The commissioner of baseball is at the very core of the plethora of problems that the league faces. Instead of taking action to proactively make these issues right, he instead has shown a pattern of standing idly by while the game of baseball suffers in the process.
Manfred’s response to the Astros’ sign-stealing cheating mess has been far too passive in the eyes of many, including the great Mike Trout, who said, “To cheat like that and not get anything (in the form of a penalty), it’s sad to see.”
The punishments that were doled out were largely inconsequential, as none of the players were given any formal discipline. In Manfred’s recent interview with ESPN, he asserts that “if you watch the players, watch their faces when they have to deal with this issue publicly, they have paid a price.”
He is essentially saying that the public’s bashing of the Astros is punishment enough for the players; this plays on the assumption that they are the embodiment of morality and that they would feel remorse for what they did. How can anyone assume that any of the players feel bad at all? The responses of the members of the Astros when their wrongdoing was finally proven were empty and scripted, and team owner Jim Crane even went as far as saying that the Astros’ cheating “didn’t impact the game”, and that ”we had a good team, we won the World Series. We’ll leave it at that.”
Further, in Manfred’s interview with ESPN, he spit out the notion that the World Series trophy is simply a “piece of metal.” How in the world Manfred could be so entirely out of touch is beyond any logical understanding, but should not be surprising to any baseball fan given his history of malpractice. The physical World Series trophy alone does not mean anything – its significance, and the meaning behind it – are all that matters to anyone. It is astonishing that a man in a position of such power can be so blatantly ignorant. It is disgusting that he would dare to demean the greatest achievement in this sport down to just the physical trophy and ignore its history and unmistakable symbolism.
The Dodgers’ Justin Turner echoed this sentiment, as he said that “the only thing devaluing it right now is the fact that it says ‘Commissioner’ on it. It’s just unbelievable. Is he that out of touch with our game, that those are his comments?”
This is not to say that Manfred had to strip the Astros of their 2017 title, but to state that their tainted championship does not really matter is absolutely unacceptable. He is leading fans to believe that the Astros’ cheating only means anything because they got caught, not because it happened. Imagine the word of law in this country to mean something like if you rob someone, it is only illegal if you are caught. This would work to encourage the behavior of breaking the law, so long as the perpetrators cover their tracks. This is exactly the message that Rob Manfred is sending to players about cheating in baseball: nobody will stop it unless you are caught – so make sure you aren’t.
Reds’ pitcher Trevor Bauer articulates it perfectly through an article in the Athletic when he remarks, “Yeah, [the Astros] have to say [that they cheated] but honestly, in that situation, I would rather them just come out and say, ‘Yeah, we did it. We’re not sorry about it. Yeah, we cheated. We’ll take the penalty and come beat us.’ At least it would be honest. Just tell us how you actually feel. Don’t lie. You’ve been lying the entire f****** time. Now you’re lying about your apology.”
After the Astros’ cheating became public knowledge, it was Manfred’s duty to come out and say that these practices are not, have never been, and will never be tolerated whatsoever in this sport. Major League Baseball needed a leader; instead, it got a selfish tool of a man who only cares about saving face.
In Bauer’s interview, he also explained how and why the impact of the Astros’ cheating went far beyond what met the eye. He said that the Astros “Robbed from other people, [took] their positions, their livelihood, the dollars, the experience of being an All-Star, the experience of moving on in the postseason, the experience of winning a World Series perhaps. It’s so far-reaching. To see them sit there and be like, ‘I’m sorry that we got caught. I’m sorry for the actions that the team and the organization and myself took. That’s all I’m going to say.’ It’s hollow.”
The fact that a player’s response to this mess was infinitely better than the commissioner’s is deplorable – and extremely telling.
Manfred went on to say in his ESPN interview that “people will always know that something was different about the 2017 season, and whether we made that decision right or wrong, we undertook a thorough investigation, and had the intestinal fortitude to share the results of that investigation, even when those results were not very pretty.”
Quite bluntly, Manfred is enabling this type of behavior in the future by not condemning it firmly enough in the present. His words send the message that, Hey, the Astros cheated, but it only matters because they got caught. If Mike Fiers had never spoken up, this controversy – which Bauer felt was “the worst kept secret in baseball” for years – would have gotten swept under the rug.
Manfred only launched the league’s investigation into the Houston Astros because he had to. There was no righteous initiative behind his actions; he simply was forced to unearth the truth because the questions would have been too uncomfortable if he had neglected to do so.
The issues surrounding Manfred go much further than his response to the Astros’ scandal. His handling of the entire sport during his time as commissioner has been exceptionally problematic in terms of the game’s present and future health.
Again referencing the words of Trevor Bauer, he explained how the game’s popularity should be of utmost concern to its leadership. Bauer stated how last season, the “baseball playoffs are going on and Joel Embiid, in the second game of the NBA season that doesn’t mean anything, is trending. There are two basketball players trending nationally above anything baseball-related during Game 7 of one of the best World Series that we’ve seen.”
The NBA has set the bar for how a league should operate with the presence of this day and age’s social media dominance. Bauer concurred when he stated that “you have the NBA that is just absolutely crushing everybody, that gives content away like, ‘Please post our content. Here you go.’”
MLB needs to take advantage of any shred of publicity and national attention that it possibly can, instead of shutting down fantastic twitter accounts like Rob Friedman’s Pitching Ninja, or making life harder for content creators like Jomboy.
This includes the fundamental need to make baseball accessible for everyone, on all devices, and in every corner of the country and the world. Instead, the league cares far more about its bottom line by enforcing widespread blackout restrictions on its MLB.TV streaming platform. Instead of promoting baseball as a prominent part of any sports fan’s life by making it easier to watch games and view highlights, the league is tying its own hands behind its back by limiting who can actually enjoy the games.
Manfred’s intentions became even more clear a few weeks back when news came to light of an “improved” potential postseason structure. Publicity stunts such as leaking rumors like these have become the standard for Major League Baseball. Nearly all baseball fans would not be in favor of these proposed changes, but that’s not what Manfred truly cares about – not in the least bit. He is fishing for television ratings through a “reality TV twist” (as Joel Sherman put in in the aforementioned New York Post piece) that would draw viewers and dollars.
Improving and nurturing the game of baseball should unquestionably be the only motivators of the league’s commissioner. Yet, it has become evidently clear that the only thing that matters to Rob Manfred is covering for himself and fattening his own wallet, and in doing so he is undercutting the integrity of the game and setting a dangerous precedent that will be felt for years to come.