The Deflategate/St. Louis Cardinals hacking scandal comps are fun, so let’s add another fun wrinkle to all of that. By, say, comparing Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt to Patriots owner Robert Kraft and talking about the challenges their clubs’ alleged perfidies present to Rob Manfred to Roger Goodell, respectively.
DeWitt, like Kraft, is one of the most influential owners in the game. And, like Kraft vis-a-via Goodell, he was one of Rob Manfred’s strongest supporters. Before Deflategate, Kraft had gone to great lengths to support Goodell in any number of scandals and scrapes. For his part, DeWitt led the committee which selected the new commissioner and no doubt helped beat back the challenge to Manfred’s candidacy from Tom Werner. A challenge which was backed by an equally strong owner in the White Sox’ Jerry Reinsdorf. He is also one of only two holdovers from Bud Selig’s former executive council to serve on Manfred’s. His power and insight are clearly respected.
And now, like Goodell had to do with Kraft, Manfred will have to investigate and possibly penalize the club owned by the guy who forms a big part of his base of power. Maybe not soon — he can wait out the federal investigation for a while — but eventually.
New commissioners, especially ones who follow legends, often have some sort of early test of their authority. Adam Silver had the Donald Sterling stuff. Goodell had Spygate — also involving Kraft’s club — and a number of personal conduct policy violations to deal with, all of which represented either new territory for the commissioner or new levels of punishment for old territory. Some tests like Silver’s are, politically speaking, pretty easy. Others are tougher.
Manfred’s, if the allegations are borne out, could be extraordinarily tough. Partially because of the unique and serious nature of the allegations (we’re really in uncharted waters here and people could go to jail over this). But also because, recently, there has been at least some indication that Manfred is still mindful and possibly unsure of his support among the owners.
When Josh Hamilton’s relapse and disciplinary proceedings were leaked in violation of Major League Baseball’s rules, Manfred did nothing to investigate the Angels, who were the clear suspects behind the leak. Indeed, they were the only credible suspects. Manfred said it was because it was hard to prove such things. Others suggested privately that it was because Moreno was one of Manfred’s opponents in the search for a commissioner and that antagonizing Moreno was nothing he was interested in doing a couple of months into his tenure.
Now, depending on how this all shakes out, Manfred may have to lay down the law against a team owned by one of baseball’s most powerful men. And one of the men to whom Manfred owes quite a bit. It’ll be a tough situation for him, one presumes. Especially because so many people inside the game will be watching it closely.