Rob Manfred is a disaster. He’s the worst commissioner in professional sports. He’s lost credibility and all control of Major League Baseball. He needs to be replaced as soon as the 2020 season ends, if it ever begins.
The ideal replacement is Diamondbacks president and CEO Derrick Hall, a glad-handing, wide-smiling force of nature. A man who can thaw a room and defrost the Cold War that has overtaken the sport in recent years.
But more on him later.
For now, Manfred has been undressed and exposed. His bluff has been called. For weeks, he has stated that America will have baseball in 2020. He said so powerfully, dramatically, unequivocally, 100%. During a recent radio appearance, Diamondbacks majority owner Ken Kendrick confirmed Manfred’s power to unilaterally impose a season, if necessary, and it seemed like MLB had an overwhelming lead in the court of public opinion.
And in the past five days, this happened:
Manfred: “I’m 100% confident there will be a season.”
MLBPA: “OK. We give up. Tell us when and where.”
Manfred: I’m not confident there will be a season in 2020.”
It’s beyond absurd and beyond suspicious.
On the surface, this could be one of the greatest chess moves in sports history. It is possible Manfred relented after players refused to sign off on a health waiver, unwilling to release MLB from all liability if any of them are stricken by COVID-19 during a shortened season.
Of course, players would have no problem signing that waiver if an actual agreement was reached between them and the owners, one that funneled acceptable money to those in uniform.
But if Manfred unilaterally “forces” baseball players to play the sport they allegedly love?
In that case, they’re not signing anything. Not under threat or authoritarian rule. Not when they can effectively use health concerns as a bargaining chip.
Or maybe former Diamondbacks pitcher Trevor Bauer is closer to the truth. In another attack on the commissioner, he claimed Manfred needs to stall for two more weeks in order to impose a 50-game season, thereby helping owners control their costs in 2020.
Anything is possible. Baseball owners have done far worse in the past. They’ve been collared for collusion, forced to pay millions in damages. Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt just claimed that baseball isn’t that profitable, even though St. Louis is the rare American city where MLB still outranks the NFL.
It’s appalling and grotesque. It’s a new low for a sport that seems to love wrestling in the mud. And in the end, there is plenty of blame to be shared; and their collective ignorance reveals a shocking lack of gratitude and empathy for sports fans in America, the ones who would’ve championed baseball had it returned on July 4th, our country’s birthday.
Instead, the relationship keeps splintering. Rage spreads like wildfire. Players are clapping back at Manfred. Fans are lashing out at both parties. With eight work stoppages in their recent history, including a canceled World Series in 1994, they are a sport seemingly intent on self-immolation.
That’s why baseball’s owners need to make a change at the top, at a time when athletes are demanding less B.S. and real partnerships with those in charge.
After progressively pursuing pace-of-play initiatives, Manfred absolutely botched the Astros’ sign-stealing investigation. He was forced to apologize after referring to the World Series trophy as a “piece of metal.” Former “Jeopardy!” champion James Holzhauer called Manfred “the 2020 of sports commissioners.”
That’s why baseball needs to eject Manfred and elect Hall. Or at the very least, someone like him.
They need someone who didn’t inherit the job, someone who wasn’t a handpicked successor from a previous regime. They need someone like NBA commissioner Adam Silver, a unifier who appeases both sides of the aisle. They need someone who can see the big picture and not just the color of money.
They need a commissioner who recognizes what baseball once was and what it has lost along the way.