Rob Manfred
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Rob Manfred defends Astros disciplinary process in interview

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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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Today in Baseball History: The Yankees become The Yankees

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A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how the Cubs became the Cubs. In the course of that post I talked about how fluid and casual team nicknaming was in the early 20th century. Sometimes the press named a team, informally, and it stuck. Sometimes the team’s owner switched the name back and forth multiple times. It was sort of all over the place.

That was true, too, of baseball’s most storied and, let’s be honest, stuffy organization, the New York Yankees. Rather than proclaim, from on high, what their name — what their brand — would be, they got their name through the same haphazard way so many other teams did. But, on this date in 1913, they became the Yankees for good. Let’s talk about how they finally got there.

They didn’t start in New York, actually. They started in Baltimore, as the Orioles. But they weren’t even the original Baltimore Orioles. That ream was a National League club — led by John McGraw — that the National League contracted along with the Cleveland Spiders following the 1899 season. McGraw cooled his heels in St. Louis In 1900 but then, the following year, the upstart Western League, led by Ban Johnson, upgraded itself to self-proclaimed major league status and reformed as the American League. They put a team in Baltimore, called itself the Orioles and brought John McGraw back via the offering of an ownership stake.

Ban Johnson and McGraw didn’t get along too well and they were in pretty constant dispute. Johnson also didn’t think too much of Baltimore as an AL city and wanted to move the team to New York — Manhattan, specifically — to compete head-to-head with the New York Giants. McGraw, seeing the writing on the wall, but not wanting to let Johnson tell him where to go, left the Orioles in the middle of the 1902 season and joined the New York Giants as their manager and part-owner. Ever the pain-in-the butt, he gave his ownership interest in the Orioles to the Giants, which was a problem given that they were a member of the rival league which wanted to see the AL crushed and eliminated. Add that to the list of many AL-NL disagreements bubbling up at the time.

It was all solved, for the most part, after the 1902 season when the AL and NL entered into what amounted to a peace treaty. They stopped the widespread practice of teams poaching each other’s players and settled various ownership and territorial disputes like the one between the Giants and the Orioles. Finally, as a part of that agreement, the NL agreed to let Johnson to move the Orioles to New York for the 1903 season. What the Giants would not permit, however, is the new AL club to play in the Polo Grounds, so they had to find a new ballpark.

The New York club hastily constructed a new wooden park seating about 16,000 fans on the west side of Broadway between 165th and 168th streets. It was originally called American League Park and housed The New York Americans Baseball Club. The place would eventually be nicknamed Hilltop Park because of its relatively high elevation compared to the rest of Manhattan. The Americans eventually came to be called the Highlanders. For years most people believed that that was solely because they played on literal high land, but more recent research reveals that it was at least in part a play on the last name of the team’s president, Joe Gordon, combined with a reference to the famous British military unit, the Gordon Highlanders. Either way, the Highlanders they were throughout the oughts.

The Polo Grounds was devastated by a fire in 1911 and needed to be rebuilt. Despite their past disagreements, the Highlanders generously allowed the Giants to share their home at Hilltop Park while the Polo Grounds were being rebuilt. McGraw and his club remembered this kindness two years later when they allowed the Highlanders, who were looking for a new place to play given that Hilltop Park was already falling apart, to move into the rebuilt Polo Grounds.

By then the whole “Gordon Highlanders” thing was no longer as amusing as it had initially been. Between that and the team literally abandoning the high ground between 165th and 168th streets, the name “Highlanders” was not really apt. As noted above, teams often had a lot of nicknames, and the Highlander’s third name — apart from that and “Americans” — was the “Yankees.” With a new home in 1913, the club decided to formally adopt it. They played their first game as The New York Yankees on April 10, 1913. 107 years ago today. They lost to Walter Johnson and the Washington Senators (Americans? Nationals? It was confusing!) 2-1.

What’s a “Yankee” anyway?

In the 19th and early 20th century it referred broadly to residents of New England those descended from the original English settlers of the region. This is how Mark Twain used the word in his novel “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” During the Civil War it was used broadly to anyone from up north and, when not referring to the baseball team, is still used that way today. But where did the word actually come from?

Most people who think they have an idea about it are wrong. It’s often told that the word “Yankee” is an anglicization of any number of Native American words — like “eankke” or “y’an-gee” or some such — with the story often having it be an honorary term bestowed by Native American warriors on European settlers who fought bravely. Not surprisingly, linguists have debunked that self-serving notion. There is no evidence for it at all, actually.

The best accepted theory, among linguists and historians anyway, is that it’s of Dutch origin. Sometimes used as a term of derision toward Dutch colonists after England took possession of what is now New York or, possibly, a term of derision used by Dutch colonists in New Amsterdam toward English colonists in neighboring Connecticut. From Wikipedia:

Michael Quinion and Patrick Hanks argue that the term comes from the Dutch name Janke, a diminutive form of Jan (John) which would be Anglicized as “Yankee” due to the Dutch pronunciation of J as the English Y. Quinion and Hanks posit that it was “used as a nickname for a Dutch-speaking American in colonial times” and could have grown to include non-Dutch colonists, as well. Alternatively, the Dutch given names Jan and Kees have long been common, and the two are sometimes combined into a single name (e.g., Jan Kees de Jager). Its Anglicized spelling Yankee could, in this way, have been used to mock Dutch colonists. The chosen name Jan Kees may have been partly inspired by a dialectal rendition of Jan Kaas (“John Cheese”), the generic nickname that Southern Dutch used for Dutch people living in the North.

The Online Etymology Dictionary gives its origin as around 1683, when English colonists used it insultingly in reference to Dutch colonists (especially freebooters). Linguist Jan de Vries notes that there was mention of a pirate named Dutch Yanky in the 17th century. The Life and Adventures of Sir Launcelot Greaves (1760) contains the passage, “Haul forward thy chair again, take thy berth, and proceed with thy story in a direct course, without yawing like a Dutch yanky.” According to this theory, Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam started using the term against the English colonists of neighboring Connecticut.

That’s a lot to take in, but know that the name “Yankees” can, basically, be traced back to people calling each other names. Which, with all due respect to my Yankee fan friends, I must say is not the most inappropriate baseball team name out there.

 

Also today in baseball history:

 

1947: Jackie Robinson becomes the first African-American in the modern major leagues when the Dodgers purchase his contract from Montreal. He’ll make his big league debut five days later.

1962: Dodger Stadium opens in Chavez Ravine in Los Angeles. The Dodgers lose to the Reds 6-3.

1962: The Houston Colt .45s play the first major league game in Texas, beating the Chicago Cubs 11-2.  Of note:

1964: With the Mets having moved to Shea Stadium, demolition begins on the Polo Grounds to clear the way for a housing project.

1971: Veterans Stadium in Philly sees its first game ever played. The Phillies beat Montreal 4-1.

1973: Kansas City’s new Royals Stadium — now Kauffman Stadium — debuts as the Royals beat the Rangers 12-1.

1981:  In his first game for Chicago, Carlton Fisk hits a three-run home run in the eighth inning to lead the White Sox to a 5-3 victory over his his old team, the Red Sox, at Fenway Park.

1989: Ken Griffey, Jr. hits his first major league home run in Seattle’s 6-5 win over the White Sox.