Earlier today, Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto joined the Danny and Gallant podcast on 710 ESPN for his regular Thursday appearance. The comments he made over the course of the interview proceeded to light up Twitter with a particularly unfortunate pull quote (“don’t whine, just go play”) which troubled several of us on staff. We believe this is an issue worthy of deeper discussion than a few tweets, so here we will present the transcript of Dipoto’s relevant comments and attempt to contextualize and critique them, round-table style.
The first question Dipoto was asked was about the growing tension between ownership, who want MLB to return ASAP, and the players, who are hesitating on issues of safety and compensation. This was his response:
“I have the...unique perspective of having worn both of these hats, as a player and on the club side, and I have been through about as big an inferno in CBA discussions as you can get as a player in 1994...My general thought is, just, go play. At the end of the day, we’re very fortunate to do what we do...whatever our job is in professional sports. And in this moment in time, and I guess in any moment, my urge is, like as we develop culture, and as we develop character with our club, understand that there’s a big world around you, and there are a lot of people suffering. Don’t whine, just go play.”
Dipoto also said that he agreed with host Michael Bumpus (sitting in for Danny O’Neil), who had led into the segment by summarizing his position on the situation as “suck it up, buttercup.” After Dipoto was done speaking, Bumpus responded: “I feel like athletes have a responsibility at this point to kinda get things back to normal, if they can, and I feel like if guys can understand that, they’ll have a better chance to play.”
Later on in the segment, while talking about the charitable efforts of Mariners players in general, and Marco and Monica Gonzales’s peanut butter drive specifically, Dipoto circled back to the initial question:
“I know, like where we started the conversation, it gets very easy to point at the discontent that may exist publicly when we’re talking about player salaries, etc., but understand that most players want to play, most players want to be out there. We’re getting caught up in the weeds on a small percentage of players who have different feelings. Their [meaning the majority of players] primary concerns are about safety and health and their family and getting back out there and doing the things they love to do, and I think in the end that’ll come out, that will shine, on both sides, because the clubs want to play.”
In discussions with the staff, here are some questions this brief—but incendiary—interview raised among our numbers:
Do you put any stock in Dipoto’s argument that he has a greater understanding of the situation because of his unique perspective of having been part of both sides of labor negotiations?
Do professional players have a unique responsibility to help “get things back to normal”? And with regards specifically to the Mariners, will a player be viewed as a “poor culture” character if they are unwilling or hesitant to rejoin the team under current financial or health conditions?
Do we trust Dipoto’s assertion that “most players want to play, most players want to be out there”?
What in the world would possess Jerry Dipoto, a generally PR-savvy GM who is labeled by critics as a silver-tongued snake oil salesman, to say something as ill-advised as “don’t whine, just go play”? Has he gone stir-crazy in quarantine? Maybe his outdoor pizza oven stopped working and he’s bored?
KP: First of all, while I don’t doubt Dipoto has a perspective that’s unique among GMs as a former player, I would hope that would make him more sympathetic to the players, not less. Also I’m not sure if you can compare the labor strike of 1994 to a global pandemic. Maybe if we had a baseball player-turned-GM from 1918 to weigh in?
TC: I know your brain can work at a mile a minute in these things, leading you to start a thought and not finish it, but that former player comment was so strange to me. He throws it out there then offers thoughts that have no apparent or direct connection to that other than, I guess, he wanted to just go play in the 1994 strike? But he didn’t say that, making it a weird comment. It felt to me as though the entire answer to the initial question played that way: he was trying to offer a slightly different and more anodyne thought and just kept running into hot takes like “don’t whine.” He also makes a vague character-building reference but then moves on swiftly from that thought. There would have been a few ways to pivot away from specifics in the answer towards a non-answer that would have been appropriate in the situation for Jerry, and unfortunately he took none of them.
