I can't think of a time when a commissioner was so universally maligned than Rob Manfred has been. Players, past and present, have been highly critical of Manfred's handling of the Astros' sign stealing and of the resulting gaffes committed by the commisioner. It was the recent suspension of Pittsburgh Pirates' minor leaguer, Pablo Reyes, that got me thinking about this again.
Reyes, along with anyone else who tests positive for steroids, received an 80-game suspension. Think about that. Reyes was caught one time, and received an 80-game suspension. I understand that these punishments have been negotiated and set in stone, but that's a heck of a punishment to levy on a first-time cheater. Do you see where I'm going with this?
To add to that, Reyes was battling for a spot in Pittsburgh and, even with any added benefit from taking PEDs, probably wasn't going to make it. Compare that to Astros' players who received a greater advantage from their cheating, and a far greater benefit (winning the World Series). So, why would the commissioner strike a deal with the association to grant immunity to the players? They had the resources to do the investigation, and likely would have come to the same conclusion without the cooperation from the players involved. Judging by how angry opposing players are, and their knowledge of the Astros' schemes, I think the MLB would have found people to talk. They also have a precedent for suspending cheaters that could have easily been applied in this situation. The immunity agreement, just makes this whole thing feel dirty and incomplete.
So why grant immunity? Maybe it was laziness. It sure would be easier to find out what happened if the guilty players just told you. Maybe it was that Manfred didn't want the resulting battle with the association if suspensions were levied. So, he avoided that and got an expedited investigation. It was reported that Houston Astros' owner, Jim Crane, thought the scandal would "blow over by spring training." Maybe Manfred did too.
If what 10-year MLB veteran, Jonathan Lucroy, says is true, the Athletics knew about the Astros' system and reported it to the commissioner, but nothing happened. If that's true, Manfred needed this to blow over by spring. The bigger the issue this became, the more egregious his inaction would appear.
No matter the reason, simply suspending a manager, and general manager for a year and taking away some draft picks feels like a small price to pay for an organization to receive a championship in return. Even Neal Huntington would've made that trade.
So, the commissioner comes out of this as either, lazy, weak, or dishonest, and that's just on this issue. He made it worse for himself when he called the World Series trophy "a piece of metal" in an ESPN interview. Granted, he was trying to make the point that it doesn't do baseball a whole lot of good to take a trophy away. It doesn't undo the damage done. I kind of agree with him, but, man, could he have used better words to say it.
Then there's the contraction plan. If you're unfamiliar with what I'm talking about, Manfred promoted a plan that would eliminate 42 minor league baseball teams. I was highly critical of plan when it came out for the negative impact it will have on small town baseball, and that seems to be the majority opinion.
So, in one off-season, Rob Manfred botched the handling of one of the biggest scandals in MLB history, diminished the game's greatest prize, and alienated small towns across the country. That's almost impressive.
When you think about the priorities that Manfred highlighted when he became commissioner, it gets even worse for him. Here's what they are:
- Youth outreach - for a lot of young people, the only access, due to price and proximity, that they have to live baseball are minor league games. Taking away 42 teams seems to be counter productive to that priority.
- Embracing technology - this one is almost funny.
- Pace of play - games have actually gotten longer over the last five years.
- Strengthen player relations - well, the MLB is likely headed for a work stoppage and you have players openly criticizing the commissioner on a regular basis. This one isn't going well.
- A more unified business operation - this one is tougher to assess, and the business side of baseball is not the problem here.
I'm not one to call for someone's job; I generally hate when that stuff happens. I'd love for Manfred to learn from all this, rebound, and become a great commissioner, but he sure has some work to do. I question if the damage is irreparable. Like I said in the opening paragraph, I can't think of a time when such a widespread group of players are openly speaking out against a commissioner. There were times when NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, caught some heat from players, but it was usually coming from an isolated group. In this case, it feels like the entire league is against Manfred, and I wonder if he can ever gain that trust back.
Follow Jared on Twitter: @a_piratelife