Pride Toronto director feels connection with Blue Jays is still strong after Bass incident

Former Toronto Blue Jays reliever Anthony Bass. (Mark Taylor/CP)

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TORONTO — Pride Toronto executive director Sherwin Modeste feels the organization’s relationship with the Blue Jays remains strong but notes there are still “mixed feelings out there” as a result of the Anthony Bass saga.

“The entire community has not let go and has not forgiven,” Modeste said. “It’s going to take time. For some folks, it may take two weeks. For some folks, it may take a year.

“But we have to allow people to deal with this as individuals.”

Bass was designated for assignment last Friday before the start of Pride Weekend festivities at Rogers Centre. The move came nearly two weeks after the pitcher shared a social media post that supported anti-LGBTQ boycotts.

“I think the Jays did what they should have done, which was provide opportunities for Anthony to really reflect on his behaviour,” Modeste said. “Clearly I think Anthony as an individual has (his) own personal beliefs and the issues that (he) needs to work on. I thought the final decision, I was fine with it.

“I’m a believer that when you call people out, you have to call them in and provide an opportunity for them to change that behaviour. But I don’t think that Anthony was there. So I think they made the right call.”

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The Bass story started to snowball after his brief apology on May 30. He prefaced his statement by saying, “I’ll make this quick,” before returning to the dugout without taking questions.

Linguist Edwin Battistella, the author of “Sorry About That: The Language of Public Apology,” said while it was positive that Bass said he planned to educate himself, he didn’t say whether he was sorry for sharing the post or for hurting the community.

“Bass was kind of struggling there with the specificity part,” Battistella said from Ashland, Ore. “He sort of waffles about what he’s apologizing for.”

Bass was noticeably booed by home fans in his next pitching appearance.

Over the days that followed, he spoke in the clubhouse on occasion to a few Jays beat reporters.

In an interview with The Canadian Press and Sportsnet, Bass weighed in on a “really good conversation” he had with Modeste at the stadium on June 6. Modeste would call the one-hour chat a “good second step” as part of a “continuation of learning.”

Bass also revealed that the idea of catching the ceremonial first pitch on the opening night of Pride Weekend was discussed.

The front office, meanwhile, was publicly silent on the Bass developments until last Thursday, when general manager Ross Atkins was peppered with questions about the reliever and the team’s handling of the situation.

“That’s definitely too long before the organization has anything to say,” said strategic communications expert Julia Rim Shepard from Toronto Metropolitan University. “It really should be immediate. “The individual should be brought in immediately to have a conversation about how (they’re) going to go forward together.”

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Rob Goodman, a former speech writer and now a TMU assistant professor in the department of politics and public administration, said there’s no “one-size-fits-all” guide for handling these kind of developments.

“I would say that in this situation, it’s as if Anthony Bass and the Blue Jays in many ways ended up in a worst-case scenario because what he did was go out and go through the motions of giving an apology that he really didn’t seem to mean,” Goodman said. “I don’t think that leaves anyone happy.”

A short time after Atkins’ first availability, Bass spoke in a scrum setting that likely sealed his demotion.

He said he initially didn’t think the video post – which described the selling of Pride-themed merchandise as “evil” and “demonic” – was hateful.

“That’s why I posted it originally,” he said that day. “When I look back at it, I can see how people can view it that way and that’s why I was apologetic.”

Atkins explained the subsequent roster move as a “baseball decision to make our team better,” adding the distraction was something that the club had to factor in.

Bass, 35, had a solid year last season but struggled over 22 appearances this year. The Dearborn, Mich., native had a 4.95 earned-run average and was used in low-leverage situations.

His planned participation in Friday’s ceremonial first pitch proceedings, which was confirmed by Modeste a few days beforehand, became a polarizing subject.

Bass’s final media scrum as a Blue Jay only raised the potential for significant awkwardness. His demotion made it a moot point.

Pitcher Kevin Gausman filled in by catching a ball thrown by longtime LGBTQ advocate leZlie Lee Kam.

Shepard said Bass’s involvement likely would not have gone over well.

“I think the climate would have been quite terrible,” she said. “I think it could have escalated to things being thrown on the field.”

Modeste, meanwhile, was on hand that night to hold up a giant Pride flag on the field before the game. Over 35,000 spectators were in attendance, many wearing rainbow flag jerseys.

“It was moving to be able to be a part of (it),” Modeste said. “You could feel the energy in the room. Yes, there are some folks that are still upset. I said to the Jays and I said to the Jays Care (Foundation), ‘Don’t expect everyone to just forget and forgive. For some folks it’s going to take longer to come back.’

“But again, we saw the spirit of wanting to come together and wanting to celebrate Pride. I can tell you it was spectacular.”

Messages left with Bass and his agent were not returned.

The Blue Jays have until Friday to trade Bass or put him on waivers. He’s in the final year of a contract that pays him US$3 million this season.

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