In addition, I get the “they’re rich” angle that the specific choice of “whine” comes from—what’s the big deal, millions of dollars for a kids game, etc., etc. I’m OK with the idea that players have a responsibility to society to try to help do…. Whatever civic function you think baseball does… but I’m a lot less sympathetic to it coming from owners (and those who speak for them). For some reason, the public discussion of this has been almost entirely on owners’ terms, their insistence that they’re going to see massive losses from a fan-free season, their insistence that the only way forward is a severe player pay cut, and so on. If you really want to get into it, most MLB owners have a variety of creative funding sources available to them in their capacity as uberrich members of society, from outright liquidity to creative financing by methods that generally aren’t available to an arsenal of relievers who earn 600k in a season, then lose a chunk to taxes, a chunk to personal expenses, a chunk to an agent and so on. If we want to talk about the people with a responsibility to help get things back to normal, let’s start there.
KP: The common refrain of players having a “responsibility” or “owing it” to America to play-act normality is a very weird one to me. I do think high-profile people have to be conscious of how they act and the kinds of behaviors they’re modeling but to me that applies more to “public officials should be wearing a mask and demonstrating social distancing” than “baseball players owe it to us to put on uniforms and go throw a ball around a field.” Maybe it’s because the world we live in right now—where public officials are wearing masks—is so jarring and so unrecognizable that people are desperate for anything that does seem familiar and comfortable. But as Tim says, baseball players aren’t the ones who owe us our lost sense of comfort. As the pandemic has shown us rather bleakly, the slice of society inhabited by those who have the capital to own a major sports franchise is a level of privilege that is almost completely unrecognizable to the majority of Americans, even including those who qualify as “quite wealthy.”
ES: Agreed, Kate. Many, but not all, baseball players may be in very financially fortunate position where they are getting paid very well to play a game for a living. Every single one of them worked their asses off to get there. Their careers can be shortened or ended as the result of a single pitch or bat swing gone wrong. Every player is looking to safeguard their chances of having as long of a career as possible and maximize their earnings because time is cruel and one day you wake up at like 28 and your first career, the game you’ve spent most of your life focusing on, is over because your body is suddenly unable to swing a bat as quickly as it used to. Not a single player owes it to anyone to jeopardize their already finite health and playing career to restart the season before it’s safe and feasible to do so.
KP: I’m not so sure I believe Jerry Dipoto is calling each player regularly and asking them if they’re ready to come back to baseball, so I’m not sure if I trust the assertion that most players want to be out there coming from him. I do feel like that’s a sense I get just from checking on players’ social media and the many sad captions under their pictures of quarantine workouts, and I’m sure those players are talking to their direct coaches, who are probably the ones reporting up the line to Dipoto. But without the players’ voices directly represented it feels like there’s probably some key context missing from that assertion, specifically the part where players want to play baseball, provided it is safe for them to do so and can be done under circumstances that won’t negatively affect their quality of life. This isn’t a full-on “EN FUEGO” on the Jerry Dipoto Truthiness Scale, but it’s not exactly “not on fire” either.
AL: I do think most players want to get back out there and play. I want them to do that as well! I miss baseball so much it physically hurts sometimes. I understand the desire for things to feel normal again. It’s just that you can’t make things normal when they are not. I want my daughter to go back to school. I want to spend several afternoon hours wandering the aisles of a bookstore. That doesn’t mean it is safe to do those things yet. We can certainly argue over whether or not it’s safe for kids to be in school or baseball games to take place, but that’s what the argument should be about. Not about a misplaced “responsibility” for normality.
KP: Giving Dipoto the benefit of the doubt some, because the conversation did jump around—and dwelled on non-baseball matters for some time—it seemed like he wanted to get into the discussion around this more, but as it is the dominant soundbite is “don’t whine,” which is, uh, pretty rough, even if you’re more on the side of getting baseball back as quickly as possible. No one wants to be talked to like a misbehaving toddler, even if Dipoto was only directing that comment, as he implied, at a small handful of players.
