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Special reporting by Paul Rubin.

In late February 2015, Gabe Kapler, then the Dodgers’ director of player development, called one of his lieutenants, assistant director of player development Nick Francona. He shared some alarming news. Kapler told Francona that “Something had gone on” at the Hampton Inn & Suites in Glendale, Ariz., the team hotel just a few miles from the Dodgers’ spring training complex.

As Francona remembers the conversation, Kapler’s account was vague but troubling: “He didn’t have a ton of information at that point. It sounded like there was some type of disturbance at the hotel involving a few players who had been drinking with some girls in their room and playing loud music.”

Kapler was basing his report on an email he had received from the grandmother of a 17-year-old girl who claimed that the previous evening, the granddaughter had been asked to party in a hotel room with two older women and two Dodgers minor leaguers. The girl, a runaway, said she had consumed half a bottle of vodka, vomited on a bed and then been beaten up by the two women—all while someone in the group recorded video that was later posted on Snapchat. “It was clear that there was more to it,” says Francona. “[Gabe] said we would figure it out at the complex in the coming days.”

Instead of referring to police the allegations of physical assault of a 17-year-old at the hotel, Kapler took an unusual step: Unaware of the details and scope of the incident, he attempted to organize a dinner meeting. He would invite the Dodgers players and the alleged victim and then attempt to mediate the situation himself. 

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A week after the alleged incident, following her arrest on a separate shoplifting charge, the girl made a more serious claim to police: that she had also been sexually assaulted by one of the Dodgers players in that hotel room that night. According to the criminal police report, obtained by Sports Illustrated via a public records request, as the girl lay down on a bed intoxicated—and under the age of consent in Arizona—a player began “touching her breast with his hand under her bra. She also described [the player] placing his hand down the front of her pants and using his fingers to rub her clitoris.”

According to the document, the girl’s case manager at the Arizona Department of Child Safety “desire[d] prosecution” against the Dodgers player for sexual abuse. No charges, however, were ever filed, in part because the alleged victim did not wish to cooperate. (Since no charges were filed, SI is choosing not to name the player.)

Outside of Dodgers insiders and Glendale law enforcement circles, the incident remained largely secret for two years. But in retrospect it was the first act in a long running (and ongoing) Shakespearean baseball drama, pitting an unlikely whistleblower—Francona—against the institution that functions as his family business, and against a self-styled baseball iconoclast who in his own way has also pushed against the game’s rigid structures. It also fits what would become a pattern for the Dodgers’ player development hierarchy: a determination to keep charges of player misconduct against women in-house, decisions that were curious and at times in violation of Major League Baseball policy.

Just eight months after the February 2015 incident, Kapler and the Dodgers faced another potential crisis at the same Glendale hotel. It again involved a player in the Dodgers system, and again involved an allegation of sexual assault. This time, a Dodgers minor leaguer was accused of an act of sexual violence against a woman on the housekeeping staff.

Electronic records obtained by Sports Illustrated reveal that within two minutes of receiving an email from the hotel manager describing the incident, Juan Rodriguez, manager of the Dodgers’ Arizona operations, forwarded it to five Dodgers colleagues, including Kapler, the highest ranking employee on the thread. Rodriguez noted in his email, “[The player] does have somewhat of an aggressive attitude at times but this is the first situation where it escalated.”

The following day, Kapler responded to the group: “I just connected with [the hotel manager]. His report made me feel embarrassed for our organization. I assured him that we’d address the situation swiftly and that this would not be an issue going forward. . . Although this was an isolated incident, it was egregious enough to warrant a conversation with all our men.”

In a separate group text thread (Kapler was not included), Roman Barinas, the Dodgers’ manager of international scouting, chimed in: “[The player] crossed a line and is extremely lucky he isn’t in jail.”

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The player was later released—a decision motivated, the Dodgers now say, by the alleged misbehavior. That transaction did not sit well with one Dodgers scout, who disagreed with the move and was upset he had not been consulted. The scout messaged Francona via WhatsApp, asking why the organization had cut ties with the player.

