Welcome to Deadspin’s farewell-to-2020 IDIOT OF THE YEAR awards! If you have made it this far, then congratulations, brave traveler.
All you need to know about Rob Manfred is he’s the first commissioner to lose the PR battle to the players. For the entire history of MLB, whenever there’s been strife between the players and owners, fans have generally gotten angry at the players. After all, those are the people the fans see, the ones they root for, the ones who are far more in the public eye. So it always feels, to most, that it’s the players who are taking baseball away when it’s not around.
This time around, because of Manfred’s clown-glove handling of MLB’s return to play during the pandemic, everyone was pretty much on the players’ side. Manfred didn’t seem to recognize that even the most anti-union fan could see it was the players taking all the risk, which they made clear they were willing to do. All they wanted was to be paid for the time they showed up for.
And yet every time Manfred opened his vacuous maw, he made things worse. Whether it was about what the owners could afford or what they couldn’t, outlandish claims about their losses, the problem everyone saw with whatever he said is that he or the owners never provided any evidence to back it up. We know what players make, and they get scrutinized for it every day of their career. We have no idea what the owners are taking in, and any question about it is greeted with “Trust us.” Why would we?
The players correctly pegged Manfred’s and the owners’ wishes to be only playing 60 games, and they simply let them have it when it was clear they would get totally clocked on a “bad faith’’ negotiating claim. It’s one thing to be evil. It’s another to be evil and transparantly stupid.
Manfred couldn’t even handle the actual season right either, as the goalposts either kept moving or were figments of the imagination altogether. In reality, when the outbreak with the Marlins and Cardinals hit, the season as a whole should have been stopped. Everyone knew it. But it wasn’t, because Manfred wouldn’t take that loss. He’d already taken more than enough.
He got his World Series in, which was capped by a player who tested positive being the main story afterward as he galavanted around with his teammates. By any logic, once Justin Turner tested positive, the Series should have been stopped.
But Manfred’s true nature, that of a spineless weasel only dead set on maximizing his bosses’ profits (which is really the only description of the job now, to be fair), wouldn’t allow for that either. So it just carried on into having a black eye.
Even on a more micro level, Manfred doesn’t understand what the problem is with his sport, if it even has a problem. While some or lots bemoan the style of play, baseball has seen record revenues every year. Is it really a problem?
Manfred’s volleys at defensive shifting or the DH in the NL or this gimmick in extra innings at best paw at the issue and at worst miss it altogether. Dictating where fielders can stand does nothing to cap the proliferation of strikeouts and walks in the game. The way velocity has simply overpowered hitters. The way teams can just roll through 15-20 relievers or more per season until their elbows turn to dust, and then find the next one. This is the problem.
Baseball needs more action. It’s not just that the games are too long because the games are too long. If that was the problem, you could just cut ad-time between innings. But don’t sit on a hot stove waiting for that to happen. The games are too long because too much is not happening. Strikeouts generally take four to five pitches. Walks take more, and don’t really move the game along.
Manfred has yet to demonstrate he understands this. He possibly might have when the ball suddenly got juiced a year or two ago, though he’s claimed that wasn’t his doing. Which is weird, because MLB owns Rawlings, so either they ordered the ball to be juiced and are covering it up or they have no control over their own product. Neither is good. Baseball needs more contact and action, and Manfred hasn’t done much to get that.
But he’s done his job in that owners are making more money than ever. TBS just signed a new mega-deal to televise. So in 2021, Manfred will likely be on this list again. And the years after that. And his bosses won’t care.