By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub
Maybe you are a baseball fan and maybe you are not, but the game’s latest scandal undoubtedly caught your attention this week as what was once America’s national pastime continued to erode. From the commissioner’s office down through the managers’ offices, baseball is eating itself from the inside because it has a major leadership crisis.
Which is a nice way of saying there is none.
As Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci recently listed, baseball has had had more than its share of ethical scandals during the reign of current commissioner Rob Manfred, who is merely at the top of crumbling pyramid. In the last four years, baseball has disciplined San Diego general manager A.J. Preller (suspension) for falsifying the team’s medical records, former St. Louis Cardinals scouting director Chris Correa (now in prison) for hacking into the Houston Astros database and former Atlanta Braves general manager John Coppolella (lifetime ban) for international signing violations. Now baseball is in the midst of a sign-stealing scandal that already had resulted in the firings of three managers (A.J. Hinch, Alex Cora, Carlos Beltran), the questioning of two World Series champions (the 2017 Houston Astros and the 2018 Red Sox) and the dismissal of a general manager (Jeff Luhnow). And pending the result of an ongoing investigation into the Red Sox, more penalties are seemingly coming.
At this stage, if you have no faith that baseball can fix itself, who could possibly blame you? Baseball can’t even get cooperation on perhaps the biggest on-field issue the No. 1 facing the game – pace of play – with pitchers like David Price spitting in the face of the commissioner by scoffing at the notion of a pitch clock. Individually and collectively, baseball officials, executives and players answer to no one, which is precisely the kind of arrogance that leads to demise.
Think about it: the NFL, NBA and NHL all have instituted changes in recent years to shorten delays, making the games faster, more entertaining. Meanwhile baseball can’t even get the pitchers to throw the ball. If pitchers like Price and Justin Verlander are going to give Manfred the finger when he talks about a pitch clock, what chance does the commissioner possibly have of getting the positional players to stop stealing signs?
Baseball has grown so downright egotistical that those in the game truly believe they can do whatever they want.
If this all sounds like an indictment on Manfred, it isn’t. It’s an indictment on all of them, especially and including the owners, whose penalties are laughable. The Astros lost some draft picks and received a $5 million fine for their sign-stealing scheme, but owner Jim Crane personally escaped any real shaming. If baseball were really interested in getting the attention of its owners, the fine would be $50 million instead of $5 million, and Crane, too, would be suspended the way that longtime Yankees owner George Steinbrenner once was.
You want real change? Go for the head of the snake. If the owners lose money – and what else do they really care about? – then maybe they’ll act. Maybe they’ll hold their general managers more accountable, who will in turn hold their managers accountable, who will in turn hold their players accountable. Nobody will need to negotiate with the obstruction that is the players union because somebody’s ass will be on the line. Call it trickle-down economics.
But at the moment, at least, it feels like none of them really care about the greater good. Baseball’s on-field product absolutely sucks right now, and it doesn’t appear to be getting better. On the contrary, the games are getting insufferably long with greater delays between pitches and balls in play, less regard for fans and ethics. If you are a baseball fan, weeks like this past one are enough to make you wish the game would just go ahead and die because MLB seems to have a death wish, anyway.
And so, to the commissioner, owners, executives, manager and coaches and players, here’s the unfiltered truth: you’re too loose. You’ve been too loose, too soft and too careless for far too long. Your game sucks right now. Your attitudes suck worse. And you’ve lost the trust of those who used to like your sport.
Soon, if you’re not careful, you’re going to lose something else, too – and something that is far more meaningful to you.
You’re going to lose their money.