If this offseason has taught baseball fans anything, it’s that Rob Manfred is ruining baseball.
That’s not hyperbole, either. Despite seeing record revenues in 2019, MLB is otherwise up in flames and in shambles, simultaneously. There is no trust between players or teams, fans are furious and disenchanted, and baseball’s commissioner continues to proceed with an astounding lack of shame and self-awareness. These aren’t easily fixed problems or ones that will simply dissipate with time, either; baseball is on the brink of implosion.
Today, the Commissioner of Baseball faced the media, and made everything worse. In addition to spewing infuriatingly useless verbiage, he was rude to media members for doing their jobs, though of course, he doesn’t do a good job himself, so that almost makes sense. His claim that the Astros players having to live with the public shame of their actions was punishment enough for their crimes would be funny, if it wasn’t so incensing. Further protecting the criminals and not their victims, he stated that he planned to warn teams via memo that they would be punished if their pitchers intentionally threw at Astros players during games this season. In typical form, he’s protecting the wrong party; ownerships instead of fans and players, cheaters instead of the cheated.
Rob Manfred was elected to succeed Bud Selig as Commissioner of MLB in August 2014. According to a piece in The New Yorker from that week, his was the first contested election in nearly fifty years, and it took six ballots for him to finally receive the requisite three-quarters majority. He was, by no means, a sure thing.
Since Manfred’s taken the reins, baseball profits are up, but fan attendance is down. The NFL and NBA continue to reign supreme over what used to be America’s Pastime. All he has done is make team owners richer, but that will not continue if he destroys baseball in the process. After all, there must always be a product to sell.
It might sound crazy, but the person charged with being the guardian of the game of baseball should probably actually care about the game of baseball. Someone who does not refer to the World Series trophy as “a piece of metal,” and actually holds players accountable for their actions, be it performance-enhancing drug use, abuse, or cheating. Someone with a moral compass, a backbone, and the ability to not put his foot in his mouth on a regular basis. Perhaps, even someone who sees the value in the actual game of baseball, and understands that if he nurtured it and its fans even a little, it would yield even more money than it currently is, because as the great fictional Terence Mann says in ‘Field of Dreams,’ “People will come, Ray.”
Rob Manfred is none of these things. He was hired to protect the interests of the team owners and make them billions, and he has largely succeeded on those fronts. But on the human level, the fan level, the game level, he has failed spectacularly. Attendance was lower than it’s been in over a decade. The Marlins couldn’t even break a million in attendance at home in 2019, the first team since the 2004 Expos to suffer that fate. Fans are blacked out of watching their favorite teams, and cannot afford to attend games at their beloved ballparks. They’re forced to watch their teams sign men who beat women and abuse children, and lose to teams that cheated their way through multiple seasons. With every passing day of his tenure, baseball is worse off than it was the day before.
Baseball fans are a lot of things: passionate, emotional, occasionally crazy (that’s a side effect of passion), but most of them are not stupid. They see what’s happening to the game they love, and like Twisted Sister before them, they’re not gonna take it. #FireManfred is trending on Twitter. It’s not easy to find something that unites Red Sox and Yankees fans, so kudos to the Commish.
If he wasn’t ruining baseball so epically, I’d almost feel bad for Rob Manfred. Actually, in a twisted way, I do. I pity him, because he clearly doesn’t see the value of the treasure he’s been tasked with safeguarding. He must have never been a small child, awed by the enormity of a beautiful ballpark under a brilliant blue summer sky. He’s never felt the rush of joy of seeing his favorite player hit a walk-off home run to save his favorite team. Perhaps, lucky for him, he’s never experienced the heartbreak that only comes from watching your team almost win it all, and watching it slip from their grasp. Because if he’d ever felt any of these things, he would not be the way that he is, so careless and uncaring about a game so beloved.
Baseball is beautiful, and it is burning. And it’s a crying shame for us and for Rob Manfred that he doesn’t care. To quote Albus Dumbledore, “Pity the living, and above all, those who live without love.” Poor Rob Manfred, that he lives without the love of this game.
Or maybe he’s just an Astros fan.