Baseball, you may have noticed, is spiraling out of control right now, with MLB’s foreign substance crackdown quickly blowing up in the league’s face. While all of us probably could have done without Sergio Romo dropping his pants, it took all of two days for Phillies manager Joe Girardi to exploit the new rules, pestering Nationals ace Max Scherzer by repeatedly asking umpires to check his glove, hat and even belt for illegal substances. Not only is the foreign substance crusade—though admirable in some sense—slowing games to a crawl, but it’s also an utter farce, turning America’s pastime into a glorified TSA line.
The foreign substance issue needed to be addressed—the balance had swung much too far in the direction of pitchers—but there has to be a better way. Making pitchers quit grip-enhancers cold turkey has already led to injuries with Tyler Glasnow and others arguing MLB should have waited until after the season to enact its new policies. Similarly, Gerrit Cole begged the league to “work with us,” implying the existence of a middle ground (presumably somewhere between Craig Kimbrel covering himself head-to-toe in Vaseline and frisking Jacob deGrom like he’s going through airport security at LaGuardia) that obviously has not been found yet. All of this begs the question—where is Rob Manfred?
With the sport going down in flames, now would be a pretty good time for baseball’s fearless commissioner to chime in. Manfred has popped up on the radar intermittently, lending his signature to league memos while also granting occasional interviews to the Wall Street Journal and other outlets. But would it surprise you to hear that Manfred hasn’t held an actual general availability with reporters since last FEBRUARY?
Lindsey Adler of The Athletic notes that players and managers chat with reporters on a daily basis. And while that’s probably not realistic of Manfred, who, one would suspect, is being pulled in many different directions, 16 months is an awful long time to duck the media. Just think of all that has happened since then—a pandemic-altered 2020 season, batting averages going down the tubes, the remnants of an explosive sign-stealing scandal (many would argue the Astros got off light), dwindling viewership among millennials, the shameful treatment of minor-league players and a pending labor dispute that will almost certainly result in a work stoppage this winter (the CBA expires December 1st). It seems Manfred, who has cracked under pressure before (just watch his tense exchange with Dan Le Batard, who grilled the commish on the Marlins’ new ownership group led by Derek Jeter), doesn’t want to answer the tough questions facing baseball today. That’s fine, but if he won’t, who will?
Managers and players are held accountable for their performance after games, meeting nightly with the media to discuss what worked and, more importantly, what didn’t. Shouldn’t Manfred be held to that same standard? Manfred should be applauded for what he did in April, moving the All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver in response to Georgia’s unconstitutional (not to mention, overtly racist) voter suppression bill. But the sport needs him just as much now as it did then.
Manfred will eventually have to come out of hiding, and when he does, he’ll have plenty to answer for.