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Rob Manfred apologizes for his ‘piece of metal’ comment, but not before Jon Lester weighs in

The Commissioner isn’t going to live this one down for a very long time.

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Jon Lester with Rob Manfred’s “piece of metal” in November 2016
Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Tell me which one of these statements rings more true to you, or means more to you as a baseball fan.

Rob Manfred’s apology for his “piece of metal” comment about the World Series trophy:

“I have to say I made one mistake at least, during that long day,” he said at a news conference at the Omni Resort. “That was in an effort to make a rhetorical point. I referred to the World Series trophy in a disrespectful way. And I apologize for that. There’s no excuse for that.”

Or Jon Lester’s comment Tuesday regarding the “piece of metal” comment by Manfred:

“That’s somebody that has never played our game,” Lester said. “You play for a reason. You play for that ‘piece of metal.’ I’m very proud of the three I have. If that’s the way he feels, then he needs to take his name off the trophy.”

“That’s the first [thing] when people walk into my house that have never been to my house, I take them to where my trophies are,” Lester said. “’There they are, I’m proud of ‘em.’ Lot of years, lot of hard work. To just bring it down like that, that’s just … I’m sure it hurt a lot of guys when they saw that.”

(Incidentally, Jon Lester wasn’t the only player to weigh in on Manfred’s “piece of metal” remark. Per this Washington Post article, so did Mike Trout, Aaron Judge, Cody Bellinger, Nick Markakis, Kris Bryant, Trevor Bauer, Stephen Strasburg, Mike Clevinger, Howie Kendrick, Justin Turner, Sean Doolittle and Justin Verlander.)

I’m pretty sure you know how I feel, simply from the fact that you are reading this article. Lester’s comments are clearly from the heart. Lester is a 14-year major-league veteran who’s been in nine postseasons and, as he noted, taken home three World Series rings. He’s a nine-time All-Star. He works hard at his craft; granted that his results last year weren’t what any of us wanted, I don’t think anyone questions Lester’s work ethic or determination to succeed. He’s one of the best pitchers of this era and possibly the best Cubs free-agent signing ever. I’m glad to have had him as a Cub the last five years and hope his sixth is successful enough that the Cubs will bring him back for a seventh (or his option will vest for throwing 200 innings).

Now, about Manfred? I posted this recently regarding “mistakes”:

Manfred claims what he said about the “piece of metal” was a “mistake”? He was making a “rhetorical point”? Here’s another tweet that sums up my feelings about that:

I’ve said this before about Manfred. I don’t think he is a baseball fan, certainly not the way you or I are baseball fans. Back in 2014, just after the owners elected him to succeed Bud Selig as commissioner, Manfred told Tom Verducci a story of claiming to grow up as a Yankee fan:

I grew up a Yankees fan. I was born in upstate New York. Because of the proximity to Syracuse University, we were one of the first areas to have cable television. So we actually had access to both Met and Yankee games all while I was growing up. My dad is a huge Yankee fan to this day. My mom and dad brought my brother and my sister and I down to Yankee Stadium to see our first game in 1968. Really, a great family experience. I mean, something all of us have very fond memories about.

So... he went to a game at Yankee Stadium more than 50 years ago, had fun with his family and remembers it. Does that make him a fan? If it did, he sure seems to have forgotten what it means now, with his nonsensical pace-of-play initiatives that don’t work and his absolute lack of understanding of how the replay challenge system could have led us to where we are:

In fairness, Manfred was not alone in failing to see the future clearly. As far back as 2015, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) expressed concerns to MLB about the rise of technology in the sport. The union, however, did not directly focus on the threat to the game’s integrity.

Looking back, it’s easy to say, “baseball should have seen this coming.” Teams and players are forever in search of an edge. Sign stealing — the legal kind, done without electronics — is a rich part of the game’s history. Advances in video technology, notably through the introduction of replay rooms after the sport adopted a replay challenge system in 2014, created a temptation too great for some clubs to ignore.

I think anyone who understood how teams were going to control live video beginning in 2014, when the review system began, could have seen how this sort of scandal could grow from it. Personally, I think the challenge system never should have been instituted in the first place — and that’s not hindsight, I wrote about this as long ago as August 2013. MLB should have added a fifth umpire to every crew, and booth reviews could have been made upon requests from managers. Might that have led to too many reviews and delays of games? Fine, then limit managers to three requests per game. Maybe MLB didn’t want to pay 15 more umpires. Penny-wise, pound-foolish, as being cheap about that has led us to where we are today.

I said it on Monday: Rob Manfred should resign. I haven’t changed my mind. Manfred, prior to being elected Commissioner, was a well-regarded attorney who had worked in baseball labor relations since 1987, eventually rising to the level of Chief Operating Officer. That’s all fine. Businesses that are as large and far-reaching as baseball certainly need attorneys to keep things on the up-and-up, and by all accounts Manfred did this job well. He also represented ownership’s side well and fairly in labor negotiations. Up to 2016 — after Manfred was elected — the previous few CBA’s were hailed as good for players and owners alike.

But the office of Commissioner ought to be more than just having a smart lawyer inhabit the position. It takes some understanding of baseball history. It takes some understanding of fans and how they really feel about the game in the year 2020. If Manfred was once a baseball fan, I don’t believe he is now.

I’ll say it again: Rob Manfred should resign. Let’s get someone in that office who not only can do the job the owners want him or her to do — make metric buttloads of money for them — but who also understands the millions of fans, the paying customers without whom Major League Baseball is nothing.

Rob Manfred should resign. Now. Before he puts his foot in his mouth again and despoils the sport we all love.