ES: The “don’t whine” comment is very attention-grabbing and disconcerting out of context. Unfortunately it’s not much better in context either, but it was part of a response to Bumpus’s previous “Suck it up, Buttercup” comment. I disagree with the sentiment, but it wasn’t some out-of-the-blue call-out to his players. That said, it’s still a bummer. As much as I desperately want baseball back, I’m much more sympathetic to Blake Snell’s comments and concerns than I am to the owners’ and GM’s side of things. We’re in the midst of a worldwide public health crisis and everything is in a state of chaos, so saying “don’t whine” to players (who have very legitimate concerns about how catching COVID-19 could impact their playing careers!) on a radio interview is just an all-around bad look.
AL: Given Dipoto’s predilection toward saying what he thinks will play well with fans, maybe he thought those comments would land well with the fanbase? It’s likely a genuine expression of his frustrations or the pressure he feels to have games take place. I can’t imagine he’d express those feelings and risk angering his players if he didn’t really feel that way.
JT: Two things can be true: Jerry Dipoto would not be able to get hired as a General Manager if he spoke effusively in praise of the players (and, by dint, in opposition to his bosses), AND these comments were ill-conceived and needlessly accusatory. I think Amanda is right that he feels that way, and he’s hardly alone. There is less at stake for the average MLBer right now relative to most of us, because they are among the healthiest and most well-paid people around. It’s understandable to want them to suck it up and go play, and reckon it’s the least they could do for the privilege of playing a game for a living. But that’s not what the stakes are, nor the dynamics at play, and it’s particularly disappointing that Dipoto, among all 30 GMs/heads of Baseball Ops around the league, isn’t merely offering platitudes of “we hope everything can get sorted out so everyone can play”, but terms of chastisement for players. To “Teixeira” himself while making reference to his experience with the 1994 work stoppage is both a peculiar conflation of events, as Kate and Tim mentioned at the top, but glosses over the cause behind that strike: MLB owners being found guilty, in court, of colluding on three different occasions, 1985-86, 1987, and 1988-90, to suppress player earnings and agency.
It’s undoubtedly bad for the game if an agreement can’t be reached, but telling every current and potential future employee that they should not only put themselves and their families at greater health risk, but not to “whine” about it because they are relatively well-paid as world-class athletes, betrays a grave fundamental disconnect between the GM and the players he has to assemble for a team. For all Dipoto’s discussion of culture and character, what player would feel inspired to join a team whose leader outwardly describes their desire for agreed upon pay commensurate with taking on greater risk as “whining”? Even if the sentiment is shared by all 29 other front office heads, Dipoto’s vocalization is a red flag for free agents and undercuts his own player development team’s efforts to develop any sense that the organization is all in this together - a “family” as his coaches and staff have often described it.
KP: It’s odd because if there’s one complaint that’s been consistently leveled at Dipoto by his critics, it’s that he’s been too silver-tongued, resembled too much Lyle Lanley pushing the monorail on the citizens of Springfield (“but our farm system’s still all cracked and broken!/Hush up now, Gerard has spoken”). So in a relative sports content vacuum, to use a loaded word like “whine”—with its connotations of spoiled children—almost feels purposeful. I agree with Amanda’s observation that he might have thought it would play well with fans (and according to the Seattle Times sports opinion page, there are many with whom it does), but I wonder if there might be another audience Dipoto is aiming at.
Details are still coming out, but it would seem that a revenue-sharing plan wouldn’t affect players at the extreme ends of the economic spectrum—the 25M-plus per year tier and the players making league minimum or close to it—as much as it would the players earning in the middle of the salary distribution, the 8-15M/year players, who are generally older and more expensive than their younger counterparts and therefore the players hurt most by what analytics “say” they’re worth. By design, the Mariners don’t have too many of those players, and the ones they do have who are highly paid—Kyle Seager and Dee Gordon—are ones who already seemingly have a relationship with the team ranging from resigned to borderline hostile. So in that light, establishing a cultural expectation among younger players as one where “whining” isn’t permissible lest one be tagged as a bad “culture” guy is an understandable managerial tactic even if it isn’t a morally defensible one, especially considering the chilling effect it could have on players who have—as Dipoto himself seems to recognize—legitimate concerns about health and safety.