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Cleveland knew of Mickey Callaway complaints, report says, contradicting team president

Mickey Callaway, then Cleveland’s pitching coach, watches a game with Manager Terry Francona in 2017. (Paul Sancya/AP)

Top executives in the Cleveland Indians’ front office were aware of allegations of misconduct against then-pitching coach Mickey Callaway before they were made public and did not take disciplinary action, according to a report published Tuesday by the Athletic. Tuesday’s story contradicts statements made by team president Chris Antonetti, who said last month that the organization was not aware of Callaway’s alleged conduct before the Athletic published its initial article about him Feb. 1.

Tuesday’s story suggested Callaway’s lewd behavior was “the worst-kept secret” in the organization and detailed multiple instances in which his sexual harassment of women was raised to Antonetti, General Manager Mike Chernoff and Manager Terry Francona.

Neither Antonetti nor Chernoff addressed Tuesday’s report, and Francona said he could not comment when asked by reporters before a spring training game. The team offered similar silence in a statement issued to reporters hours later.

“Our organization continues to actively cooperate with MLB on their investigation into Mickey Callaway,” the team said. “It is important we honor the confidentiality and integrity of that investigation. While we don’t believe the reporting to date reflects who we are as an organization, we will not comment further on the specifics of this matter.”

The statement also included a pledge to create “an inclusive work environment where everyone, regardless of gender, can feel safe and comfortable at all times.” It did not deny any details of the Athletic’s reporting.

Callaway is now the Los Angeles Angels’ pitching coach, and he is serving a suspension as MLB investigates his behavior during more than a decade as a major league coach, a tenure that included a stop as manager of the New York Mets.

After the Athletic published its initial report, in which multiple women accused Callaway of sending unsolicited and inappropriate text messages and pictures, Antonetti insisted he had no idea about Callaway’s alleged conduct.

“When I read the article, that was the first time I became aware of the alleged behaviors,” Antonetti told reporters Feb. 4.

“There had never been any complaints against Mickey in his time with us, either to me or to our human resources department or other leaders,” he added.

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But Tuesday’s report disputes the idea that Callaway’s transgressions never pinged the radar of top officials. It includes the story of one angry husband — mad that Callaway had sent explicit images to his wife — who contacted the team directly; his complaint was eventually channeled to Antonetti, Chernoff and Francona.

Francona was the only member of Cleveland’s leadership to address reporters Tuesday. He began his daily pregame video conference call with a statement explaining why he couldn’t answer questions about Callaway.

“I know there’s probably a lot of questions today about what was written in the Athletic, and I fully respect that. I know the organization is putting out a response. Out of respect to that and to the Major League Baseball investigation, right now is just not the right time to respond to some of the questions I’m sure you have,” Francona said. “I do hope at some point we are able to, because I think we need to, and just know that we take this very, very serious. I apologize, but that’s kind of where it is today.”

Multiple reporters tried to follow up with Francona, who continued to defer to an upcoming statement, breaking character only to rebut a reporter’s assertion, as informed by anecdotes in the Athletic’s reporting, that he and other Cleveland higher-ups had known about Callaway’s behavior and covered for it.

“Nobody’s deliberately covered up for anybody, I can tell you that,” Francona said quietly.

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Francona’s son, Nick, who maintains an outspoken social media presence and comments often about MLB’s approach to social issues, issued a statement of his own Tuesday. In it, he suggested his father did know about Callaway’s behavior but “just doesn’t get it.”

“When the news about Mickey Callaway’s behavior came out earlier this year, I confronted my father, Chris Antonetti, and others with the Cleveland Indians. I wanted to know why they didn’t say anything to me when the Mets hired Mickey Callaway and they gave him a strong endorsement. My father lied to me and said he didn’t know,” the younger Francona wrote. “... [My] father and I do not have a particularly close relationship, largely as a result of disagreements about his conduct, some of which has been reported over the years, and some of which has not.”

Asked about his son’s statement, Terry Francona said, “I love all my kids unconditionally.”

“That’s a very difficult thing to see,” he added. “To deal with it publicly is hurtful.”

Cleveland is not the only team having to publicly deal with Callaway’s behavior. On Monday, Mets President Sandy Alderson said he and his colleagues were “shortsighted” in their pursuit of Callaway before hiring him as manager before the 2018 season.

“When we hired Mickey, Mickey was a hot commodity. There were a number of teams that were anxious to talk to him and wanted to sign him to a contract. We felt very fortunate at the time to get him based on his reputation in the game,” Alderson said. “Now, was that shortsighted on our part? Was it too narrow a focus? I think the answer is probably yes. And certainly, in retrospect, there probably should have been a broader assessment of his qualifications.”

Angels Manager Joe Maddon, who hired Callaway before the 2020 season, also declined to comment during his daily meeting with reporters Tuesday.

“Honestly, I cannot [comment]. I can’t. That’s an ongoing investigation. There’s nothing for me to comment, add, subtract, whatever,” he said. “So we’ll just let this play itself out, we’ll find out where everything lands, and we’ll take it from there.”