It's like our favorite sixth-grader, David Eckstein, at bat against that Detroit beast Zumaya. It's unfathomable that the little guy stood 3 inches from the intended flight path of a baseball that could have bored through his brain in the next millisecond. It's also absolutely admirable. And now we get Harold Reynolds daring to stand in against the Worldwide Leader.
Reynolds insists that without any warning of trouble ahead, ESPN dumped him as its top baseball analyst this summer. The way he tells it, a couple of weeks after the All-Star Game he was asked to come to a meeting.
"I had my suit on," he says. "I was getting ready to break down Manny Ramirez's swing. I was going to do SportsCenter. I came to the meeting."
And there, like a Zumaya heater ...
"I got fired."
A hundred miles an hour, up and in, Strike 3 called.
"I was not anticipating a firing at all. What you have to understand is, I have never had a suspension, I've never signed a warning, I've never had anything like that. So this was abrupt, and it was instantaneous and, in my mind, unfair."
Maybe ESPN expected Reynolds to go quietly. In 11 years at the network, he had developed a reputation as a good guy and hard worker who did actual reporting, the rare athlete-turned-analyst who understands that even in an entertainment-first business there is value in journalism.
In fact, the boys from Bristol thought so highly of Reynolds that in March they gave him his longest, richest contract yet — a six-year deal worth as much as $6 million. Four months later, they fired him.
If they expected him to drag his butt to the dugout, head down, they'd forgotten who he was, a big-league player 12 years, twice an All-Star second baseman, proud and competitive. First came mediation sessions in which Reynolds sought his job back; failing there, on Oct. 30 he filed a breach-of-contract suit seeking the rest of his contracted money, $5 million.
Why ESPN fired Reynolds, we have no official word; the network is running silent. But news accounts in July suggested the firing came in response to a sexual harassment claim made by a network intern.
Reynolds admitted contact with the woman. From his lawsuit: "As he truthfully has stated publicly, in July 2006 he gave a brief and innocuous hug to a female intern. The intern, at the time, never expressed any discomfort and in fact had dinner with Mr. Reynolds at a Boston Market restaurant that same evening after he had given her this brief hug. Mr. Reynolds has never seen her since then, and upon information and belief she made no complaint until approximately three weeks later."
Make of that what you will. Reynolds leaves it there; the woman, unidentified, has said nothing publicly. So we have a man's self-absolving, no-context description of an encounter as "a brief, innocuous hug." For all we know, the woman has described the encounter as a sexual predator's doesn't-understand-no headlock.
ESPN's frat house culture was a central theme in ESPN: The Uncensored History, a book published in 2000. Then-New York Times reporter Michael Freeman cited dozens of sexual harassment cases, along with drug, alcohol and gambling accusations. It is from a glass house that the network now throws stones at Reynolds.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
But, as my friend suggested, that was then and this is now. No woman today has to put up with any boys-will-be-boys stuff. To its credit, ESPN has raised its sensitivity on the issue. Soon enough, I imagine ESPN will: 1) settle the Reynolds suit by handing over a good chunk of the $5 million and 2) rewrite contracts specifically defining sexual harassment as a firing offense.
In all this, one irony drives me bats.
OK, if Reynolds did it, dump him.
Then look around the campus.
Find an exit, point Michael Irvin toward it, and remind the NFL analyst to take his decade of drug baggage with him.
HBT: Carlos Ruiz was lifted from Sunday afternoon’s game against the Reds after straining his right hamstring while running the bases in the bottom of the second inning.
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