I’m trying not to swear on this new website, but damn, Manfred is making that hard.
Look, I’m a baseball moderate. I do not abhor change, the way some fans do. I’m okay with new ideas like a pitch clock and others. I don’t flinch at the idea of adding more playoff teams. And I know that change in sports is like change anywhere else in the world. You know the French hated the Eiffel Tower when it was put up (or, more accurately, when they learned it wouldn’t be torn down)? Hated it. Now it’s the literal symbol of France. I’m sure if you quizzed most non-French people, more people think of the Eiffel Tower than the French flag when you say “France.”
Oh, hey, look how many people want to expand the Designated Hitter these days! (I’m not one of them, btw. I’m just a moderate, dammit!)
But even as someone who actually thinks there’s good reasons for teams to stay under the luxury tax soft cap as it is currently set, there is no doubt in my mind that there is no one more dangerous to the game of baseball than Rob Manfred.
And, I get it. His bosses are the owners. A lot of the crap he’s done is not with the integrity of the game in mind, but instead the profit lines of owners. And a lot of where we are now isn’t just from Manfred’s actions, but the bad actions of others. I mean, seriously, the last CBA was an unmitigated disaster for the players, who seem to treat their leadership with all the seriousness of a student body election in middle school. Their leadership absolutely screwed themselves, and led to a lot of what’s happening with the Luxury Cap, among other things.
But soon, this is going to come to a head. Over the next three years, specifically. And the game of baseball will be worse for it. Oh, and it’s not because he called the trophy that is named after him a “piece of metal”.
Some things have been slow builds. For instance:
Baseball, ironically, was at one point one of the best innovators at technology that they actually sold off MLB Advanced Media for beaucoup bucks (which, of course, didn’t filter to the players). But baseball has absolutely missed the boat on streaming.
By tying in the game to only cable subscriptions, even for the limited streaming available, and continuing incredibly restrictive blackout zones, baseball has limited its viewership and fan base. More people in Los Angeles can watch the Chargers than the Dodgers because of the way the system works. Only now is MLB trying to change things, but it’s very little, not universally spread, and it won’t recover the lost fans, as the few teams that will offer standalone streaming packages are doing so just as “Subscription Fatigue” is hitting those viewers who have cut the cable. In the last six months, Apple TV+ and Disney+ hit the market, and in the next six, we’ll see HBO Max and the Peacock (NBC/Comcast’s service), not to mention numerous smaller ones. Make no mistake, those are the competition for baseball’s attempts to get streaming dollars, from the fair weather fans. That is money lost.
Then, there’s the cheating scandal. It’s hardly news to point out how much Manfred has screwed the pooch. Whether it’s his foot-meets-mouth comments, like calling the Commissioner’s Trophy a ‘piece of metal’ and saying that ‘shame’ is punishment enough (who are the Astros, Brock Turner?), or the insanely weak punishments given to the team (a $5 million fine, which is beer money, and losing only a few draft picks), and no punishment at all to the players, pretty much everyone is upset. There’s literal threats of physical violence (which I don’t support, but I understand), because Manfred did not punish the players who cheated.
Manfred is hiding behind the fact that he offered immunity to players in exchange for testimony, which is true…but it’s complete idiocy. Has this man never watched Law & Order, or any Dick Wolf series? You offer immunity to the small fishes, or the first to talk, not blanket immunity to everyone! Hell, offer immunity to the guy who actually was banging the trash can. He’ll tell you everything, and no one will care if that guy doesn’t get suspended. Then you can suspend players with the information you get.
Some may think that the mishandling of this is something that will blow over, but it won’t. First, you’ve lost and will lose more fans in Houston, if not by embarrassment/shame of their team becoming villains that make the Yankees and Dodgers look sympathetic, then by the fact the only real punishment is the first round draft picks being lost that will set back this team’s development and performance for a while. But you’re also losing fans all over out of disgust, especially in Los Angeles, where many can’t watch most games on television anyway!
Some also note that the lack of player punishments is because of fear of the MLB Player’s Association challenging them. I’m not sure if this is fear or savvy, the latter being a way of trying not turn the players against their own union, suggesting they are more interested in protecting cheaters who cheat other members than punishing them. But if it is fear, that should worry the owners about Manfred’s willingness and ability to confront their opposition.
But you’ve also angered the players, who are currently in a full-scale social media revolt. We’ll get back to that.
Then there’s Minor League Baseball, the arguments with whom has become a game of brinksmanship I don’t think I’ve seen before in my lifetime of pro sports. Manfred is threatening to eliminate the minors entirely, in the name of saving owners money (albeit using a couple of actual issues as the catalyst). And that’s on top of the growing black eye that is poor minor league salaries.
The problem is, this battle over the minors is a no-win for Manfred. I expect that, at the least, we will lose minor league teams. But here’s the two main possible outcomes:
- Short-season baseball is eliminated. But those players will have to go somewhere after they are drafted. So either they do training/games at the teams’ various Spring Training complexes (already known as the Arizona Rookie League and Gulf Coast League), which will become overcrowded and need more expansion/facilities…which will likely have to be done at the cost of and by the MLB teams that own them….or these players are sent home after the draft for 9 months, during which they don’t get paid (deepening that black eye) and told to stay in shape on their own…which is definitely a great idea to ensure they become the best they can be, with no guidance, no pay to do so, and at a time when young players are the most important, cost-effective commodity to owners.
- The agreement with Minor League Baseball is dissolved, and teams get a free-for-all to affiliate however they want with minor league teams, with no structure. Minor League Baseball will look like the National League in the 1870’s, with teams coming and going every season, Major League teams having to perhaps hunt for new affiliates every year, an uneven amount of minor league teams at different levels (and perhaps not enough). MLB owners will likely have to invest their own money into minor league clubs to stabilize them (which the owners would hate), and again, you’re messing with the development of the most important, cost-effective commodity to owners. (And facilities will still suck, the major argument that MLB is making.)
So both of these outcomes costing money to owners, and both of these outcomes also come with literally turning away fans from the teams that will be lost, and turning off socially conscious fans all over.
We will find out the results of that after the 2020 season, and it may take most of the offseason to hammer out. That is coming very soon.
And then…there’s the agreement with the Player’s Association, expiring after 2021. Players should be mad after the last CBA was horrible for them. They are mad now over the lack of Houston punishments. And maybe Manfred is afraid of them?
Do you think there’s any way that this will go well?
I’ve got to be honest, I 100% believe that there is a strike looming in 2021, if not a lockout.
And remember what 1994 did to the game of baseball? Baseball stopped, fans went away, and the game was in crisis and it took steroids to bring it back.
Add in the other smaller issues. Baseball’s inability to market its stars compared to the NFL or NBA. Tampa Bay’s weird stadium issue. Small changes to the rules (even good ones) alienating fans who are already disgruntled.
The next three years could go very wrong for baseball, for its owners financially…and much of it is thanks to Rob Manfred’s brinksmanship, bad negotiating, and short-term wins without a look at the long term.
Meanwhile, by contrast, young athletes more and more will look at a league like the NBA, where Commissioner Adam Silver was not afraid to give an owner, one of his supposed bosses, a lifetime ban.
Rob Manfred is probably a lot smarter than we give him credit for. But he’s not good for the game of baseball, and at some point…a point I expect to be in the very near future, that will also really begin becoming a bad, bad thing for the owners he’s doing this on behalf of, as well.