New York Mets: Is ESPN about to show Jessica Mendoza the door?

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 8: ESPN Sunday Night Baseball color commentator Jessica Mendoza exits the Green Monster before a game between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees on September 8, 2019 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 8: ESPN Sunday Night Baseball color commentator Jessica Mendoza exits the Green Monster before a game between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees on September 8, 2019 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) /

Speculation abounds that Jessica Mendoza, “Sunday Night Baseball” talker and New York Mets advisor, will lose her ESPN gig sooner than you think.

The word around the baseball media Monday was that Jessica Mendoza—ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball commentator who also works as an advisor to the New York Mets, or the Mets advisor who also comments on Sunday Night Baseball, depending upon your viewpoint—would be done on the ESPN broadcasts. Define “done?” Well, the New York Post said Mendoza leaving SNB is “likely,” while said ESPN was “close to dumping” her.

Yet Post writer Andrew Marchand says the network still has “big plans” for Mendoza, “reimagining its baseball coverage and Mendoza is expected to be an integral part, in-studio or on possibly on weekday games. She may want to expand her reach in other avenues, as well.” Marchand says further that Mendoza’s very controversial diss of Mike Fiers for blowing the whistle on what blew up into Astrogate “has little to do with ESPN’s thought process.”

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Last summer the question of those perceived as reporters/commentators who also work even informally for teams they might be expected to cover and observe arose in part because of something Jessica Mendoza said, when she and her SNB partner Alex Rodriguez chatted on one such telecast about the pending (and newly single) trade deadline.

Rodriguez still has a relationship with the Yankees, even if he gave up being a paid advisor before taking his SNB gig. On the broadcast in question, Rodriguez asked Mendoza whom the New York Yankees should have on their trade wish list approaching that deadline. Mendoza didn’t miss.

Noah Syndergaard,” she said. As in, the New York Mets pitcher who was only thought to be the prized nugget on that trading floor, even if the Mets themselves hadn’t affirmed it just yet.

Marc Carig of The Athletic didn’t miss, either, when he wrote extensively on the ticklish point of perceived baseball reporters doing double duty as team advisors. “So began an impromptu game of Let’s Make a Deal,” he wrote of the A-Rod/Jessica exchange, “one that illustrated an issue that has raised concerns within clubhouses and front offices alike . . . By uttering Syndergaard’s name on the air, she indirectly revealed for millions of viewers that her team had put the pitcher on the block, the type of acknowledgment that is typically not made public.”

At the same time, David Ross, now the Chicago Cubs’ manager, was working as an ESPN broadcaster and as an advisor to Cubs president Theo Epstein. “It wouldn’t be unusual,” Carig noted properly, “for Ross’ duties to take him to games involving division rivals such as the Cardinals and Brewers.” Writing elsewhere at the time, I observed myself that, if you were thinking to yourself the conflict-of-interest potential was (and is) rather vast, heed Carig’s observation that that potential seems to divide teams.

This isn’t necessarily a contemporary phenomenon. In 1964, when the St. Louis Cardinals struggled mid-season in the National League pennant race, and rumours of imminent execution dogged manager Johnny Keane, there were concurrent rumours that then-Cardinals broadcaster Harry Caray had the front office ear strongly enough to suggest and be heeded about pondering then-Los Angeles Dodgers coach Leo Durocher to step in for Keane.

Caray actually interviewed Durocher on the air and asked point-blank if he wanted to manage again. When the Lip said “yes, if it was a good ball club,” Cardinals owner Gussie Busch happened to be listening and asked Caray to arrange a meeting. And, Busch agreed that Durocher would succeed Keane after the season. So much for that not-so-well-laid plan.

For one thing, Keane turned out to have been approached back-channel by the Yankees about succeeding first-year manager Yogi Berra no matter how the Yankees finished 1964. For another, the Cardinals turned up the last team standing when the Philadelphia Phillies’ fabled collapse turned into a three-way, final-weekend battle for the National League pennant . . . and the Yankees mounted a surge of their own to take the American League pennant.

And, for a third thing, the Cardinals beat the Yankees in a seven-game World Series, and both managers were out before the champagne finally dried. Busch called a press conference to announce he intended to re-hire Keane for 1965, and Keane one-upped him by handing him a letter of resignation. Berra went into the Yankee offices expecting to talk planning for 1965 and came out of them with his head in a guillotine basket, with Keane becoming the new Yankee manager. (Yogi moved to the crosstown New York Mets as a coach and eventual manager; Durocher ended up managing the Cubs starting in 1966.)

But you could forge a bye for Caray because he was employed by the Cardinals to be on the air, more or less, and he was a somewhat established broadcaster before he became the voice of the Cardinals over a decade before the Keane/Durocher issue. He wasn’t a former jock (never mind an aborted semi-pro baseball playing period) who slipped into the announcer’s booth on his name recognition, however much you could look at his involvement in the 1964 managerial mess and ponder whether a conflict existed.

Jessica Mendoza isn’t paid by the Mets to broadcast for ESPN, and ESPN hasn’t paid Mendoza to advise the Mets. But still. “[A]s media members,” Carig wrote last August, “broadcasters are given access to clubhouses prior to games. They have also typically been granted private sessions with managers prior to games. But for those who are also advising other teams, the only thing preventing them from relaying information gathered in those settings to their other employers is their own sense of ethics.”

The question becomes just how willing either a team or a media outlet is to take the gamble on the conflict-of-interest side of the matter. Jessica Mendoza’s ESPN broadcasting has taken her to cover games involving the New York Mets direct, divisional rivals such as the Phillies and the Atlanta Braves, not to mention those involving the Yankees, who don’t play in the Mets’ division but who do share the nation’s largest media market with them. Carig observed, too, that there are lots of “voices within clubhouses” who don’t see much issue with media members working concurrently in team advisory capacities, even those of opposing teams.

When Mendoza and Rodriguez bantered about the Yankees putting a target on Syndergaard’s back, it didn’t impact the trade deadline, after all. The New York Mets kept Syndergaard and dealt for the Toronto Blue Jays’ Marcus Stroman to shore up their pitching, but the Yankees—who needed starting pitching rather desperately—stood almost absolutely pat. If you could call that dodging a howitzer shell, you still have to face the conflict’s potential for serious ramifications.

All that was before Mendoza unloaded (erroneously, it says here) on Fiers. Whether she finally gets an ESPN pink slip remains undetermined as I write. But the network is pondering a pair of former players to join the team, former Yankee (and Met, Blue Jay, and Royal) pitcher David Cone (now working for the YES Network) and Hall of Fame third baseman Chipper Jones. It’s not impossible that either or both would help keep things balanced for A-Rod if Jessica Mendoza finally is shown the door.

Next. Three trade destinations for Wil Myers. dark

But it’s also not impossible to think that all that might have been avoided further, if ESPN had chosen to reverse the too-long-charted course and engage more genuine reporters and fewer, far fewer former players whose credentials going in are their names and, in several cases, their team ties.