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Gabe Kapler’s introductory press conference sure was weird

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We heard a lot about process, communication, relationships, statements like “I’m sorry” and “I’m scared” — did we mention process? Or Gabe Kapler’s mom?

Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Gabe Kapler speaks in first drafts.

I can recognize a kindred spirit. If you’ve ever listened to our podcasts or read any article I’ve written for this site, then you know what I’m talking about. When there’s no time to revise, first thought becomes best thought becomes statement. And when you’re nervous, the word faucet doesn’t close until the sink overflows. That’s what happens when working under daily deadlines.

The Giants had two weeks to fashion a media strategy to respond to the very legitimate and super obvious questions they were going to get for Gabe Kapler’s starring role in a scandal during his tenure as LA’s farm director involving assault and possible sexual assault of a minor by Dodgers prospects. Today’s introductory press conference for the man who has replaced Bruce Bochy did not offer one moment that showed those two weeks had been put to use to craft a message.

It was shaggy, sweaty, and at times weird, even a little uncomfortable. Between Farhan Zaidi, Gabe Kapler, and Scott Harris, everybody knew what they needed to say, knew what they wanted to say, but struggled to say it clearly. Maybe they determined that the traditional concept of “crafting a message” would come off as disingenuous or perhaps be viewed as a dodge of those legitimate questions and so opted to be honest about how poorly they handled a bad situation, shagginess and all.

That would follow from Farhan Zaidi’s comments on KNBR this morning:

Those of us who work in baseball operations aren’t necessarily the best-equipped — well, I won’t even say “necessarily” — we definitely aren’t the best-equipped to handle these situations and understand what the right steps to take are.

Nearly five years have passed since those events, but it’s clear that the panel of baseball ops people who spoke on behalf of the Giants today didn’t become better-equipped to handle these situations. They couldn’t even talk about it without seeming both self-serving and even slightly tone deaf.

Zaidi was adamant that Kapler did not attempt to engage in a cover-up and seemed to imply that the transparency within the organization at the time of the incident and the transparency there in the press conference in 2019 were as important than the root issue. In case that is unclear, the issue at the heart of the controversy with Giants fans is that how can someone be trusted with a public good when they do not have the public’s best interest in mind.

He and Kapler were clear that they set themselves to the task of learning from the experience. There was a lot of talk referencing “the chain of command” and the Dodgers’ “legal counsel” while still adding that they weren’t perfect in their actions but now understand the scope of their missteps. Gabe Kapler did say “I’m sorry” and said he was “over my skis” during the 2015 incident in question. Farhan Zaidi admitted that the issues (there are actually two assaults by Dodgers prospects mentioned in the Washington Post report) did not come up when the Giants interviewed him for the President of Baseball Operations position.

But Gabe Kapler wasn’t concise and it led to some really interesting tangents. The AP’s Janie McCauley asked, “are there things you can do proactively to start gaining the trust [of fans who are critical of his hiring]?”

One of the things that come to mind immediately is having these harder conversations with players that you might not have in the first couple of conversations if these situations didn’t exist. So, by way of example, if I go out and I talk to Tyler Beede, I talk to Buster, I talk to Brandon Crawford or Brandon Belt, normally that first conversation would entail a lot of baseball stuff, but maybe the way to handle this — and I actually feel pretty strongly about it — is to bring these issues up in the first conversation and talk about what we’re going to stand for as Giants. Farhan mentioned it: these are problems in major league clubhouses.

He’s talking about having harder conversations with players about assault and harassment and situations that can lead to abuse of women and abuse of their power position in social circumstances. Here were Zaidi and Scott Harris’ face as he said, “bring these issues up in the first conversation”:

In a question asking what Kapler would do to earn trust, he answered that he would talk to his players about their behavior and do that before talking about baseball. It felt like he was playing for votes here rather than being a straight shooter, but it also felt like he felt that he had to play it this way because he was losing the crowd.

Tim Kawakami asked him if he felt like he was starting out in a hole. That led to a really interesting answer that I’m going to edit for you.

Yes, I feel like I’m in a little bit of a hole. And yes, that means something to me, and I think I would just use it as an opportunity to roll up my sleeves a little bit more, to dig in a little bit more,

Stop right here, Gabe. This was a fine answer. It’s being vulnerable and being straightforward about the approach to working through it. Oh, wait — you’re still talking?

to really find out what the issues are — to find out why I have had some of those issues and why, so far, I have not been a popular hire, and then be responsive to those things.

Uh . . . okay. Cool. Yeah. This could’ve been self-deprecating if it had been delivered punchier. “Yeah, I’m 2-for-2 in being the unpopular hire. I’m going to try out some new deodorants, maybe a new hair cut, see if either of those are the problem.”

At some point, though being vulnerable and recognizing that there are issues isn’t enough, and as the manager of a baseball team — as the public face of a franchise now — living in that space and seemingly embracing the attitude of listening and learning seems more appeasing than healing. It’s self-flagellation without the palpable guilt. Like management working to assuage concerns after mass layoffs or something. Oh wait — there’s more?

I don’t think I know everything, I don’t think I’ve made every perfect step — I make a lot of mistakes, but I think one of the things you’ll find out about me is that I’m good at making adjustments.

Let’s hope so! After all, you are starting out in a hole. Wait —

So, when I found out that maybe this isn’t the most popular hire, I want to find out those reasons and I want to get better, and so I just dig in, roll up my sleeves, and get to work.

And yet we’ve been told that players love Gabe Kapler. That makes sense: he’s just like them, somewhere on the Pat Burrell-Brian Wilson spectrum. But since no one outside of Baseball in Philadelphia or San Francisco has warmed to him, it means we’re dealing with a Public Gabe and a Clubhouse Gabe.

Why don’t we get to see Clubhouse Gabe? Is it because Clubhouse Gabe works blue? He only gives handshakes with The Shocker? Public Gabe doesn’t sound like he knows how to say what he wants to say in the way that he wants to say it, and you can hear him mid-sentence realize that he needs to clean up or clarify exactly what he just said.

He speaks in first drafts because the next draft gets him — and us — closer to the truth.

Between his public speech and Zaidi’s insistence that the truth paints a different picture of the man, we’re being told that there’s a better version of Gabe Kapler out there and that we need only be patient and forgiving to see him emerge. That’s a suspicious point to make, but it’s the one they most insisted upon after introducing Bruce Bochy’s successor.