Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred's bungled handling of the outrageous Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal is a major PR blackeye for baseball.
It was systematic cheating on a grand scale that helped the Astros win a World Series in 2017 and caused a public relations black eye for MLB.
The Astros’ manager and general manager were fired when the scandal hit the media, as were would-be New York Mets’ manager Carlos Beltran and Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora for their roles, but not a single player was punished… and who benefits more than the player when he knows what pitch is coming?
“Manfred’s dealing with the sign-stealing scandal obviously has done little to heal it,” wrote Steve Hummer in a scathing Feb. 17 opinion piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
He covered Manfred’s appearance over the weekend at the Atlanta Braves’ new spring training facility in North Port, FL. He wrote: “Every time they open their mouths, integrity suffers another hip pointer.”
Manfred is unwilling or unable to confront the Players Association over punishment for those Astros complicit in the scandal. It’s fair to ask, then, what is the role of the MLB commissioner if not to protect the game’s image by holding players, coaches and management accountable?
His impotence is reminiscent of how former commissioner Bud “Lite” Selig dragged his feet during baseball’s shameful steroid era when it was obvious to anyone paying attention that star players like Mark McGuire and Barry Bonds miraculously bulked up using illicit drugs and then produced outlandish numbers on the field.
“Additionally, (Manfred) would not then nor consider now stripping the Astros of their illicitly attained championship,” Hummer continued. “That would have been unprecedented. And he doesn’t do unprecedented.”
By avoiding the unprecedented, Manfred tells the rest of baseball, if you cheat the way the Astros cheated, make sure you don’t get caught or I’ll have to slap your wrist. In fact, during a news conference at the Braves’ camp, the commissioner actually portrayed the Astros players as the scandal’s real victims.
“If you look at the faces of those Houston players as they’ve been publicly addressing the issue, they have been hurt by this,” proclaimed Manfred. “And frankly, it’s rare for any offense that you have punishment that you will live with for the rest of your life.”
Tell that to “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, banished for life after the Black Sox betting scandal of 1919. Tell it to Pete Rose who holds the Major League hitting record but bet on some baseball games as a manager and remains in MLB purgatory to this day.
If Manfred won’t act, Houston’s opposing pitchers might just take the law into their own hands when Astros players step to the plate this season. “But should opponents seek any old-fashioned variety of justice, woe be to them,” Hummer concluded. “They will be the ones facing suspension, not the Astros.”
Kevin Foley owns KEF Media in Atlanta.