“Didn’t he try to rape a maid?” Francona wrote, in more than a slight exaggeration of the actual accusation.

The scout remained unswayed, all the more so when the player was signed to a minor league contract by another organization. Referencing the Dodgers’ Dominican Summer League team, he responded: “He could have pitched in the DSL. We definitely have at least 2/3 rapists on that team.”

The following spring, Dodgers staffers discussed a third alleged incident occurring at the Glendale Hampton Inn. Surveillance video revealed that multiple players including a top prospect were confronting female guests and, as one source familiar with the video characterized it to SI, “stalking…. and behaving strangely.” Guests had complained to hotel staff, who alerted the Dodgers personnel, who confronted the players and apologized to the hotel.

In none of these incidents did the Dodgers inform Major League Baseball. In August 2015, six months after the alleged assault on the runaway, MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association reached what they proudly touted as a “landmark” joint domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse policy. Teams were required to inform Major League Baseball of potential abuse by anyone in their organizations, down to the lowest minor league levels. The policy stated flatly: “Any club with information of such misconduct must report it to the Labor Relations Department.”

The Dodgers’ failure to report the second incident, in October 2015, to MLB headquarters, was a prima facie policy violation. David Schindler, outside counsel for the Dodgers, notes now that the policy, which had come out two months earlier, was just being rolled out at the time and that “the Dodgers’ response was entirely appropriate. They immediately took action and the victim in the case who had been solicited or harassed specifically asked that no further action be taken.”

In the case of the alleged stalking, the Dodgers now claim the incident fell outside the jurisdiction of the policy and the organization had the right to handle the matter themselves. (An MLB source confirmed that, per their interpretation of the policy, the Dodgers were entitled to handle this internally.)

It wasn’t until April of 2017 that MLB was made aware of the three incidents—not through the Dodgers, not through law enforcement, not through media reports. These incidents came to light only because Nick Francona, scion of one of baseball’s royal families, was feeling wronged by the Dodgers, the sport, and not least, by Kapler. By then he had departed on either a righteous crusade or, as multiple sources independently characterized it, a war against baseball.

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Born in Montreal in 1985, while his father was playing for the Expos, Nick was, for all intents, raised in clubhouses; his father spent 10 years as a big-league infielder and has been a manager for the last 18 years; his grandfather was an All-Star outfielder from 1956-70. When Nick was in high school in New Jersey—around the time Terry was managing the Red Sox to their first world championship in nearly a century, in 2004—he was a lefty pitcher, hitting 88 mph on the gun and envisioning a career that followed the same path as his father’s and grandfather’s. He went to the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton business school and played baseball. But as a sophomore he injured his throwing shoulder, killing his big league ambitions. “Throwing 78 wasn’t going to cut it,” he says, “so I needed to come up with a new life plan.”

Upon graduating in 2008, he chose an unlikely one: he joined the Marine Corps. He says he never felt right living a cosseted college life—“drinking beer and going to class”—while his peers were fighting wars overseas. His father didn’t get it. His mother, Jacque, also surprised by the decision, hoped it would somehow involve using his Ivy League business degree. “Mom,” he told her gently, “When you think about joining the Marines, it’s not so you can do their paperwork.”

Francona distinguished himself in training. In 2011 he was deployed to Helmand Province in Afghanistan, commanding a scout-sniper platoon and seeing heavy combat. “The military term is ‘kinetic,’” he says. “It was a hot area. We were mixing it up pretty good. You realize there’s no rhyme or reason to why some guy gets hurt and another doesn’t, some guy lives and another doesn’t . . . There are enough gun fights and enough things blowing up and people are going to get hurt. That’s just how it goes.”

