The team Gabe Kapler manages, the San Francisco Giants, vastly exceeded reasonable expectations, winning more games than any team in the franchise’s 138-year history in 2021. A landslide winner in the Manager of the Year voting, he has a license to spend the offseason lounging, chin out, feet up, drink of choice at his side.
But no. Kapler won’t rest. Can’t rest. The world within baseball and beyond keeps gnawing at his conscience.
So, with idealist principles and lofty aspirations -- and no shortage of enthusiasm -- he springs into action.
While joining me for an episode of “Race in America: A Candid Conversation,” on NBC Sports Bay Area, Kapler explains why he rejects the conservative script followed by most American sports figures, who take barely a cursory glance at the societal challenges that exist outside their walls.
Sixteen days after the Giants were eliminated from the postseason, Kapler posted a video via Twitter expressing a desire to see MLB approach the offseason hiring process with an inclusive mentality. He has his reasons, and they are valid.
“One of the issues that we have in sports is that the decision-making groups are fairly homogenous,” Kapler says. “You have a lot of white and often very well-educated (Ivy Leaguers) men making the decisions. And as a result, sometimes the sports themselves can feel homogenous. We have that issue in baseball. We’re making strides and we’re working on it. But I think our sport will be better at reaching people, at being an exciting product, if we have a more diverse group of decision makers.”
That’s the genesis of Kapler’s latest off-the-field project, “Pipeline for Change,” a foundation specifically designed to open doors across race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity and sexual orientation.
“We started Pipeline for Change with sports in mind -- not just baseball,” he says. “But we have the platform of baseball and I have an audience within baseball that is willing to listen."
The goal of the foundation is to get people of color and marginalized groups and communities that don’t normally have opportunities in baseball into positions of power, into positions of decision-making, across sports.
“We’re starting and focusing on baseball, but the goal is to make an impact across sports," Kapler said. "The reason we want a more diverse group of decision-makers across sports is because we want groups to be able to look to the leaders in sports and say, ‘I can do that’ as well.
“Whether we like it or not, sports can shape society.”
Yes, but not as much as knowledge. Kapler clearly understands that, too, as this month he posted another tweet addressing one of the hottest topics scorching the nation’s political landscape: Whether America’s teachers should teach history as it was, or eliminate discussion of such ugly elements as slavery and the slaughter of indigenous peoples.
Kapler doesn’t use the phrase “Critical Race Theory,” but his message clearly targets the segment of society railing against frank conversation on the topic.
“First and foremost, I believe that teachers have to have freedom,” he says. “They have to have freedom to riff. They have to have the freedom to interpret information. And, then, once they have factual information in front of them, be able to speak their mind about that information.
"Anytime you have teachers that are a little fearful that they might say or do the wrong thing, you have a paralyzed individual.”
Where Kapler really gets passionate is when he is asked to speculate on the motivation for any politician or school administrator to mandate that teachers offer lessons that replace facts with a sanitized version.
“To be quite blunt, it’s because truth is uncomfortable for people,” he says. “It forces folks to examine their part in that truth. And I think that scares the s--t out of people.
“There’s so much responsibility to go around that the guilt probably makes people push it away, sweep it under the rug, act like it doesn’t exist, instead of confronting it head on.”
If you’re wondering about the foundation of Kapler’s principles, it’s genetic. His parents, Michael and Judy, were active on the civil rights front and instilled the importance of speaking for the voiceless, which Gabe has passed along to his adult sons, Chase and Dane.
It’s not enough to speak it, though. One must also act to address injustice.
“The action steps are everything,” Kapler says. “The consistency is probably the most important thing. If I learned anything from my mother and father it’s that you have to do this every single day and there is no finish line.”