Kevin Pillar’s Latest Antics Should Come As No Surprise

Kevin Pillar

Last night, Toronto Blue Jays’ centre-fielder Kevin Pillar appeared to shout a homophobic slur directed at Atlanta Braves’ reliever Jason Motte.  It can clearly be seen here.

Pillar was upset that Motte didn’t wait for him to get completely comfortable in the batter’s box before throwing a slider that would result in Pillar swinging wildly for a strikeout.  Here’s the footage:

According to Wikipedia, a quick-pitch is “to pitch earlier than the pitcher’s rhythm in an attempt to deceive either the batter or runner.”

Following the game, Kevin Pillar apologized – but made no mention of his use of the homophobic slur “f—-t.”

“Yeah, I mean, obviously that was the initial thing I was upset about but I think it just stems from a little frustration in myself and just the way this series has been going. It was immature, it was stupid, it was uncalled for. It’s part of the game, it’s just, I’m a competitive guy and a heat of the moment. Obviously I’m going to do whatever I’ve got to do to reach out and apologize and let him know the didn’t do anything wrong, it was all me. Obviously something to learn from, something to move on from. Don’t let it define me but really I think it was just frustration from coming off a really good homestand and really just not even being in any of these ball games, just coming out flat and not being able to build on what we were able to build on against Seattle. That just all came out in that moment.”

Unlike the quick-pitch, which has been a part of baseball since before Kevin Pillar’s great-grandparents were born (and is a technique currently employed by Pillar’s teammate Marcus Stroman), homophobia and homophobic epithets are not just “part of the game,” nor are they welcome.

The best analysis I’ve seen of Kevin Pillar’s non-apology “apology” comes from Twitter user Jeff Perera:

The Globe & Mail’s excellent columnist, Cathal Kelly, said eloquently:

That is indeed a quick journey to resolution. A whole 15 words from recognition of the problem to absolution. And we still hadn’t learned from Pillar what that “stupid” thing was.

Here’s a general rule about apologies – if it does not include a frank admission of what you did wrong, it’s not a real apology. It’s an excuse.

While no one could have predicted that Kevin Pillar would have used a homophobic slur, the fact that he lashed out at Motte for quick pitching him, blamed his use of the homophobic slur as “part of the game,” and made himself out to be a victim should come as no surprise. As Mark Twain once said, “The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior” and Kevin Pillar has a track record of selfishness and immaturity.

The first example of selfishness and immaturity came in 2014. In a late-June game against the AL East rival New York Yankees, the score was tied at 6-6 in the bottom of the 8th inning. Kevin Pillar – he of the .237 OBP and .561 OPS at the time – prepared for an at-bat vs. tough Yankee right-handed reliever Dellin Betances. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons opted to pinch-hit for the right-handed hitting Pillar with left-handed hitting Anthony Gose.  Pillar walked back to the dugout, slammed his bat down in disgust, and had what amounted to a temper tantrum.  Following the game, Pillar was promptly sent packing to the minor leagues. Speaking to the media about the roster move, manager John Gibbons hinted that Pillar’s demotion was rooted in his selfish and immature behaviour:

“It didn’t help him at all,” Gibbons said. “This is a team game, you know, there’s no room for selfish play.”

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Pillar’s questionable behaviour continued when he came to the defense of an embattled teammate. In the spring of 2016, Blue Jays’ sometime first-baseman/outfielder Chris Colabello was suspended for 80 games following a failed drug test.  Kevin Pillar was quick to wade into the fray with his own ill-informed comments:

It’s interesting how Pillar’s statement regarding Colabello’s failed drug test quickly becomes a statement about Kevin Pillar’s road to the Major Leagues and how hard of a worker he is.  But I digress.

Pillar goes on to say that Colabello fell victim to a technicality in the system.  Make no mistake, Colabello tested positive for an anabolic steroid, namely Turinabol.  Turinabol was the drug of choice for East German and Soviet athletes during the state-sponsored doping programs of the 1970s and 1980s. It’s not something that will show up accidentally in a smoothie from Booster Juice.  I’m not sure where Pillar thinks the technicality lies, but according to Pillar, the onus is on MLB to do some soul searching and figure something out so that “hard working” guys like Pillar and Colabello don’t get popped for ingesting 70s-era anabolic steroids.  Blaming MLB for a failed drug test and hijacking the topic to promote one’s own work ethic is not exactly the hallmark of maturity.

