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Do Rob Manfred and MLB owners actually like baseball?

It’s a valid question.

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Al Yellon

Friday morning, this tweet appeared on my timeline and since I agreed with its take, I decided to post it in a couple of threads here. It generated some spirited discussion, and so I thought it was worth an entire article on the topic.

First, let me make this clear. If you are not familiar with Aaron Gleeman, he’s not just some random guy on Twitter. He is the lead Twins writer for the Minnesota section at The Athletic and a former writer for Baseball Prospectus. His bona fides as a fan and knowledgeable baseball person, in my view, cannot be questioned.

Now, as I said, I’m in 100 percent agreement with this take. This tweet isn’t just aimed at Commissioner Rob Manfred, though I suppose he’s one of its main targets. Team owners are also likely part of “the people who run baseball.”

Do these sound like the words of someone who helps run baseball who actually likes baseball?

I’ve stated this opinion many times here: I don’t think Rob Manfred likes baseball much. That’s kind of a hot take and I acknowledge that. Those who claim Manfred is a big baseball fan usually cite this interview he gave just after he took office as Commissioner five years ago:

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 I was just a big baseball fan. It never occurred to me that I would work in the game, to tell you the truth. I was laughing about this earlier today. I was a summer associate at a law firm in Philadelphia in the summer of ’81 and I went to the Phillies game the night before the strike. It was right when Pete Rose was chasing some record. It wasn’t the hit record. It might have been the National League one. I remember going to this game and the next couple of days the papers were filled with news about the strike. And I remember telling the guys I worked with, ‘I prefer my sports and my labor relations to be kept separate.’ I wasn’t really thinking about working in the game, I was just a big fan.

Stipulated: Rob Manfred’s dad is a big Yankees fan “to this day,” that he took Rob and his siblings to Yankee Stadium at least once, and that Rob went to at least one Phillies game in 1981. I’ll further grant Manfred this: His memory about that 1981 game is 100 percent correct. It happened June 10, 1981 — the Phillies were off the next day, the actual day before the strike, so it was their final game before the interruption — and Pete Rose did indeed need two hits to break Stan Musial’s N.L. hits record of 3,630. He got one hit that night to tie Musial, but had to wait till August to break that mark.

But all of that happened decades ago. Did Manfred follow the Yankees on a daily basis like we do with the Cubs? Live and die with wins and losses? Watch them on TV often, go to ballparks and buy tickets and go through security lines and spend money on overpriced food and beer and hope he could get World Series tickets for his favorite team?

We don’t know. Maybe he did, maybe he still does some of those things. Clearly, as Commissioner he shouldn’t show favoritism to one team and I get that. But you know, a former Commissioner of Baseball once wrote this:

It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.

Now there are the words of a man who understood and loved baseball, the late Bart Giamatti. He heard its lyrics, he understood the highs and lows of the sport, he lived it, he got it. Like a fan. Like a man who liked baseball.

Can you imagine Rob Manfred writing words like those about baseball? Me, either. I’m not saying a Commissioner of the game has to be a fan like Giamatti clearly was, but now we have a Commissioner who referred to the sport’s championship trophy as a “piece of metal.” I trust you can see the difference. Instead of lyrical prose, here’s what we have with Manfred’s leadership:

That’s exactly what’s happening. It’s my view that’s being done by folks who really don’t care much about the game, instead they’re only about making money. NBC Sports’ Craig Calcaterra sums up the current mess in this excellent article, which I commend to you. Craig is a former attorney and understands well the actions taken by MLB’s attorney in this matter. The actions by the owners, the Commissioner and their negotiating attorney don’t seem at all like those of people who actually like baseball.

It has been my impression for the last several seasons that MLB team owners, and the Commissioner they elected to represent their interests — and let’s be clear, he represents owners, not fans — are much more interested in profit than winning, that they only like baseball because they can make money from it. Craig Calcaterra summed up what the Braves, to cite one example, were doing along these lines in this article from February 2019.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I understand these are businesses and I do not begrudge them making money. The issue I have with them now is that they seem to care only about the business side of it, hoarding their billions, to the point where even some previously devoted fans of the game are getting disgusted with the whole thing and are turning it off.

Will that make them money? Well, no, in the long run it will most certainly not accomplish that goal. Owners and the Commissioner’s office appear to be prioritizing short-term gain (or perhaps more accurately, avoiding short-term financial losses) and not understanding how they are damaging the long-term future of the game. The mistrust between players and owners is at its highest level since the 1994-95 strike that ended only because of a federal court injunction.

It might only be a catchphrase, and it might not be a very good one, but no, I do not think the people who run baseball like it very much. If they did so in the way we do, or Bart Giamatti did, they wouldn’t be nickel-and-diming players for a handful of millions of dollars that yes, might hurt their bottom lines a little, but they certainly could afford, if they chose to.

Here are the words of ESPN’s Karl Ravech, another man who clearly loves baseball very much:

Ravech is right. I agree 100 percent with this take. I’ve loved baseball my whole life, have invested tons of emotion (and money!) into the sport and miss it terribly.

But if the folks who run the game aren’t going to invest those kind of emotions, why should we?


Do the people who run baseball (owners, the Commissioner) like the game of baseball?

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