Rob Manfred defends Astros disciplinary process in interview

Rob Manfred
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ESPN posted a 45-minute interview with Commissioner Rob Manfred about the fallout from the Astros investigation and subsequent outcry. Here’s the full video. It’s worth watching.

This is the first of two major media hits for Manfred today, who will give a press conference at 4:30 EST. The interview here ranges far and wide. It predominantly focuses on Astros-related stuff, but he also touches on stuff like upcoming rules changes and the controversy with minor league contraction.

First and foremost, Manfred at least knows how to sell what he’s selling, even if some of it doesn’t quite make sense. A good portion of the interview is about the decision to not punish the players and give them immunity in exchange for their testimony. Manfred claims that he wouldn’t have been able to get the information he needed without offering immunity. He also claims that he would have had to deal with all sorts of grievances from the MLBPA had he attempted to suspend players for their participation in the scheme, given that former Houston GM Jeff Lunhow didn’t pass on a directive from the league to stop using video footage during games to decipher signs, and the players were therefore unaware of the league’s warnings. Here’s a full quote from that.

“The memorandum went to the general manager, and then nothing was done from the GM down. So we knew if we had disciplined the players, in all likelihood we were going to have grievances and grievances that we were going to lose on the basis that we never properly informed them of the rules. So given those two things, number one, I knew where – or I’m certain where the responsibilities should lay in the first instance, and given the fact we didn’t think we could make discipline stick with the players, we made the decision we made. Having said that, I understand the reaction. The players, some of them in a more articulate way than others, have said, admitted they did the wrong thing. And I understand that people want to see them punished for that, and in a perfect world, they would have been punished.”

Huh?

I’ll give Manfred that it’s possible that the players may not have adequately cooperated otherwise, but the idea that the players were completely unaware of the league directive is laughable. That directive came down in the wake of the wrist-slapping punishment the Yankees and Red Sox got for the Apple Watch incident. Those instructions went out to all thirty teams and were highly publicized in the media. We’re meant to believe that not a single Astros player heard a peep about it because Lunhow failed to walk down to the clubhouse and tell the players about it? It’s the sort of technicality that can provide headaches for these sorts of proceedings, but let’s be honest. It beggars belief that nobody knew about this.

And in terms of the grievances, would it really have been impossible to reason with the MLBPA? Did they not foresee that not punishing the players would encourage the beanballs that are going to start flying soon? The players are furious about a lack of punishment, and it’s hard to imagine that the union wouldn’t have been at least a little receptive to talks about this.

Manfred also addresses his decision to not discipline Astros owner Jim Crane. He argues that Crane did enough to escape explicit personal punishment by instructing Lunhow to make sure the Astros were operating within the rules, but also that the $5 million fine, loss of draft picks and public embarrassment are punishment in their own ways.

We’ll agree to disagree there. Manfred says that the Astros players’ and Crane aren’t exactly waltzing into camp scot-free because of the public focus on them right now, but at the end of the day, they still get to play baseball and Crane still gets to get fabulously wealthy off his team. I think both the players and Crane would gladly trade this for a championship and the wealth generated from it. Having to answer some uncomfortable questions and being vilified because you got caught in one of the worst cheating scandals of the sport aren’t punishments. That’s just part of reaping what you sowed. At least Manfred acknowledged that the press conference the other day was a mess.

Other noteworthy Houston-related tidbits here include a continued insistence that the investigation turned up no evidence of buzzers being used, and some thinly-veiled annoyance from Manfred at players like Cody Bellinger and Trevor Bauer questioning his leadership. That’s part of the job, unfortunately, and it’s hard to argue from here that those players’ concerns are unfounded.

One other thing to touch on is Manfred’s answer about the minor league contraction proposal. Karl Ravech asks a good question about how Manfred can square wanting to contract teams with wanting to grow the game, and Manfred basically dodges it. He blames Minor League Baseball for misrepresenting what MLB actually wants to do, and then blames minor league owners for making players operate in inadequate and dangerous facilities. Ravech then moves on without following up.

Let’s be clear. If big league teams really cared about making sure their players were being developed in ideal facilities, they’d simply spend the money to make sure that happened. They could just buy their affiliates (as some teams are already doing) and take direct control of developmental facilities. Instead they’re pinching pennies and trying to save even more by cutting teams. It’s a joke.

Hopefully the commissioner’s second chance to give quotes today will better than this.

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