The 2019-2020 Major League Baseball offseason has not just been one to forget but one to bury under the floorboards and pray that baseball fans forget about forever. Obviously, the cheating scandal surrounding the Houston Astros took center stage this winter, but that wasn’t the only storyline that brought embarrassment and shame to baseball.
Other garish headlines from this offseason include an appalling sexual assault case around Pittsburgh Pirates reliever Felipe Vazquez, the still-ongoing investigation into the Boston Red Sox and their illegal use of replay video rooms during the 2018 season, and the recent Aubrey Huff controversy regarding the San Francisco Giants deciding not to include him in their 2010 World Series reunion due to his sexist and racist social media posts.
Baseball, as well as its Commissioner, has rapidly lost credibility among hardcore fans and casual supporters alike. Many fans across the country regard the sport with a veritable shoulder shrug with opening day just a little over one month away. For Commissioner Rob Manfred, the sport of baseball is in the worst possible spot because of one word and one feeling that permeates throughout the nation: apathy.
Of course, there are plenty of fans that are angry and insulted by what the Astros did, and they’re even more upset by the lack of a severe punishment levied onto the individual players involved. However, the only thing worse for baseball than anger and outrage is apathy and disinterest, and that is a sentiment that is quickly spreading across the country.
Manfred’s decision to spare Astros players of any punishment through this entire ordeal was the genesis of this feeling among fans. Players can knowingly participate and benefit from an elaborate cheating scheme and walk away unscathed with no consequences? No wonder fans are ready to tune out.
Manfred didn’t help his case with those fans when he declared that he would not tolerate players throwing at Astros hitters in retaliation this season, as he believes the public shame that the players are now facing is punishment enough.
“I do take issue with is the notion that anybody in the Houston organization escaped without punishment. I think if you look at the faces of the Houston players as they’ve been out there publicly addressing this issue, they have been hurt by this,” said Manfred during a press conference held at the Braves’ spring training facility in North Port.
This statement was, as expected, met with a collective “Are you ****ing kidding me?” from baseball fans everywhere. After choosing not to punish the players for cheating, Manfred has now gone a step further and already started to preemptively protect them from the backlash they will face from their peers on the field.
“I’m depending on the league to try to put a stop to this seemingly premeditated retaliation that I’m hearing about,” Baker said Saturday morning. “And in most instances in life, you get kind of reprimanded when you have premeditated anything. I’m just hoping that the league puts a stop to this before somebody gets hurt.”
Despite Manfred’s and Baker’s pleas, many players throughout the league have been vocal about their anger towards the Astros and the players on that roster, and it’s unlikely that they will heed Manfred’s warning. Nick Markakis, for example, made it abundantly clear how he feels about the Astros earlier this week.
“It’s anger,” Markakis told reporters of his reaction to the Astros’ scandal and the ensuing response. “I feel like every single guy over there needs a beating. It’s wrong. They’re messing with people’s careers.”
Cody Bellinger, the reigning National League Most Valuable Player Award winner, and Astros shortstop Carlos Correa have also engaged in a war of words over the last week. Bellinger spoke openly about the Astros’ cheating, as well as the lack of severe punishment from Manfred.
“I thought Manfred’s punishment was weak, giving them immunity. I mean these guys were cheating for three years. I think what people don’t realize is Altuve stole an MVP from [Aaron] Judge in ’17. Everyone knows they stole the ring from us.”
Correa, speaking to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, responded to Bellinger and did not pull any punches.
“Cody, you don’t know the facts. Nobody wants to talk about this, but I’m going to talk about this. Jose Altuve was the one guy that didn’t use the trash can. …
“(Bellinger) said that they all lost respect for us. But that’s not how life works. …
“But like I said before, what doesn’t sit well with me is when you say false statements. If you don’t know the facts. If you’re not informed. This is America. You can say whatever you want. But Cody Bellinger‘s job is to look for information. Get informed. Know the facts, for sure, before he stands in front of cameras to talk about other players. You should get informed. You should be informed before you talk about other players. If you don’t know the facts, then you’ve got to shut the f–k up.”
The venom being spewed from player to player across the league is going to make it impossible for Manfred to accurately and fairly police the game heading into the 2020 season. That is why, at least for the time being, he should simply let the players police themselves.
Obviously, boundaries need to be set to prevent players from outright injuring each other, but Manfred cannot start handing out multiple-game suspensions to any pitcher who throws at an Astros hitter. Plunking an opposing batter for retaliation, like it or not, has been part of the game for decades. Much like fighting in the NHL, it is how players police the game on the field between each other.
The only thing that Rob Manfred has to do is prevent it from getting out of control, i.e. throwing at players’ heads, knees, etc. Apart from that, let the players handle it because right now the vitriol between the players in this league is the only thing that is pulling people towards the sport. Sure, the hardcore baseball fans will always be there, but that new audience and the younger generation that baseball desperately wants to attract? They want to see the villains get their comeuppance, not shielded by the commissioner.