Sunday, Rob Manfred held his first major news conference since the Astros punishment for their sign-stealing scandal was revealed.
He shouldn’t have bothered. All he did was make jaws drop with his stunning ignorance of how angry many people are about the scandal and the perceived lack of punishment for Astros players.
Check out this tone-deaf statement:
Manfred takes issue with the notion that anyone in the Astros organization avoided punishment. Says faces of Astros players show "they have been hurt by this" and will be faced with questions of what happened in 17 and 18 for the "rest of their lives."— Chris Cotillo (@ChrisCotillo) February 16, 2020
“Hurt”? Well, maybe, although listening to Astros players attempt to apologize over the last few days, I wonder how “hurt” they really are, and they continue to get paid millions of dollars to play baseball. No players were fined, just the team, and owner Jim Crane had to pay only $5 million (the maximum allowed by MLB’s constitution), about the cost of one year of a middle reliever.
There’s been much discussion about whether the Astros should have to vacate the 2017 World Series title since the punishment was announced. I’ve gone on record here as saying I don’t think that would accomplish anything. But after Manfred’s unbelievably ridiculous comment about that Sunday, I might change my mind:
Manfred defended his decision not to vacate the Astros’ championship, saying, “The idea of an asterisk or asking for a piece of metal back seems like a futile act.” The commissioner devaluing the meaning of a championship seems… not great? Counterintuitive, even? The “piece of metal” is literally called the Commissioner’s Trophy.
A “piece of metal”? That’s all, Rob? It’s not just a “piece of metal.” It’s what the “piece of metal” represents. You would think that someone leading the entire sport of baseball would not have to be told that, but here we are. Tell all the Cubs fans who lined up for hours during the winter of 2016-17 to have photos taken with that trophy that it’s just a “piece of metal.”
Maybe it is time to take that 2017 trophy back and simply declare that year’s title “vacant.” Yu Darvish had one of his usual cogent Twitter comments:
Gorgeous trashcan!— ダルビッシュ有(Yu Darvish) (@faridyu) February 16, 2020
I like it!
Back to Manfred: Not satisfied with simply being tone-deaf, the Commissioner took a swipe at reporters during his news conference regarding some excellent reporting done by Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal:
Rob Manfred does not seem pleased that the letter his office sent to Jeff Luhnow became public through the process of reporting.— Lindsey Adler (@lindseyadler) February 16, 2020
Rob Manfred to the reporter who broke the news on the Astros' Codebreaker scheme: "You know, congratulations. You got a private letter that, you know, I sent to a club official. Nice reporting on your part."— Lindsey Adler (@lindseyadler) February 16, 2020
So a journalist was doing his job, finding out information, and the work done by Diamond in revealing the Astros’ “Codebreaker” system was one of the better pieces of reporting done on the scandal.
At best, Manfred’s comment was sarcasm. On its face, Manfred seemed to be telling Diamond he had done something wrong. There’s an old saying that resides right at the top of NBC Sports writer Craig Calcaterra’s Twitter account that seems relevant here:
Exactly. There’s been so much covering up here that it took the great work of Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich at The Athletic, and later the WSJ’s Diamond, to make the scandal public. Manfred does not seem happy at all about that.
Apparently tired of questions about the Astros scandal, Manfred tried to move on:
Manfred: If you guys could stop asking me questions about the on going investigations and ask questions about other issues that’d be great!— Mike (@southpaw89) February 16, 2020
Reporter: *Asks about the Braves’ tomahawk chop*
Manfred: I’ve been too busy with all the investigations to look into that.
Then there were several more questions about the Astros scandal, but the whole thing can be summed up with this paragraph from NBC Sports’ Bill Baer:
All in all, this press conference could not have gone worse for Manfred. The press found it condescending and the comments he made rang hollow to the players. Manfred seemed on edge and unprepared addressing arguably the biggest controversy baseball has faced since the steroid era. This is a dark time for the sport.
Condescending? Check. Unprepared? Check. Tone-deaf? Check. I have often said that I wonder if Rob Manfred is even a baseball fan. All that news conference did is confirm in my mind that he’s not.
In my view, this is more than the biggest controversy since the steroid era. The Astros’ sign-stealing scheme might be the worst thing to happen to baseball since the Black Sox scandal of a century ago.
I am well aware that the Commissioner’s role has changed much since the first Commissioner, federal judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, took office November 8, 1920 nearly 100 years ago. As you no doubt know, Landis was hired by baseball owners to help clean up the image of the sport after the Black Sox scandal. He did so, and swiftly, by permanently banning eight members of that White Sox team who were alleged to have thrown the 1919 World Series. (I say “alleged” because a legal case brought in 1920 resulted in acquittals.) Landis was given broad authority to work in the “best interests of baseball” and often did. We haven’t had a Commissioner like that since ... well, probably since Bowie Kuhn, at least, and Kuhn was regularly roasted by the general public for his own tone-deafness. Granted that MLB’s collective-bargaining agreement with players limits some of the powers of the Commissioner, Manfred has still done little to give the general public confidence in the sport.
But now, public perception of baseball now is heading toward that low reached after the 1919 World Series was thrown. I am well aware that Rob Manfred serves at the pleasure of baseball’s owners, and that his primary function is to help them make buckets of money. In that, he has certainly succeeded, even while angering many baseball fans with proposed and actual rule changes supposedly designed to improve “pace of play” (hint: they haven’t), and the recent proposal to contract up to 42 minor-league teams, which has resulted in outcries almost everywhere except owners’ suites. Baseball seems to be working for everyone but fans, the paying customers, for whom Manfred and team owners seem to have nothing but contempt.
Baseball needs a strong Commissioner who could help restore its tattered reputation. I’m not certain who that individual could be in the year 2020, but I do know this: It’s not Rob Manfred. Manfred should resign. If he doesn’t, baseball’s owners ought to realize how much damage Manfred is doing to their brand and fire him.