When asked to elaborate on that technicality, Pillar said it wasn’t for him to say.  It has been three years since the positive test and the technicality that Pillar speaks of still has not come to light.

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Photo credit: Tom Szcezerbowski/Getty Images

Around the same time as Colabello’s positive test, Kevin Pillar was in contention with Michael Saunders to begin the 2016 season as the Blue Jays’ lead-off hitter. The issue that hindered Pillar’s candidacy for the lead-off position was his lack of ability at getting on base. Heading into the 2016 season, Pillar possessed a .303 on-base percentage and swung at 40.9% of the pitches he saw that were outside of the strike zone (the league average is 30.9%). As for Pillar’s own thoughts about his suitability for the role, he had this to say:

“But I definitely think I’d make a great lead-off hitter. I had success doing it in the minor leagues.”

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“I feel, the way our team’s constructed, by default I’m the best guy for the job,”

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“That’s a whole lot more opportunities to get hits,” says Pillar. “I always felt I was a guy who could reach that 200-hit plateau in a season. A hundred and thirty-nine extra plate appearances a year equals a lot more opportunities to get on base, get hits.”

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While Pillar thinks that he would make a great lead-off hitter, his career .303 OBP heading into the 2016 season tells a different story. And it’s not exactly comforting to hear him say that he wants the lead-off role because it increases the likelihood of him reaching the personal milestone of a 200-hit season. It begs the question: how many of those swings outside of the strike zone were made in an attempt to pad Pillar’s personal hitting stats, when a walk would have been what was best for the team?

“Let’s be honest with each other about walks here,” he says. “These guys aren’t trying to walk me. I need to get that on the table. We always talk about walks and, yeah, walks are going to happen, but I’m up there to hit. If I get a good pitch to hit I’m not going to sit around and try to walk.”

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This quote exemplifies a profound lack of understanding of the approach that pitchers take to try to get hitters out.  Firstly, Pillar is correct when he says “these guys (pitchers) aren’t trying to walk me.”  In fact, they’re not trying to walk anyone.  They’re trying to get outs, and Pillar makes them roughly 70% of the time. Walks aren’t going to just “happen” if Pillar continues to swing at 40% of pitches outside the strike zone, and certainly not if he’s on a personal quest to pad his hit totals.  In order for Pillar to get good pitches to hit, he needs to prove he can lay off the bad ones.  Walks are a by-product of plate discipline and sound strike-zone judgement.  Kevin Pillar has neither.  When Pillar says “these guys aren’t trying to walk me” he’s saying it’s not his fault that he doesn’t walk, it’s that opposing pitchers won’t let him walk.  As Bill Watterson once said, ““There is no problem so bad that a little blame can’t worsen.”

As lead-off hitter, Pillar managed to get on base at a .235 clip before manage John Gibbons mercifully ended his experiment after 12 games. (To be fair, Kevin Pillar is back in the lead-off role this season and is having some success.  In 32 games batting lead-off, Pillar has a .378 on-base percentage and has walked 12 – yes 12! – times across that span. That’s more than half of his entire 2016 season total.  Whether this change in approach is the result of an epiphany by Pillar himself or was mandated by Brook Jacoby et al. is hard to say.)

Kevin Pillar has demonstrated on multiple occasions that he’s a selfish player with a predilection for blaming everything and everyone for his own mistakes. Pillar’s gut reaction was to lash out at Jason Motte for utilizing the quick pitch; for making him chase a slider outside of the strike zone.  Pillar thinks it’s baseball’s fault that his word of choice was a homophobic slur because it’s “part of the game” (it’s not). In contrast, a mature player would accept the fact that he wasn’t fully-present during an at-bat, take ownership for his mistakes, and tip his cap to Motte for being the better man on that particular occasion.

Make no mistake about it, Kevin Pillar is a better-than-average defensive player.  When he’s not making TV-dives or embellishing catches to make them look more difficult than they really are, he’s bailing out the pitching staff by covering a tonne of ground in the outfield. It can be difficult to reconcile the bad behaviour of a very good player when he’s on your favourite team.

