Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams’s lawsuit against MLB Network was scheduled to go to trial this week in New Jersey, two years after the former major-league pitcher and TV analyst filed a complaint in Camden County Superior Court alleging—among other things—breach of contract, negligent misrepresentation, intentional and negligent defamation, and invasion of privacy.
According to his lawsuit, Williams lost his job with MLB Network after Deadspin published a pair of stories reporting on his behavior while coaching a youth baseball team at a tournament in Maryland. Those stories were recently deleted from Deadspin—over the objections of the editorial staff—after Univision executives, who acquired Deadspin’s parent company earlier this month, decided they represented a potential liability to the company. They remain part of the public court record in Williams’s suit, along with sworn testimony about how the stories were reported and depositions from witnesses to the incident. So, too, are records of communication between the Deadspin writer and seven independent witnesses to the incidents described in the two stories. (Former Deadspin parent company Gawker Media was a co-defendant in the case; it won summary judgment against Williams in June.)
According to court filings, Deadspin published an article on May 11, 2014 headlined “Mitch Williams Ejected From Child’s Baseball Game For Arguing, Cursing.” Here is that article, as it appears in Williams’s complaint (a transcribed version follows for readability):
MLB Network analyst Mitch Williams was ejected Saturday from a baseball game for 10-year-olds after a profanity-laced tirade in which he called an umpire a “motherfucker” in front of the children, observers tell us.
Williams coaches his son’s 10U Jersey Wild team, which was participating in a Ripken Baseball tournament in Aberdeen, Md. We’ve confirmed through several sources that Mitch Williams—who was once tossed from his daughter’s youth basketball game for cussing at the ref—had complained about numerous calls throughout the game, ranging from balls and strikes to a close play at the plate that ended a Jersey Wild rally. This led to repeated arguments with umpires on the field.
One umpire finally confronted Williams after the former MLB pitcher shouted something to a parent in the stands about getting that umpire fired. The confrontation sparked a face-to-face argument that, one parent told us, was “just like the major leagues.” Two different observers told us Williams had to be physically separated from the umpire by other coaches. Williams then refused to leave the field, causing a 10-minute delay in play; as a result of his antics, he was initially banned from the tournament.
We’ve attempted to access the video of the incident, but the game in question is curiously unavailable from the service providing feeds from the rest of the tournament. An individual familiar with the situation informs us that after hearing Williams’s explanation, Ripken Baseball officials lifted the ban—saying the umpire failed to act professionally. But according to our witnesses, the umpire’s “unprofessional” behavior came well after Mitch Williams had been ejected and refused to leave. (Ripken Baseball “monitored” Williams closely during his team’s two games today. Jersey Wild did not win the tournament.)
The Deadspin post, according to Williams’s lawsuit, also included two photos of Williams arguing with an umpire. The first can be found up top, and the second below:
According to the lawsuit, Deadspin posted a follow-up article five days later titled “Witnesses: Mitch Williams Called Child ‘A Pussy,’ Ordered Beanball.” Here is that article as presented in Williams’s complaint (a transcribed version appears beneath it for readability):
The fallout continues from MLB Network analyst Mitch Williams’s meltdown at a Ripken Baseball youth tournament this past weekend .... as parents and coaches tell Deadspin that “The Wild Thing” called one child “a pussy” while ordering one of his own 10-year-old players to hit the opposing pitcher with a beanball.
While video of the Saturday ejection is still suspiciously unavailable, we were able to acquire footage from Sunday’s championship game between the Williams-coached Jersey Wild and SJ Titans, another elite 10U baseball team from New Jersey. The film at the top of this post shows an interaction between Williams and some SJ Titans players. Multiple witnesses report that interaction consisted of Williams calling the SJ Titans pitcher “a pussy.” Children on the team heard this, and one asked his parent on the ride home what it meant. The comment sparked a meeting behind home plate between SJ Titans coaches, umpires, Williams, and a handler (one witness called him a “babysitter”) assigned by Ripken Baseball to keep Williams in line after Saturday’s ejection.
Even in this interaction, you can see Williams being aggressive and argumentative.
Here’s video of an incident that happened in the fifth inning, when the SJ Titans pitcher came to bat in the leadoff position. Watch as Williams says something to his catcher, after which the catcher goes out to the mound to say something to his pitcher. SJ Titans coaches and players overheard this interaction, and report that Williams ordered his pitcher to intentionally hit the SJ Titans batter with the first pitch. One witness told us it was in an attempt to knock the SJ Titans pitcher out of the game.
Sure enough, the first pitch hits the SJ Titans player square in the ribs. (The home plate umpire, who had been made aware of the upcoming beanball, warned both benches.) One SJ Titans assistant coach confronted Williams about the pitch after the game, and reported that Williams stated, “I told him to throw it inside.”
Other witnesses—a number of parents, coaches, and other observers contacted us about Mitch Williams’s behavior—state that Williams was heckling SJ Titans coaches throughout the game, repeatedly calling one a “squirrelly little teapot,” and making harassing comments about the appearance of 10-year-old baseball players on the opposing team. (Lest you think these reports come from a team of sore losers, know that SJ Titans defeated Jersey Wild in the championship game.)
The videos that appear in that post were also filed in court; here they are in order of their reference in the above post [ESB Cert. Ex. 27].
