MLB Lockout is Strike Three for Rob Manfred
Major League Baseball's embattled commissioner must resign amid the sport's latest fiasco.
Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred is destroying America’s pastime. The current MLB lockout is the latest evidence of the sport’s urgent need for new leadership, let alone mere competence.
Manfred, who began his reign of error in 2015, has become one of the sports world’s most reviled figures. If he was intentionally trying to go down as the worst commissioner in MLB history, he couldn’t possibly be doing a more convincing job, particularly over the past two years.
The Houston Astros Scandal
Strike one was the Houston Astros cheating scandal, which was enough on its own to end Manfred’s tenure. Two years after the Astros “won” the 2017 World Series, convincing evidence emerged that Houston had systematically stolen signs from their opponents. Not since the 1919 Chicago “Black Sox” scandal had a Major League Baseball team been credibly accused of cheating to win a World Series.
Manfred’s response was confusing, cowardly and pathetic. The Astros were fined a relatively meaningless $5 million and lost two draft picks. The team’s manager, general manager and a former assistant coach were suspended for one year. No 2017 Astros players were disciplined despite an overwhelming public outcry for Manfred to punish everyone involved.
The Astros were also inexplicably allowed to keep the 2017 World Series title. In response to tough questions about his decision, Manfred infamously referred to the World Series trophy as just “a piece of metal” before widespread condemnation led to an apology.
I was at the first Astros game of 2020 Spring Training in West Palm Beach, Florida. Most fans in attendance were outraged by the scandal and the lack of punishment for the players. Some of the loudest boos I’ve ever heard in any sports stadium echoed through The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches that night.
COVID and Strike Two
During that same Spring Training came the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like every other sport, baseball shut down almost immediately. What came next, however, was strike two for the incompetent Manfred and his willful MLB cronies.
Instead of being the only professional sport dominating American airwaves all summer, what should have been a debate focused on safety devolved into a prolonged public relations debacle as the league and its players union fought mostly about money. The final result was Manfred imposing a comical, gimmick-filled 60-game “season” that some baseball fans (including this one) still view as illegitimate. Even the last game of the 2020 World Series became a PR nightmare.
After a shaky start to the 2021 MLB season, most baseball fans were finally able to attend games and rejoice in the return of America’s pastime. Unlike 2020, an actual season was played to completion with fans in the stands. The 2021-22 off-season then thankfully began not with another scandal, but with a wild flurry of free agent signings that saw some of the league’s biggest stars changing teams over the past few weeks.
Lockout… Strike Three
Enter Rob Manfred to once again ruin all the fun. Just after midnight on Thursday, the commissioner released a statement announcing the league’s first full work stoppage since an incredibly damaging strike cancelled the 1994 World Series. That’s strike three, Commissioner Manfred. You’re out.
— MLB (@MLB) December 2, 2021
A letter announcing the MLB lockout by Manfred was filled with half-truths and outright falsehoods, including a lie about the league’s owners being “forced to commence a lockout of Major League players.” The owners, of course, made a conscious choice to lock out their players after the expiration of the league’s collective bargaining agreement.
Some might say the MLB lockout isn’t that big of a deal since 2022 Spring Training isn’t scheduled to start for another two-plus months. Perhaps a deal will be reached and no games will be missed. Yet as the 2020 mess proved, Manfred has no problem handing out a “piece of metal” after less than half of a 162-game season. His weak handling of the Astros scandal also proved how little the commissioner cares about competitive integrity.
And What About the Fans?
As for the fans? This MLB lockout is the latest evidence of the low regard for which Manfred and many of the owners hold those who buy tickets, concessions and merchandise. One would think that after a massive cheating scandal and a Mickey Mouse 2020 season, the league would do everything in its power to avoid a work stoppage. Yet as Manfred has proven time and time again, his main concern isn’t for baseball fans, but helping MLB owners outlast the players union.
Major League Baseball is lucky to have weathered the 1994-95 strike and the subsequent steroid scandal, let alone the Astros and COVID-19 debacles. As long as Rob Manfred remains in charge, I’m not sure the sport can survive this cycle of scandalous incompetence that’s culminated with the current MLB lockout.
“Baseball is something more than a game to an American boy; it is his training field for life work,” federal judge turned longtime baseball commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis once said. “Destroy his faith in its squareness and honesty and you have destroyed something more; you have planted suspicion of all things in his heart.”
My faith in Major League Baseball is at an all-time low. I know many other baseball fans who feel the same way. If MLB league officials think patrons like me will keep spending our hard-earned money on a self-destructing sport with questionable integrity, they are in for a rude awakening in 2022 and beyond.
Rob Manfred can do a great service for America’s pastime by sitting down to write another letter containing just two simple words: “I resign.” After all, it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out at the old ballgame.
Tom Sileo is a contributing senior editor of The Stream. He is co-author of Three Wise Men, Brothers Forever, 8 Seconds of Courage and Fire in My Eyes. Follow Tom on Twitter @TSileo and The Stream at @Streamdotorg.