For fans who want to make excuses for him, ask yourself: What would be the first words out of your mouth in the heat of the moment? Maybe a curse word, but most of us wouldn’t dig up such a hateful slur. At least, I hope not.

It’s about treating everyone with respect and dignity. Athletes, like it or not, are public figures and should be held to a code of conduct of acceptable behavior in this regard, so a short suspension for Pillar is fair and in order.

David Schoenfield, ESPN SweetSpot

MLB is currently investigating Kevin Pillar’s use of a homophobic slur.  I hope he ends up suspended and is made aware that he not only needs to apologize to Jason Motte for the slur, but to the entire LGBTQ community and those he offended by his abhorrent actions.  Pillar needs to understand that homophobia is not just “a part of the game” and that his use of a homophobic slur is “something to move on from” when the people he’s hurt dictate that it’s time to “move on.” As Stacey May Fowles wrote in her excellent piece where she interviewed members of the LGBTQ community: “LGBTQ sports leagues are filled with people who stopped participating or never participated because they didn’t feel welcome … If [Kevin Pillar] and [the Blue Jays] want to do something real, they can pay for our equipment and our permits…He can come watch us play. [Kevin Pillar] can see first hand how we redefine what sports can be, how the culture is different on our fields.”

With Kevin Pillar, there’s a track record of selfishness and immaturity, and as a fan of the Blue Jays, I don’t want to see it continue.  I’m tired of seeing Pillar put himself before the team, blame the game of baseball and everyone else for his own mistakes, and refusing to take responsibility for his own actions.  The Toronto Blue Jays are building a culture that places an emphasis on character, and based on his past behaviour, Kevin Pillar doesn’t belong.  This latest blunder could be the tipping point in Pillar’s career. It’s now up to Pillar to take ownership for his actions and make amends, otherwise he won’t be in Toronto for very long.

“The mark of maturity occurs when you stop blaming others for your problems.”

— Sheryl Brady

Written By

has written for Mopupduty.com since 2006. Follow Callum on Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram (@callumhughson)

  • Joe Miller

    “homophobia and homophobic epithets are not culturally ingrained in the sport, nor are they welcome.”

    It’s not welcome, but I disagree with the idea that homophobia isn’t culturally ingrained in baseball specifically, and sport in general. It’s why organisations like the You Can Play Project are necessary.

    I point you to this thread, for a LGBTQ perspective: https://twitter.com/v_m_phil/status/865221996413583361

    • Agree to disagree that homopobia (or any other form of hate, such as racism) are culturally ingrained in baseball. Sure, baseball has a checkered past with regards to both, but I don’t think you can accurately say that there is a culture of homophobia (or racism) in the sport today.

      Thanks for pointing me to the LGBTQ perspective thread. I’m sure it can be frustrating to have a member outside of a community tell a community how they should feel or what’s best for them.

      • Joe Miller

        I don’t think that’s it’s explicit hate – simply an underlying casual homophobia that straight people barely notice. I’m in my 40s and I’ve been an amateur athlete my entire life–amateur boxing, curling, a bunch of recreational sports– and I couldn’t possibly count the number of times teammates have used this exact epithet, among others, without even thinking about it. It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve noticed it happening less. But it’s still there.

        • Sure, it’s still there. But what I mean by “culturally ingrained”… is that the systemic targeting and abuse of homosexuals is not part of baseball culture. An example of culturally ingrained homophobia would be Chechnya, where authorities rounded up, detained, and tortured gay men. That anti-gay sentiment is ingrained in Chechnya’s culture and abuse toward homosexuals is part of it. Calling an opposing pitcher a “f—ot” following a strike out is not part of baseball’s culture like throwing the ball around the horn is.

  • grouchyjaysfan

    funny how you say clearly seen. there is no audio so you have no idea what he said. you are just speculating. only because pillar admitted it that you know. if he didn’t this could easily have been swept away by mlb and nobody would have cared. were you so offended when jd made a similar remark in the dugout that was caught on audio? nothing was done about that because he is a star.

    and are you not offended by the chief wahoo logo which insults generations of natives? but of course mlb won’t touch that because they make too much money.