Williams alleged in his lawsuit that MLB placed him on a leave of absence after Deadspin published the articles, and only offered to return him to his duties if he signed a contract amendment forbidding him from attending any of his children’s games and requiring him to attend “therapeutic counseling.” He did not sign the amended contract, and MLB Network terminated him on June 26, 2014 according to his lawsuit. (The entirety of Williams’s contract with MLB, which was an exhibit attached to his original complaint filed with the court, can be found here.)
Mitch Williams’s lawsuit accused Gawker Media of defamation. The complaint, according to court files:
- Denied the former pro athlete was a “public figure.”
- Denied Williams went on a “profanity-laced tirade” or that he cursed at all during his interaction with the umpire.
- Denied Williams called the umpire a “motherfucker.”
- Denied Williams instigated “repeated arguments with umpires.”
- Denied Williams engaged in any misconduct during the game described in Deadspin’s first article.
- Denied Williams shouted something to a parent in the stands about getting an umpire fired.
- Denied Williams sparked a “face-to-face argument” with an umpire, threatened an umpire, ever left the first-base coach’s box, threatened an umpire, made physical contact with an umpire, or had to be physically separated by an assistant coach.
- Denied Williams called a child a “pussy.”
- Denied Williams ordered a child to hit another child with a baseball.
- Denied Williams heckling opposing coaches or calling an opposing coach a “squirrely little teapot.”
- Denied making any harassing comments about opposing players.
Subsequent court filings reveal:
- Both umpires at the first game testified in depositions they heard Williams use variations of “fuck” before the game had even started, and that he physically threatened the field umpire.
- Video of the first game—video that Ripken Baseball didn’t make available at the time the story was reported, according to the Deadspin article found in court records—shows the field umpire warning both coaches about their “attitude.”
- That same video filed to the court shows Williams arguing emphatically with both umpires over an out call at home plate; the umpire warned Williams he would be ejected if he did not return to his position in the first-base coach’s box.
- Williams admitted in a sworn deposition that he shouted to a parent of one of his team’s players of the need to “talk with the Ripken people about maybe finding these guys other employment.”
- Williams was ejected, according to the game video filed with the court, with Williams getting into a face-to-face confrontation by the first-base coach’s box—after which Williams followed the umpire onto the field, where an assistant coach physically separated the two.
- Those same umpires, in sworn testimony, characterized Williams’s conduct during that game as among the worst they had ever encountered in their careers.
- The ejection resulted in a stoppage of play of approximately six minutes, according to the game video in court records.
- Williams admitted in his sworn deposition that in the second game written about on Deadspin, an opposing coach reported to umpires that he had called the opposing pitcher a “pussy.”
- Williams recalled in his testimony telling an opposing coach, “You sure strut around here like a peacock.”
- Williams testified he ordered his pitcher to throw the ball “inside” even though the opposing 10-year-old “stands on the plate.”
- The home plate umpire for the second game testified in a deposition that Williams used profanity and was warned to watch his language around 10-year-olds, and a Ripken Baseball official testified Williams cursed multiple times and that he asked Williams to stop.
- Game video entered into court records shows Williams speaking with his team’s catcher, after which the catcher walked to the mound and spoke with the pitcher. On the next pitch, the opposing batter—the player Williams had been accused of calling a “pussy,” according to court records—was hit by the pitch.
Nearly all Williams’s defamation claims were dismissed early in the process after a judge found the reporting in the Deadspin posts to either be substantially true or protected opinion. The judge also threw out Williams’s claim that he was a private figure, stating, “He is a public figure for all realistic purposes. It’s not even a close call.” In defamation law, public figures are required to meet a greater burden to prove their case.
The judge in the case granted Gawker Media’s motion for summary judgment, dismissing Williams’s suit with prejudice. (This prevents Williams from re-filing claims from this lawsuit against Gawker Media.) That motion for summary judgment can be found below, or on Scribd. To learn how the Deadspin writer reported the story, start on page 15; the discussion regarding actual malice (the burden a public figure must prove in order to successfully sue for defamation) is on page 30, and you should read that too.
What remains, and is being contested in that New Jersey court, is Williams’s suit against MLB Network for breach of contract. Were he still employed by the network, Mitch Williams would be earning $700,000 this year; the company conceivably will argue Williams violated section 15.03 of his contract, which reads:
15.03 Morals. If Artist should, prior to or during the Term hereof commits any act, or omits from any action, which: (i) violates widely held social morals; (ii) brings Artist into (non-trivial) public disrepute, scandal, contempt or ridicule or which shocks, insults or offends a substantial portion or group of the community or reflects unfavorably (in a. non-trivial manner) on any of the parties; or (iii) materially reduces Artist’s commercial value as a professional sports commentator, then Company may, in addition to and without prejudice to any other remedy of any kind or nature set forth herein, terminate this Agreement at any time after the occurrence of any such event upon written notice to Artist. Notwithstanding the foregoing, the parties hereto agree that no act or omission of Artist occurring prior to the Term, which is known to the general public at large as of the date hereof, shall entitle Company to terminate this Agreement pursuant to this Section 15.03.
Yesterday, the Camden County Circuit Court pushed the trial date back to November 28. We will continue reporting on this story and its developments.