A Candid Letter to Commissioner Rob Manfred

(Photo: LM Otero/Associated Press)

When Rob Manfred was elected as the Commissioner of Baseball beginning with the 2015 season, he took over the hefty reigns of Bud Selig, the mastermind of a significant chunk of the MLB structure we know of today—interleague play, intradivisional scheduling, divisions, wild card teams, etc. Manfred beat out Red Sox chairman Tom Werner and became the winner of baseball's first contested commissioner election since 1968.

Manfred has been part of a period in baseball that has posed opportunities for positive change within our league and forward progress in popularizing our sport. With the growth of media and prevalence of sport in our roller-coaster society, America’s favorite pastime could serve as a gateway to make a serious impact on the world. In other sports, players set an example for future generations and serve as pillars for the cities they play in. In baseball, a sport with global diversity that is still on the rise, the potential for outreach is never-ending. There’s much to be done and Rob Manfred has had plenty of opportunities to send a message on behalf of our community.

What has happened instead is just the opposite. Instead of dealing with current issues, Manfred has created new ones. Instead of promoting our game, Manfred has made a mockery of it. Instead of giving the audience what they want, Manfred has snatched it away. And everything that I have mentioned has been highlighted and thrown at our faces in this ridiculous dumpster of an offseason. From the controversy of the Houston Astros to the changes to the game itself (see below), the last few months has been a train wreck from every angle. So Commissioner Manfred—this one is for you. No, not the people you throw responsibilities at or the people you transfer blame to when you look bad. Directly at you.

Dear Commissioner Manfred:

I am an ordinary fan of baseball. I also cover the Red Sox. I don’t have any power when it comes to impacting the sport I love and wait for from November to February. I don’t have a role with Major League Baseball. I just talk about it and sometimes I get vocal when rooting for or against players or teams. Yet, somehow you have made me feel like I’m losing authority in this game every day. You have made me question where this game is headed so many times, it has gotten unhealthy. It’s sad if you look at it from my perspective, but you probably won’t because the record shows literally no evidence that you would care enough to do so.

In a world where Roger Goodell is a commissioner, he is not even the biggest clown amongst major sports league executives. Congratulations, Rob. You’re a bigger joke than the guy that was booed at his own championship game. Let’s not even start at the beginning because I probably won’t make it to the end. Instead, let’s recall some of your biggest recent so-called contributions to this beautiful game.

Making ballparks safer

While fan safety has been a concern for attendees of major league games for several years, it has been an increasing cause for concern over the last decade. After an investigation reported over 100 injuries per year of fans at big league games, it took Rob Manfred until 2020 and several endangered lives later to wake up and do something about it. While all major league stadiums and some minor league stadiums had some form of extended netting in 2020, there is still room for improvement. But this is an example of change that can easily be made. Safety makes the game better for fans of all demographics and makes attending games more attractive to everybody.

Paying the minor league players 

Yet another example of change that you demonstrated was easy to make but took an eternity, in 2021, minor league wages will go up, as reported by Jeff Passan. We all agree—this is a step in the right direction. Great, so it took you half a decade. Clearly, you were busy.

But let’s take a look at what you were doing in your first few years as commissioner instead of fixing such a glaring problem.

Pace of play

Original Article

In 2017, MLB instated the riddance of the act of the intentional walk, where managers could put a man on base without having his pitcher toss 4 intentional balls. The motivation? To speed up the game. Here’s a direct quote from 2018 on the subject of pace of play:
"Pace of game is a fan issue," Manfred said Tuesday at Cactus League media day. "Our research tells us that it's a fan issue. Our broadcast partners tell us it's a fan issue. Independent research that our broadcast partners do confirm the fact that it is a fan issue. Because it's a fan issue at the end of the day, I hope it's an issue we'll be able to find common ground with all the constituents in the game moving forward because it is, after all, the fans that make the engine known as Major League Baseball run. They are our most important constituency."

The removal of the true intentional walk is just the beginning of a series of inane decisions all working towards trying to cut time out of the average major league game. Over the course of the last few years, MLB has piloted further clauses to shorten the timespan of a game.

1) “Enforcing” of a rule that forces a batter to stay in the batters box, God forbid they might want to play the game like a human being rather than a robot. The best part? Most umpires don’t even enforce it. And when they do, it looks pathetic.

2) Mandating a mound visit limit to each game at 6 total in regulation, which really only makes a big time difference if you are Gary Sanchez and want a break from bending your knees every 2 pitches. Meanwhile, with all the sign paranoia going on (for good reason), catchers and pitchers have to find innovative ways to stay on the same page and are too scared to check the signs for their own safety because, oh lord, it’s being counted as a mound visit.

3) New in 2020: All pitchers must face at least 3 batters or complete the half-inning; a.k.a. no 1-batter lefty-specialists. So are we going to just move on and act like this doesn’t change the way a manager manages an entire baseball game? Are we going to pretend like this doesn’t change how lineups and bullpens are constructed? I’m all for strategic change but all this just to shorten a game by about 1 pitching change? Get out, some of us like seeing 4 pitchers pitch in an inning. We don’t know yet how impactful this new rule will be, but we know it changes the game for players and managers.

