement that the network “will be fully transparent about Jessica’s relationship with the Mets,” adding, “We have complete faith in her ability as a leading MLB voice for ESPN.”
Mendoza is just the latest broadcaster to hold a role with a team. Her partner in ESPN’s Sunday night booth, Alex Rodriguez, is an adviser for the crosstown Yankees. Another ESPN analyst, David Ross, calls games and is also a special assistant in the Chicago Cubs’ baseball operations department.
For networks, teams and viewers, the quandary is twofold: whether an announcer who owes allegiance to a team has his or her opinions filtered through that lens, and whether their position in the media offers an unfair competitive advantage.
To Bob Lipsyte, a former ESPN ombudsman, any hand-wringing over these arrangements from a journalism-ethics perspective confers an air of authority on ESPN that it does not deserve.
“We think of ESPN as a journalistic enterprise, and now and then they do journalism, which delights and surprises,” he said. “But they’re part of the promotion and engagement of the games, which isn’t journalism. So to get upset about this, you’re equating a broadcaster with some kind of journalist.”
Lipsyte noted that local baseball broadcasters work at the discretion of the teams and recalled his own career when he covered the Mets for the New York Times in the 1960s and his interactions with one of the team’s broadcasters, Ralph Kiner.
“It was all a wink-wink that he was playing journalist on the air,” Lipsyte said, adding, “It’s like the merry-go-round in Washington [politics]. Someone works for a network and they go work for a candidate and then they’re back at the network.”
The trend of team employees offering commentary extends beyond ESPN and the announcing booth. David Ortiz works as a studio host on Fox Sports and in an advisory role for the Boston Red Sox. Former pitcher Al Leiter was hired by the Mets this week as a special adviser but will keep his job as a commentator on MLB Network. ESPN also announced Tuesday that current Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia would contribute to its baseball coverage this season as an analyst. Still, Mendoza’s role appears to carry more substance than the usual titles landed by ex-players.
Longtime baseball announcer Bob Costas suggested that conflicts of interest for announcers go back decades, including when Vin Scully and Jack Buck called World Series games while also working for individual teams.
“The viewer was not ill-served because their primary job was to narrate the game, to provide insight and capture the drama of the game,” he said. “Jessica’s different in that she’s involved in player evaluation, so I think no one should expect that she’d come on the air during a Mets game and say, ‘We’d like to trade this guy.’ But if the question is an analysis of someone’s play or the season he’s having, that’s what people want, and she can offer that.”
He added, “She can dispel any criticism by doing the same evenhanded job she’s already done.”
Asked whether managers and players might be reluctant to share information with a broadcaster who works for another team during production meetings ahead of telecasts — or whether there was a risk of that info getting passed to the Mets — Costas said the problem was more theoretical than practical.
“No one is talking about trades in those meetings, or organizational strategy,” he said. “You want to know who’s available in the bullpen or who’s hurt. There’s seldom ever proprietary information exchanged.”
Costas did envision a scenario in which Mendoza is broadcasting a Mets game and there is organizational upheaval or questions about the manager’s job security swirling around the team that need to be addressed on the air.
“That’s the test, and there will be scrutiny,” he said. “But I don’t see her being compromised.”
Mendoza is scheduled to call the Mets’ matchup with the visiting Atlanta Braves on June 30.
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