I can’t say that Rob Manfred is bad at his job, at least not entirely. Because his job is to make sure that all 30 owners squeeze the sport for every last dollar possible, and he’s done that. It doesn’t really matter if he kills the league in the process, because his bosses don’t care. It’s simply about making sure they all can be the best vampire squids they can be.
But one part of his job, and the one he is unquestionably ghastly at, is that he’s not really supposed to make the real goals as naked as he has. Whatever labor strife baseball has faced in the past, even a complete dweeb like Bud Selig was able to at least battle the PR war to a draw at worst. And Bud Selig has the magnetism of Alka-Seltzer.
Manfred is such a slimeball, and so incapable of sounding genuine or polished or human, that he’s already lost this PR battle, and that’s with more than enough national baseball writers still trying to carry his fetid water. We saw this last year during the haggling over what the pandemic season would be, and Manfred somehow couldn’t hide the money grab behind it. We’ve always known what the real impetus behind anything the owners do, but you’re supposed to at least throw a sheet over it.
Manfred was at it again last night when the lockout became official, releasing a letter to baseball fans trying to explain why this lockout was happening. In the second paragraph, Manfred makes the mistake of saying that owners were “forced” to institute the lockout. Which we all know isn’t true. No one made them. They decided to. And there’s nothing imminent that is upping the urgency. As I said last night, there are no games. There are no bills coming due. There’s no check being missed from TV networks. This is completely optional, and everyone knows it.
From there, Manfred accuses the MLBPA of trying to destroy competitive balance. Let’s explore that for a second, and this has been one of Joe Sheehan’s main tenets for a while (and if you’re a baseball fan, you really need his newsletter).
To sum up Sheehan’s thoughts, MLB owners have been hiding behind the term “competitive balance” for decades, which has always been code for not wanting to pay the players what they currently do. MLB is the only league without a salary cap, and a salary cap has always been billed as the key to competition between more teams. In the past 10 years (we’ll throw out 2020 due to weirdness and add 2010 for the full sample), 7 of the league’s 30 teams have appeared in the World Series. Six teams have won the World Series. Only three teams have not made a playoff appearance (Padres, Marlins, Mariners, as the first two have only made the 2020 pandemic postseason). And the Padres look poised to join the ranks, and the Ms might be too.
Compare that with the NFL, supposedly the bastion of parity. 15 of 32 have made the championship round/Super Bowl. Nine teams have won the championship. Only the Jets have not made the playoffs, but the NFL allows more teams in, percentage-wise, to the postseason.
The NBA is dynasty-heavy as we know. Seven champions in the past 10 years. Eleven teams have made the finals. Hockey has been dynasty-heavy, surprisingly, too. Four teams have gobbled up eight of the last 12 Stanley Cups.
Only in the past few years, as more teams have treated the luxury tax as a full out cap, have we seen fewer teams in the top strata, with the Dodgers or Astros basically appearing in the last four World Series, and the Dodgers adding a fifth to that if we count 2020.
Baseball doesn’t have a competition problem, at least in there being some sort of ceiling keeping teams from competing for the top prize. They just have to want to. Too many teams don’t want to. That has nothing to do with a cap.
From there, Manfred goes on to mention all the horseshit proposals the owners have spewed forth in the past weeks and months as some sort of proof that the owners have been willing, or will be willing, to compromise. It’s all lies.
Manfred simply can’t make any kind of connection with anyone. Whatever Selig was, and most of it was bad and weird, he could at least communicate to fans that he loved baseball. He was still out to rob the players blind and keep more money for owners than they would ever need, but he at least could get across that he enjoyed watching the game on a sunny afternoon. Manfred can’t even do that, and he supposedly governs the sport.
The owners and Manfred chose this, and let’s hope the players make them learn that thing about lying in the bed you made.