When Francona was discharged with the rank of captain, he went to work at Booz Allen in the Washington, D.C., area, an international consulting firm with deep military ties. He enjoyed the work, but had an unshakable urge to return to baseball. He didn’t want to work for his father’s team; that he knew. But thanks to his name and his connections Nick was able to get meetings with executives.

Terry Francona, right, sits with his son, Nick, before a Boston Red Sox spring training game in 2007.

Terry Francona, right, sits with his son, Nick, before a Boston Red Sox spring training game in 2007.

He quickly realized that neither his family pedigree, nor his academic pedigree, nor his military pedigree were worth much. A few months earlier he’d been in charge of 30 men during intense fighting; now he was being offered a job videotaping minor league games. “I was really surprised by that,” he says “This is an environment I grew up in, I was really comfortable around baseball. I didn’t think I fit the stereotype of a tatted-up Marine with the haircut. Still, even when people are respectful and think it’s a good thing that somebody serves, it’s almost like they’re a weird element. Why would somebody do that kind of thing?”

Francona, though, decided to take a coordinator of major league player information position with the Angels. A year or so later, in late 2014, he got a call from Josh Byrnes, who’d worked with Terry Francona at the Red Sox. Byrnes had just begun working as the Dodgers’ senior vice president of baseball operations and offered Nick Francona a job as assistant director of player development.

Much as Francona admired Byrnes, he quickly grew disenchanted with the Dodgers—in particular with his immediate supervisor, Gabe Kapler. Nick thought it was strange that for their first meeting, Kapler suggested they work out together. So it was that they discussed their vision for the Dodgers over sets of curls and squats at a Malibu gym.

If the Ivy-educated, Marine-trained Francona did not cut a conventional figure in the baseball world, Kapler had cultivated his own brand of baseball iconoclasm. Two years after retiring as a player in 2012, he launched a startup that connected fans with players. Within a year, Egraphs.com shuttered. In 2013, Kapler began a blog, Kaplifestyle, where he riffed on subjects from his self-branded belief system and referenced quotes from Nabokov, Gandhi, and the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Famously devoted to self-improvement, Kapler has long chafed at conventional wisdom. One of his core leadership principles as a baseball executive entailed instituting no rules, but rather expectations.

The February 2015 incident broadened the ideological chasm between Kapler and Francona. For failing to meet expectations, the players involved in the hotel room incident were not conventionally punished; rather, according to internal Dodgers emails and texts, Kapler required them to undergo training for “being a good teammate.” Specifically, the players were assigned to write essays about Dodgers history, take nature walks, practice yoga and meditation, clean the team’s weight room and watch motivational videos.

Kapler says now that he and the Dodgers were unaware the players had been accused of sexual assault, and that he still has never seen the graphic police report based on the alleged victim’s account. Still, Francona says, he felt Kapler’s handling of the situation was, at best, clumsy, his leadership lacking.

Nick gave thought to asking advice from his father, but ultimately decided against it. For one, Terry Francona worked for a different organization, so sharing the Dodgers’ internal issues might have been perceived as an act of disloyalty. Plus, Nick entered baseball hellbent on dispelling charges of nepotism. “I really tried to do the best I could to make a name for myself and have it be merit-based,” says Nick, “not ride his coattails, knowing that I’d be fighting an uphill battle for that perception, anyways.”

Less than two years removed from the military, Francona also held great reverence for organizational hierarchy and was uneasy about going over Kapler’s head. But he was also uneasy about this situation. “The chain of command exists [in the military] and is sacred as a matter of law,” he says. “But—and there’s a lot of training on this—there’s a difference between lawful orders and unlawful orders and the chain of command doesn’t exist to propagate cover-ups. More influential for me: leaders have a responsibility to do the right thing.”       

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The case of the runaway is illustrative of just how easily allegations of sexual assault can vanish. When contacted by police, the Dodgers hired an attorney for the player, as they are required by California employment law. Yet, after no criminal charges were forthcoming, the team did not request the police report, and, multiple sources tell SI, the incident was seldom discussed again.