There’s been a whole lot of bad press for Major League Baseball this offseason. The Houston Astros stealing signs scandal has been the biggest one, but Major League Baseball’s plan to try and eliminate 40 affiliates from Minor League Baseball has been quite big in its own right. And on Sunday both of those things were discussed by Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred in Florida as he met with some members of the press. You can watch the nearly 30 minutes of the press conference below. Manfred doesn’t take the podium until the 13-minute mark.

To say that the press conference was a disaster would be an understatement. One of the first things out of Rob Manfred’s mouth was disingenuous at best, and an outright lie at worst, when he said this:

First of all, when we began the investigation after we became aware of the Houston situation, we started with an important and fundamental goal. And that goal was to make sure that we found the facts, completed the investigation, figured out what was going on and put ourselves in a position to be as transparent with the fans and other clubs as possible. And our desire to find the facts, to figure out what really went on drove a lot of the decisions we made in the investigative process. And you might look backwards and say I would have made a different decision. I will tell you this I think the worst possible outcome for this institution would have been if we conducted an investigation and came back and said you know we just couldn’t figure out what went on. People had a right to know what happened, and we did achieve that goal.

Transparent? The people had a right to know what happened and you achieved that goal? It wasn’t even 48 hours after the release of Major League Baseball’s report that the Wall Street Journal’s Jared Diamond got his hands on an email from Rob Manfred to Jeff Luhnow showing that there was clearly more going on, who knew what, within the original report. Eventually Diamond was able to ask Manfred directly about that. His response began with this:

You know, congratulations. You got a private letter that, you know, I sent to a club official. Nice reporting on your part.

And it was said in the most smug way possible. He was a liar who was caught lying and wasn’t happy that someone called him out on it. The entire thing was a mess. But there was a part in there about the possible contraction of teams in Minor League Baseball. Around the 35-minute mark of the video above, Peter King asked two questions – the first about the possible contraction and then the playoff format. How did Rob Manfred start out the answer? Buckle up:

If I was a wise guy I’d say one question per customer, but I’ll answer them both (followed by a chuckle from himself).

After a joking sort of threat, he did answer the question. And there are a few things to address within his answer, but let’s read what he said first:

First of all, I want to be clear about the proposal that was made to Minor League Baseball. The proposal that we made and every single conversation that we’ve had with Minor League Baseball about this topic included a plan so that every single community that currently has professional baseball would have some form of professional baseball. Minor League Baseball has chosen to mischaracterize the discussions in an effort to try and put pressure on them. Unfortunately from a process perspective, I think it has probably set the process back.

From the very beginning we made it very clear to Minor League Baseball that we had one fundamental goal we want to send our young players to facilities that are adequate to promote their development, and meet their basic, and I mean basic health and safety needs. We have a number of facilities out there where that’s not true. It’s not true because minor league owners have refused to invest in their facilities. And we are not going to continue to send players to those facilities. We’re going to have to find another way to keep baseball in those communities.

Manfred made a mistake when he said that the proposal would include professional baseball in the towns that would lose their Minor League Baseball affiliation. Baseball America’s JJ Cooper reached out to Major League Baseball about that specific comment and got this:

And that part is actually quite important. But we’ll get to why some of that is so important in a little bit. Let’s dive into the “goal” of Major League Baseball here. That is to promote the development and meet the basic health and safety needs of Minor League Baseball players. That’s a good goal to have. But now I have a lot of questions….

First, let’s start with the whole facilities not meeting the health and safety needs aspect. We can look at the Appalachian League as an example. The entire league is on the chopping block. There are ten teams in the league. Six teams in the league are owned by their Major League affiliates. A seventh team, the Elizabethton Twins, may or may not be owned by the Twins – information on that one is a bit sketchy. But in either scenario regarding Elizabethton, the city and the Twins teamed up to spend $2,300,000 on a new 6,000 square foot facility that will include new locker rooms, video room, dining room, and more. The Major League Twins franchise kicked in $800,000 of the money for that.

So, in a league that is trying to be eliminated for “substandard” facilities, the Major League Baseball teams themselves are directly responsible for the facilities, and a 7th team – the Twins, are spending $2,300,000 on a project to upgrade their facilities. Which brings us all back to the question of, why exactly are these teams being eliminated again? Or why aren’t some of the teams not upgrading the facilities in this league since they actually own them?

But let’s also jump to the part about keeping baseball in towns that may lose affiliations to Major League Baseball teams. Those plans have included things like wooden bat college summer league teams, or the “Dream League” for undrafted players who would basically be playing indy ball, with a sort-of-kind-of affiliation with Major League Baseball – though they haven’t really laid out how loose that would be, or how Major League Baseball would really support that at all. My question is this one: If the facilities are substandard and hazardous to the safety and health of Minor League Baseball players to the point that you aren’t “going to continue to send players there”, why is it ok to support leagues that would go to these same exact facilities? Are the college players more super-human and their health and safety isn’t at the same risk? What about the undrafted players in these “dream league” cities?

