Rob Manfred: The Worst Sports Commissioner of the Past Half Century and Maybe Ever

Rob Manfred is Secretariat.

Let me clarify that statement – In a horse race to find the worst commissioner in sports, Manfred is the only one in the camera’s view as the race approaches the finish line.

And to be honest, that’s saying something considering Roger Goodell is continually making major missteps as the head of the NFL.

It’s really saying something because, as the resident hockey aficionado, I’ve personally laid into Gary Bettman as a poor NHL leader. Now, he’s the second-best commissioner behind the NBA’s Adam Silver.

I guess 2020 really has flipped us into an alternate universe.

Anyway, back to Manfred. Because not only is he the worst commissioner in pro sports today, but he’s now become the worst commissioner in pro sports in my lifetime – and who knows, possibly ever.

Worse than Fay Vincent. Worse than Bowie Kuhn. Worse than Larry O’Brien, John Ziegler (whose official title was NHL President) and Peter Uberoth.

The worst in my 46 years.

I didn’t think it was possible for someone who runs a sports league to eff up as often or as frequently as Manfred has since he became commissioner in 2015.

But the guy keeps one-upping himself.

The latest was yesterday’s suspension of Los Angeles Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly.

Kelly was slapped with an eight-game ban for throwing a ball behind noted Astros cheater Alex Bregman.

I identify Bregman that way because herein lies the rub:

Bregman, and his other Astros teammates who illegitimately won the World Series, were never suspended for a complex sign-stealing scandal that took place throughout the entire 2017 season.

The Astros beat the Dodgers in that World Series and many Dodgers players – and players from other teams around baseball – were rightfully pissed off at the Astros for doing what they did, letting it be known back in February when Spring Training opened:

The Astros faced a firestorm. Fans were going to mock them relentlessly. Opposing pitchers were going to throw at them. They might be the only people in the world who were happy that the global pandemic came when it did.

But the Astros brought this on themselves. They deserve it. Every bit of it. Honestly, I’m a little surprised that at least one batter per game isn’t getting beaned. Baseball’s gone a little soft for my liking.

It got worse with Kelly’s suspension. Eight games in a 60-game season. That’s the equivalent of a 22-game suspension in a regular 162-game season.

And the kicker is, he didn’t even hit Bregman.

I mean he likely tried to – he threw a 3-0 fastball behind him. Pitchers, no matter how wild they usually are, don’t usually miss that badly unless it’s on purpose.

But, he didn’t hit him.

He threw a couple of pitches in on known cheater Yuli Gurriel before walking him, and also to known cheater Carlos Correa, before striking him out.

And, in what was one of the best parts of Kelly’s virtuoso performance, he taunted the cheatin’ Correa with a “nice swing, bitch” and then made a pouty face that will live in the meme Hall of Fame forever:

The Astros didn’t like this “unprofessional” behavior. Literally, that’s what Astros pitcher Lance McCullers called it. “Unprofessional.” Seriously. Anyone on the Astros who was tied to that 2017 team has no right to call anything any other player does unprofessional.

Hell, they couldn’t even call Reggie Jackson pulling a gun out from under second base and attempting to assassinate Queen Elizabeth in Naked Gun unprofessional:

Still, here were those same Astros, running out of the dugout ready to brawl, flaunting their machismo, and they didn’t even need a bang on a trash can or a buzzer under their shirt to go off and tell them to run out there and protect their cheater teammate.

The Dodgers emerged from their dugout too – ready to push and shove in a non-socially distanced manner.

The end result was Manfred punishing Kelly ridiculously, suspending his manager Dave Roberts for a game, and fining Houston manager Dusty Baker for letting his team leave the dugout.

He has the audacity as a commissioner to suspend a pitcher for not hitting an opposing player for an absurdly long period of time relative to the length of the season, after he didn’t have the balls to even suspend one player involved in an elaborate cheating scheme that tarnished an entire season and the outcome of the World Series.

Imagine being the Dodgers, or a fan of their team. Not having the Astros suspended back in February was a punch to the gut. Now, having your pitcher suspended for 13 percent of the season for not hitting the Astros players is a blatant follow up kick to the groin.

But what it shows is just how small-minded Manfred is. He knows he completely blew the Astros thing. The backlash was considerable. He was tarred and feathered all across the baseball universe for his kid gloves approach to the Astros.

Now, because he knew teams would seek their own form of vigilante justice, he’s going to over-penalize a player in hopes that this is a deterrent for future actions against the poor, publicly browbeaten Astros.

It’s a pathetic move by a pathetic leader. As Crossed Up fan Tom Fogel said to me last night, “It’s like when Jay Leno came out and said ‘Don’t blame Conan O’Brien.’ Well, nobody was doing that anyway and Leno was just trying to make himself look better when he was clearly at fault.”

Remember these things about Manfred:

  • This is the guy who called the World Series trophy a “piece of metal.”
  • This is the same guy who basically admitted to not negotiating in good faith with the Players’ union when he said the season was never going to be more than 60 games anyway, showing that all those alleged efforts back in May and June were just window dressing to force-feeding America a pre-determined plan to bring back the sport.
  • This is the same guy who is overseeing a league that allegedly had protocols in place for playing amidst the COVID-19 pandemic but the debacle of the Marlins wave of positive tests shows that the league had no plan in place whatsoever and that they are making it all up as they go along.
  • This is the same guy who let the season restart without one team having a home to play in (Toronto Blue Jays), having a vote on the expansion of the playoffs not come down until Opening Day, and who eschewed the concept of having a baseball bubble to operate in that is proving successful early in both the NBA and NHL where regular testing is revealing no COVID-19 cases while the MLB has an entire team that was decimated with them.
  • This is the same guy who should have postponed last Sunday’s game between the Marlins and the Phillies once it was known that four players on the Marlins had tested positive, but instead whistled past the graveyard and put more players at risk of infection, and now has a total scheduling nightmare to resolve because of his inaction.
  • This is the same guy who went on MLB Network to talk about the Marlins outbreak and who sure sounded like a guy who had no clue what to say or what the next steps would be.
  • This is the same guy who can’t figure out what actually ails his sport and instead has openly supported pace of play changes that have done nothing to improve the sport, but rather make things worse.
  • This is the same guy who thought it was great to implement a mandatory minimum number of batters for relievers to face, or to intentionally put runners on base in extra innings to speed up a result.
  • This is the guy who, before he was commissioner, so poorly managed the leagues response to PED’s that their use in the game made a mockery of the league’s procedures to keep them out of the sport.

Don’t believe me, watch the great documentary Screwball. It’s available on Netflix. Definitely worth your time.

Baseball is a great sport. I know the younger generation may not agree now, but you will one day. It’s a sport that deserves a leader who knows the game, understands the players and knows how to work with both the owners and players to better build their brand and knows how to market the sport to the public.

Oh, and baseball needs a leader who actually likes the sport.

That person is not Rob Manfred. Not by a nose, a furlong, or even 30 lengths. He needs to go. Now.

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