TORONTO — The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame removed former Blue Jays third baseman Kelly Gruber from its induction weekend festivities Friday after his actions during a "Pitch Talks" panel discussion a day earlier.
Gruber made a brief, awkward appearance on stage at the Homestand Sports event Thursday night with host Ashley Docking and Rogers Sportsnet broadcaster Kevin Barker in Toronto. In a joint statement, Pitch Talks and the Hall said the proceedings at the downtown Rec Room venue were stopped 45 minutes early due to Gruber’s "unacceptable and inappropriate behaviour."
"Basically what happened was by the time he got on stage he appeared to be inebriated," said Homestand Sports founder Kevin Kennedy. "He was just acting sort of obnoxious, kind of erratic, he was confrontational with our host, Ashley, and quite quickly I knew that this wasn’t going in the right direction."
Gruber was one of several former Blue Jays tabbed to participate in various Hall events in the leadup to Saturday’s ceremony in St. Marys, Ont., where former big-league stars Pedro Martinez and Lloyd Moseby will be inducted with baseball historian William Humber.
Gruber’s representative, Don Graham, emailed a statement from the former player to The Canadian Press on Friday evening.
"There’s two sides to every story and I would love to tell mine," Gruber said. "Maybe what I said was taken the wrong way. My intention for being there was to honour my teammate and buddy Lloyd, and the interview part went south for a variety of reasons which I will detail at a later date."
On Thursday night, Gruber joined Docking and Barker on stage for what spectators thought would be a breezy, interactive chat about baseball as part of a Hall fundraiser. Instead, things turned uncomfortable shortly after Gruber was introduced.
The former player picked up a microphone from his chair and pointed across the stage at Docking.
"Hey, we don’t really need this girl here, right?’ he said, to groans from the crowd.
Docking, who kept her cool throughout, had a quick reply.
"Wow, respect at an all-time high I see," she said.
"Yeah, well I’m not vying for a job," Gruber replied.
"Oh you’re in a pleasant mood today, Kelly," Docking said. "Hi, nice to meet you."
Gruber later said he was kidding around, and that he could take any ribbing that might come his way. He then turned his attention to Barker, seated on a stool beside him.
"You my friend, real quick, you replaced Zaunnie?" Gruber asked, referring to Gregg Zaun, who was fired as a baseball analyst last year after multiple female Sportsnet employees complained about his inappropriate behaviour in the workplace.
"Who’s that?" Barker said.
"OK, we’ve got to work on the wardrobe because it’s big shoes to fill," Gruber replied.
Moments later, Kennedy, who was by the soundboard area at the time, gestured at Docking to stop the event.
"It was erratic," Kennedy said. "It was kind of an unstable situation in my mind."
Venue staff made sure Gruber left the building shortly thereafter, Kennedy added.
"It is our firm belief that no one should be made to feel uncomfortable, unsafe, or should endure forms of harassment whether it be in the workplace, at home, or on the street," Pitch Talks and the Hall said in their statement. "The Homestand team, including talent and crew, is a family with a shared love for sports. We look out for each other, and we have a zero tolerance policy for hatred and bullying, including sexism and harassment of any kind.
"This event was meant to honour the Hall of Fame inductees for 2018, and to raise money for a good cause. Not only was Kelly Gruber’s behaviour inappropriate, it defies the spirit of this special night as well as the entire weekend of slated programming for the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame."
Hall organizers also hold a celebrity golf tournament, banquet, autograph sessions and concerts as part of the weekend festivities.
"These events are for the fans, it gives them a chance to interact with some of their favourite past players, sports media personalities, and other industry professionals," Kennedy said. "We expect all of our guests and speakers to approach these events with a level of professionalism, maturity, and above all else, human decency.
"Anyone who cannot adhere to these basic standards has no place at any of the Homestand Talks."
Gruber, 56, made his big-league debut with the Blue Jays in 1984.
He won a World Series with Toronto in 1992 and closed out his career with an 18-game stint with the California Angels the following year.