Blue Jays fans used to have a lasting image of Kelly Gruber. It was the photo of him clipping the heel of Deion Sanders during the 1992 World Series. That’s what people used to remember most about the former Blue Jays third baseman.
Then on Thursday during a Pitch Talks panel appearance, Gruber completely changed the perception of him, not just as a player, but as a person. It’s no longer as the scrappy third baseman who used to play for the Jays; it’s as the rude, crass and arrogant retired baseball player.
By now, you’ve probably heard or seen Gruber’s inexcusable treatment of Pitch Talks host Ashley Docking on Thursday night. Gruber was combative, he didn’t seem of sound mind and straight-up embarrassed himself on stage for his behaviour. There is no excuse for what he did or how he treated Docking.
In hindsight, this kind of behaviour from Gruber isn’t very surprising. A few days prior to that appearance at Pitch Talks, Gruber made some strange comments to The Athletic when the topic turned to female reporters in the locker room. The gist of it was he believes men have an equal right to be in a women’s locker room if women reporters are welcome in the men’s locker room.
When it came to female reporters, Gruber told The Athletic: “And I wanted to help them, to let them do their job.” On Thursday night, he did the exact opposite. He made it extremely difficult for Docking to do her job and the plug was abruptly pulled on the show.
After the fact, in the statement posted by Pitch Talks, it was revealed that Gruber made inappropriate comments towards a female staff member at The Rec Room as well. These aren’t “isolated incidents” anymore. These comments and actions reiterate the kind of person Gruber is.
We are here in the year 2018 and he’s acting like it’s 1968. The truth is, acting that way towards anybody was never okay in the first place, but it’s really not okay now.
It’s unfortunate because here’s someone in the public eye; someone who a generation of Blue Jays fans idolized and looked up to. Now that he revealed the kind of person that he is in real life, nobody romanticizes his career anymore.
It reminded me of a Blue Jays event I attended many years ago. Jesse Barfield was there, but so was Gruber. Barfield was world-class, extremely accommodating and genuinely engaged with the people he spoke to. I didn’t know much about him growing up, but as an adult, I hold Barfield in extremely high regard now.
If you ever get the opportunity to meet the former Blue Jays right fielder, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. He’s someone who exceeded my expectations for how nice he was in person. Barfield was better than I could’ve imagined.
On the other hand, we have Gruber. I vaguely recall speaking with him at the same event, but after I left the event, I remember thinking “he’s nothing like I expected him to be. In fact, I don’t think I like him at all.”
Barfield is someone who gets it. In 1987, during the midst of the Blue Jays’ playoff push, WFAN’s Suzyn Waldman was simply doing her job, reporting in the Blue Jays locker room when George Bell refused to speak to the media because she was in the clubhouse.
Bell refused to budge, but Barfield stepped up and asked Waldman to interview him. It was a simple gesture, but an important one. Here’s what Barfield told the New York Times a few years after that fateful encounter with Waldman in the Blue Jays locker room:
“She was just trying to do her job, just like I’m trying to do mine. And I only did what I want done to me. As long as they respect us, they should be respected as well.”
It was a completely different climate in 1987, but Barfield got it. He understood equality. In the year 2018, 31 years later, Gruber still doesn’t get it.
Fans are guilty of putting players on a pedestal. They hold professional athletes to a higher standard, which is why it’s so shocking when athletes fail to live up to expectations or they do crappy things. Athletes seem bulletproof, but they often wrestle with the very same demons “regular people” do.
I’m glad that Pitch Talks barred Gruber from future events and the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame did the right thing by uninviting him from this weekend’s induction ceremony. After his behaviour, he shouldn’t be anywhere near the Blue Jays organization in any capacity.
Some might say what Gruber said and did was fairly tame compared to what others in the public eye have done. The reality is it doesn’t matter if those comments didn’t make you feel uncomfortable, it clearly made Docking uneasy. That’s all it takes.
Gruber took multiple jabs and played it off as if he was “ribbing” the host, but in reality, he straight-up belittled her on stage in front of hundreds of people. Docking didn’t back down and demonstrated courage for how she responded when confronted by Gruber.
If I were in that situation, I probably would’ve just sat there frozen in fear, because who on earth actually says something like that in public in the year 2018?
We live in a different era now. Gruber may have gotten away with stuff like that in the late 80’s and early 90’s, but the level for tolerable behaviour and remarks is much different in the 21st century. There should be zero tolerance for comments like Gruber’s.