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It turns out Rob Manfred really doesn’t love baseball after all

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He didn’t actually say so, but it’s what he didn’t say that makes me believe that.

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Al Yellon

Well now, that’s a pretty significant claim I’ve made in the headline to this article, and you are here looking for an explanation and/or proof of this claim. And you shall get one, at least my view of Rob Manfred’s feelings about baseball.

Manfred sat down for a long interview with Evan Drellich of The Athletic, and it’s a good read that gives you some insights into the Commissioner that I haven’t seen before.

There were a couple of things that struck me in the article. First, and this is something I’ve mentioned before, Manfred approaches the game from a “lawyerly,” “transactional” standpoint:

“He was, is, a very accomplished attorney, litigator, advocate,” said one former league executive who worked with Manfred, echoing others. “And in my view, like a lot of people who come from that background, they are very, very focused on what I call kind of a transactional approach to getting things done.”

Manfred did not bristle when told people inside the sport see him as “lawyerly” and “transactional.”

“I don’t take ‘lawyerly’ as an insult, a pejorative,” Manfred said. “To me, that means that you are thoughtful in your approach and unemotional in your analysis, and if that’s a fault I’m guilty. I really am guilty of that.”

That’s all fine and gives us some insight into Manfred’s personality. The thing is, when it comes to something like baseball where most of us have a strong emotional attachment to the game, its teams, its players, its history, being “unemotional” probably isn’t the best thing.

But what really got me thinking about how Manfred approaches the game was this:

One seemingly related narrative, however, does get under Manfred’s skin — an accusation that Manfred raised himself in a 35-minute conversation with The Athletic.

“What I do take exception to: People routinely write about how I feel about the game,” Manfred said. “They have no idea how I feel about the game. The fact that, you know, I don’t wear an ‘I love baseball’ tattoo on my forehead doesn’t mean that I don’t love the game. I actually do. I’ve devoted the vast majority of my career to it.”

Now think about that final sentence (emphasis added):

I’ve devoted the vast majority of my career to it.

Think what you want about Bud Selig, but if he had been presented with the question of whether he loved the game or not, he’d have likely responded with how his dad used to drive him from Milwaukee to Wrigley Field for Cubs games when he was a child, or how proud he was when his Milwaukee Brewers made the World Series in 1982, or any one of dozens of stories about games or players or the history of the sport that would have told anyone listening that yes, Bud Selig really did understand and know and love baseball. He ran the Commissioner’s office out of Milwaukee, not New York. Drellich’s article delves a bit into how that changed when Manfred took over, in my view not for the better.

Instead, Rob Manfred said he loves baseball essentially because it’s given him a career, and no doubt a very good career that’s paid him a great deal of money. Nothing about the game itself, nothing about its history or players, not even that lame old story he’s trotted out often about his dad driving him and his siblings from their upstate New York home to Yankee Stadium for a game in 1968.

I am well aware that Rob Manfred’s job is to make lots of money for his bosses, team owners. Bud Selig did that pretty well, too, but at the same time it was absolutely clear that he loved the game, that he was a fan, a real fan, not someone who gives lip service to the concept.

The article goes on to talk about many missteps Manfred has made regarding the minor leagues, rule changes and more. It’s well worth your time. It ends this way:

“When I read somebody writing in a blog, saying ‘Rob Manfred doesn’t love the game,’” Manfred said, “that’s like water off a duck’s back.”

A master of negotiation, Manfred has two choices: live with that branding, or work to dispel it.

Well, this “somebody writing in a blog” has right here given Manfred more water to roll off the proverbial duck’s back. But I’m far from the only one who feels this way about Manfred, and Evan Drellich is correct: Manfred either has to live with the way people feel about him or work to change it. He doesn’t seem to care about working to change that image, but I believe it’s important that he do so.

Why? Because baseball approaches a crossroads within the next year. The labor agreement between owners and players expires at the end of the 2021 season. We have already seen, with the contentious negotiations just to get a short 2020 season played, owners playing hardball with the Players Association. Between that and the pandemic that shortened this season and changed life for everyone in this country, some baseball fans have already been turned off to the sport. A labor dispute would likely turn more fans off, possibly for good.

If Rob Manfred were actually a baseball fan, he’d understand that and work to dispel that image and help fans want to stick with the game. Instead it’s just “water off a duck’s back.”

He ignores that image at his, and baseball’s, peril.