Know why Rob Manfred was chuckling through his press conference Tuesday while announcing that Opening Day and the first two series of Major League Baseball’s regular season would be canceled?
Because he’s smug, petty, and tone-deaf? Why, yes, I suppose that is all true. Good points by you.
But it’s mostly this: He did his job.
The commissioner is a bad actor by at least one definition, and he could not mask his glibness while delivering news that fell somewhere between saddening and enraging to baseball fans. The moment demanded somberness, but Manfred could not muster it, because there is no chance that in his mind somberness was appropriate for the occasion.
Manfred does not have the best interests of baseball in mind. That is not his job. His job is to have the best interests of the owners in mind, which in this case is the exact opposite of what is in the best interest of the players, fans, and everything else worth a damn about this beautiful, self-destructive sport.
Public service announcement: If you’re still both-sides-ing this and putting any blame on the players, you haven’t done the required reading for class. The owners, who are counting on ignorance here, adore you for it.
When Manfred stepped to the podium Tuesday, he did so with the second-best-case scenario for the owners in his pocket. The best-case scenario would have been to manipulate the players’ union into accepting the owners’ bull-rushed, lopsided, so-called last, best proposal.
The players wouldn’t be played for suckers, so Manfred and the owners for whom he is a proxy and a shield ended up with a decent alternative, from their greedy perspective: They don’t have to pay players or ballpark personnel in April, typically the lowest-revenue month of the season, while proceeding with the quest — the primary quest in all of this for some of the more hawkish owners — to break the union altogether.
Avoiding paying the common folk while simultaneously trying to step on the throat of a union? That’s a much more enjoyable sport to some of these owners than silly old boring baseball. It’s a wonder Manfred didn’t giddily practice his golf swing again while telling us about the news Tuesday.
Perhaps it’s too much to ask to expect a vast majority of fans to summon disgust at what the owners are trying to pull or to ask what sacrifice they have ever made for the betterment of the game. The players make a lot of money, at least once they escape the minor leagues and stick around for a few years, to play a game we all like to tell ourselves we’d play for free (ignoring the pressure, relentless work, and rare talent it requires).
Even if you remember that the joy in baseball comes entirely from this extraordinary generation of players — the Juan Sotos and Mookie Bettses and Vladimir Guerrero Jrs. — it’s hard to comprehend that they’re the ones getting the short end of the financial stick, even if cursory research confirms it.
The best hope after Manfred’s devil-may-care performance the other day is that most everyone will at least recognize a different truth: The commissioner is not a unifier, an independent arbiter, or someone who is supposed to be respected on both sides of the aisle. Per baseball’s contentious ownership-vs.-players structure, he’s not supposed to be one. He works for the owners and their best interests, not yours, mine, and especially not the players’.
The idea of an honorable, respected baseball mind — think Theo Epstein, or perhaps even Derek Jeter, though we all know Nomar Garciaparra would do the job better for at least the first six years — becoming commissioner is an ideal that doesn’t exist. That might be what we want the commissioner to be, but it’s not who it has been, really in forever.
In the 1970s, Bowie Kuhn claimed that free agency would ruin baseball. In the ‘80s, Peter Ueberroth oversaw collusion in which the likes of Tim Raines didn’t receive a reasonable free agent offer. In the ‘90s, Bud Selig canceled the World Series and looked the other way when comically jacked-and-pumped players helped restore interest.
Who else? A. Bartlett Giamatti wrote lyrically about the game, but he wasn’t exactly pro-labor; more than 2,500 technical and clerical workers went on strike when he was president of Yale in the early ‘80s. Fay Vincent seemed a fair and decent fellow, which is probably why the owners ran him out and installed Selig.
Manfred is not a baseball fan. That has been evident in every move he has made and so much that he has said, from whacking 42 minor league teams to abbreviating the draft to dismissing the World Series trophy as “a piece of metal” to smiling through a press conference when anyone who cares about the game was sad, angry, and perhaps beginning to ponder apathy.
He doesn’t care about between the lines, never has. He cares about the bottom line.
It’s no wonder he was smiling. He’ll make approximately $11 million this year whether there’s a season or not. And with no annoying games for a few weeks, there’s much more time to work on that golf swing.