So all these changes just to make the game much shorter—at least they worked, right? A look at the average 9-inning time per game over the course of the last four seasons: 3:00, 3:05, 3:00, 3:05.

Wait. What? Game-changing rules like eliminating catastrophes on intentional walks and not letting catchers visit the mound with more changes to come just to maybe shorten a baseball game by 5-10 minutes. And that’s what’s going to fix baseball? I would say good one, but I’m disgusted. Rob, do you actually think about the impact this stuff has on... you know, the players, fans, and executives you represent or do you just say things and do things to try to look cool to the owners that voted for you? You know what would help promote the game to fans across the globe? Based on your actions, you clearly think it is allowing people to go to bed at 11:30 instead of 11:40. How about helping market the game and the human beings who play the game and make it great?


In a sport that already sees a lack of coverage compared to some other American sports, perhaps you’d consider it part of your job description to maybe work on marketing the players. Don’t get me wrong, the international games (e.g. London Series) are a good place to start. But maybe blaming your lack of execution on your best player is not the best idea? You literally threw Mike Trout, the best thing that has happened to baseball in the last decade, under the bus for not doing a better job at something that is the commissioner’s job. In fact, I won’t even say more. Let our representative amongst the players talk the talk for you.

Listen to Trevor Bauer. Listen to the players that stand in unison with him. Listen to us fans. Let the young fans see the game. Let the players play. Let the players express themselves. That’s how you work on a brand. Take notes from the NBA, the league where literally everything a player does is international news. Baseball has so much opportunity. It’s getting ridiculous. Wake. Up. And speaking of video and access to footage...

Sign-stealing investigations

Look, I’m not going to make this about the Astros. They are cheating trash cans (haha get it?) and a disgrace to our sport. They tried to defend their actions via the worst presser in recent sports memory. Their ability to deal with the allegations is amateur. But this is not just about the reports on their 2017 trash cans. This is about everything you have done to deal with this situation.

First, you "don’t find evidence" of other forms of cheating by an established cheating team after 2017, despite clear signs of wearable devices on online media—ah yes, the same online media that you shut down, the same online media that you want to restrict for copyright and money. Poetic.

Then, writers throw in the 2018 Red Sox into the allegations and you investigate them but not any other teams that also showed signs of breaking your game. I may have been born at night, but I wasn’t born last night. I’m not letting you just ignore the statement by Chris Young:

So you choose to investigate only the champion Red Sox because you’re lazy and don’t want to investigate the teams that don’t have any championships to take away. Great, now do the investigation properly. WHERE ARE THE RESULTS? Every week, you delay the results by another week. If I wanted to be put on hold over and over again for the rest of my life, I’d call tech support at Apple. You represent a professional sports league with integrity and future on the line. DO YOUR JOB. Stop fishing for vague half-hearted copout responses.

Of course you won’t. You’re soft.

Meanwhile, at least you can deal with the Astros' violations correctly. We’re just getting started. Rob, read what you said at the afternoon press conference yesterday about your decision to penalize the Astros organization executives but not the players:
"The idea of an asterisk or asking for a piece of metal back seems like a futile act. People will always know that something was different about the 2017 season, and whether we made that decision right or wrong, we undertook a thorough investigation, and had the intestinal fortitude to share the results of that investigation, even when those results were not very pretty."

What the actual holy living crap. If you just read that with a straight face and didn’t get irked by reading it yourself, you need to visit a hospital. Thousands of players and millions of fans across the world work their entire lives and devote their blood and sweat to this game, the culmination of which being something we call the WORLD Series. Some hall of famers have gone their entire lives without ever being part of a World Series, let alone winning one. You just called the most important aspect of your baseball game, the ultimate goal in the sport you represent, a piece of metal. You just diminished the thing that everybody in your league works towards a piece of metal. You basically just told all the kids that work hard in Little League and the younger generation perfecting their craft through high school, college, and the pros: "hey, it really doesn’t matter if you cheat because the worst that can happen is you cheat well enough to earn a piece of metal and then people frown upon it."

It doesn’t even end there. You hold up your decision to not punish the players, who were the actual mafia in the trash can opera. But you backtrack. You tell opposing teams that after all these years of retaliation via hit by pitch, that the poor Astros are going to be the reason pitchers can’t send a message anymore by a little hard one to the hip?

This is bad for baseball. You are bad for baseball. Live up to your $11 million salary. In the words of a 2018 Chris Sale: "Pick it up. It’s getting embarrassing." Do better or step down. Listen to the people that are responsible for your paycheck, not just the people writing on the checkbook. Reach out to Trevor Bauer and ask him how to fix the real issues. Reach out to us. You know how to find us.

Follow the author at @AhaanRungta and read more here.