ATLANTA — The Atlanta Braves placed pitching coach Roger McDowell on administrative leave Friday while they investigate allegations he made homophobic comments and crude gestures toward fans before a game in San Francisco last weekend.
McDowell also is accused of using a baseball bat to threaten a fan objecting to his actions.
The former major league reliever apologized in a statement, but the team barred him from the bench heading into a three-game series against St. Louis.
General manager Frank Wren said he hopes to have the investigation wrapped up by end of the weekend, and added that any punishment would be coordinated with Major League Baseball.
The de facto suspension of McDowell came hours after the team announced it was looking into the arrest Thursday night of starting pitcher Derek Lowe on drunken-driving charges, a double dose of trouble for a team that has always prided itself on avoiding off-the-field incidents.
Wren addressed that very issue in a closed team meeting Friday, shortly before the Braves went out for batting practice.
“We have a long-standing reputation in this community and in Major League Baseball that we’re very proud of,” Wren said. “Unfortunately, mistakes have been made, and we’ll deal with them at the appropriate time after careful consideration of all the facts.
“Everyone,” he added, “is very mindful of the position we have and, going forward, being more diligent in making sure we uphold that reputation we’re so proud of.”
While Wren wouldn’t discuss possible sanctions, manager Fredi Gonzalez said he doesn’t expect the incident to cost McDowell his job.
“In my opinion, it shouldn’t. It really shouldn’t,” Gonzalez said. “I’m sure there’s some hoops he’s going to go through, some apologizing, which he should have to go through. But for a person to lose their job, I wouldn’t think so. I hope it doesn’t.”
The altercation at AT&T Park in San Francisco took place last Saturday during pregame batting practice. Justin Quinn was in the stands with his wife and 9-year-old twin daughters when he noticed McDowell hectoring three men and asking them, “Are you guys a homo couple or a threesome?”
After the coach made crude sexual gestures with his hips and a bat, Quinn said he shouted, “Hey there are kids out here.” According to Quinn, McDowell said kids don’t belong at a baseball park, picked up a bat, walked up to Quinn and asked him, “How much are your teeth worth?”
Quinn said he felt threatened and was unsure whether McDowell intended to hit him.
“My kids are in panic mode … they’re like grabbing onto me,” Quinn said Wednesday during a news conference at the office of prominent Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred. “I’m talking to him, trying to calm him down and the kids are screaming.”
Some parents who were in the stands with their children began to boo at McDowell and came down to retrieve their kids. Quinn said that eventually McDowell walked away.
“I am deeply sorry that I responded to the heckling fans in San Francisco,” McDowell said in a statement, his only public comment on the matter. “I apologize to everyone for my actions.”
Allred said Friday she was “very pleased” by the Braves’ action, adding that she spoke with baseball commissioner Bud Selig about the incident earlier in the day.
“I have been contacted by other fans who allege that they witnessed the incidents in question and who state that they corroborate the conduct which we allege,” Allred said in an email. “We are providing all relevant evidence to the commissioner for his investigation. We appreciate the fact that the commissioner has indicated to me that the alleged behavior, if verified, would be completely unacceptable and that appropriate action will be taken at the conclusion of the investigation. We look forward to the results.”
Selig already called the allegations “very troubling” and said he would await the results of the team’s investigation.
The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation called on the Braves and Major League Baseball to take “real disciplinary action and send the message that anti-gay slurs have no place in sports.”
“Professional sporting events should be an environment that all fans and families can enjoy, not a place where children are exposed to violent threats and discriminatory language,” said the alliance’s president, Jarrett Barrios.
The Braves’ minor league pitching coordinator, Dave Wallace, will take over for McDowell during the investigation.
McDowell was a star reliever with the Mets and Philadelphia Phillies, playing a key role on New York’s World Series-winning club in 1986. He has been Atlanta’s pitching coach since 2005, earning praise for his work in developing young hurlers Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens.
“He’s the most consistent guy I’ve ever been around,” Gonzalez said. “A solid, solid, solid person.”