Giants’ new pilot Kapler: ‘I’m not the popular hire’

© Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — It was not the normal introduction. Nobody cared what Gabe Kapler would do as the new Giants manager. Only about what he failed to do when he was director of player development for the Dodgers, and some of his players were accused of sexual assault.

That was in February 2015 in Arizona. Now it is November 2019 in Northern California. We’re not looking forward, however, which is the normal view when a team makes changes.

We’re thinking of the past. We’re wondering how Kapler was chosen.

“I’m not the popular hire,” he said.

We know why he was chosen. He’s a protégé of Farhan Zaidi, four years ago one of his bosses with the Dodgers, now president of baseball operations for the Giants.

And Wednesday at Oracle Park, Zaidi and Kapler, in what became a series of joint mea culpas, tried to explain how everything was botched in the way the old assault cases were reported.

What does this have to do with baseball? Nothing. And everything. It has to do with safety and regulations and making certain that, off the diamond, strong, young athletes are held accountable to the same laws as every other person.

I’ve been doing this for more than a half-century, covered every sport, and can't remember any new figure being opposed as Kapler has been. He did the wrong thing, if inadvertently. As did Zaidi. And it rubs against our values.

That Kapler and his mother have a foundation to counter violence against women, that he said he admires San Francisco’s diversity and equality, seemed insignificant. The messages on Facebook, the callers to the talk shows were about the incidents, the way they were mishandled.

Kapler and Zaidi came well prepared. And accepting. This was no war. This was détente. They believed they could help the victims by avoiding the authorities. Of course, that’s also helping the assailants.

The Washington Post broke the story. Sports Illustrated went into depth. The Ringer updated this February. An email from a woman said her 17-year-old granddaughter had been beaten up by one of Kapler’s minor leaguers in an Arizona hotel room. Other players also were involved.

Instead of calling police, Kapler attempted to set up a dinner with the girl and the players. Kapler said he was not aware of a sexual assault charge when he arranged the dinner.

Zaidi said there were mistakes, including his own, but also insisted the newspaper and magazine stories were not completely accurate.

When the 44-year-old Kapler stood up to speak Wednesday shortly after he slipped into a Giants jersey, there was no denial. He would do it differently next time, particularly now that baseball has guidelines.

“We did not seek advice from the experts in the field to ask them how to handle it,” said Zaidi.

Kapler did go for advice to Bruce Bochy, whose retirement after 12 seasons — and three World Series titles — provided the position in San Francisco. Days earlier, Kapler had been fired by the Phillies manager after two years.

The opportunity to praise Bochy not only was a matter of propriety, it also allowed Kapler a break from the constant drumbeat of questions about inadequate handling of the assaults.

“I spent a couple of hours with Boch,” said Kapler. “It’s going to be impossible to fill his shoes. He’s a Hall of Fame manager who is totally loved in this city.”

Bochy began his career with the Padres, and he told Kapler of adjustments after coming to the Giants. “He said he was better with his second team.”

The Phillies played in a park where home runs were prevalent. That’s the opposite of Oracle, although the outfield has been rearranged a bit to make room for the new bullpens. Kapler says the Giants have more power than people think.

He also said despite analytics, sometimes a player is better off doing what he feels like, pitching or hitting, rather than clouding his brain with minutiae.

He knows he’s going to be more closely scrutinized than any other manager, especially with the baggage he carries.

“It feels like I’m in a little bit of a hole,” he said.

A tough way to start any job.