There just continues to be a very large disconnect between what Major League Baseball is saying about contracting 25% of non-complex level baseball teams in Minor League Baseball and what seems to be the reality of the situation. Last week Major League Baseball alerted all 30 teams that the minimum wage scale for players in the minors would be going up in the 2021 season. And that is a good start, though it’s still not nearly enough of a raise. The pay was one issue that has been continuously brought up by Major League Baseball, but it’s also one that was entirely on them since they are the payers of the salary of the players. Now if they can just figure out the rest of it while being honest.

18 Responses

  1. RojoBenjy

    “… while being honest.”

    Rob Manfred now has the credibility of Roger Goodell.

    I hope the writers and reporters and that were there excoriate him in their columns and on their shows so severely that he won’t be able to sit down until the All Star Break.

    • Norwood Nate

      Agreed that baseball and football both have big commissioner issues. I mean…these are the guys they put in charge? Like the NBA or not, the way that league has been run from Stern through Silver has been nothing short of incredible in comparison to the jokes running the other major sports.

  2. Scott C

    Personally I have lost all respect for Manfred. He has been disingenuous about the whole Astros cheating scandals, the only ones punished were three managers and one GM with a slap on the wrist to the Houston franchise. The players who actually cheated are laughing all the way to the bank while showing little contrition. The ridiculous plan to increase the playoffs, and then to try and rob these cities of their franchises. Somebody with power needs to step up and say “Enough is Enough!

    • Doug Gray

      And two of those managers were punished by their respective teams, NOT by MLB.

      Meanwhile, multiple people involved with the entire thing in the baseball operations department are still very much employed by the Astros front office and faced zero punishment.

      • Mike

        It’s MLB’s job to set the standard in responding to and addressing the scandal, both publicly, and privately. As near as I can tell, they haven’t done a d*&^()d thing that both makes an example of the Astros nor prevent a recurrence.

        Someone said Manfred is out of touch. The evidence to same is more than just compelling.

        A fish rots from the head and this one’s developing a foul stench.

    • icehole3

      I’m kind of disgusted with the Commish and the Astro players and their if you don’t know the facts shut up attitude. If they let the Astro’s slide then just open it all up for full blown cheating then.

  3. MK

    I will say that the teams in the college wood bat leagues are being operated in a professional manner. My communities team has a sixty game schedule . Games include pais admissions, mid inning entertainment; beer, food and merchandise sales, special fireworks give-a-ways; etc. They might not be giving the player a check but they are providing room and board, balls and bats and travel expenses. Not professional baseball in the literal sense but a professional operation non the less.

    • Doug Gray

      Which is great. But if the issue at hand is the facilities with regard to safety and health…… why is is safe and healthy for those guys?

  4. Billy

    I don’t want to defend Manfred here, but I am in the camp that at least recognizes the possibility that less is more when it comes to MILB. I think it is only natural that as teams get better about quantifying and evaluating talent, they’ll become more efficient about player development as well. Decreasing the number of teams seems completely reasonable to me in that regard.

    That said, I do think you make some good points – especially about the MLB teams investing in minor league teams that they own.

    One quibble I do have is that I can see how MLB might be willing to encourage play in lesser quality facilities for non-affiliated players. In my mind, MLB should want their facilities to be geared toward player development. On the other hand, facilities for non-affiliated players should be geared toward entertainment, i.e., fan development. I’m certainly not as close to this as you are, and I’m not an expert on the proposals or anything like that, but I see MLB wanting to distinguish between developing talent, which they want to have be a focused endeavor, and marketing the game, which should appeal to the masses.

    I’m not sure if this is worth the short-term PR hit, personally. I think throwing MLB support behind efforts to keep non-affiliated (and even amateur) ball in cities that are losing teams is mostly going to end up being wasted effort. But I do think that as teams become more efficient, it is only natural that they won’t need so many levels of minor league ball to achieve the development goals they have for their players. And I can envision that teams would prefer to be able to deploy whatever future high-dollar player development technology across their minor league system, and that becomes something that is both more affordable and easier to roll out when all the talent is focused on relatively fewer teams.

    In short, MLB wants to make money, and that probably does drive their decision-making. But these changes – regardless of how hamfisted their handling has been – are going to need to happen eventually anyway.

  5. KyWilson1

    The more Manfred speaks, the worse he makes it. You can tell he’s trying really hard to “say the right thing”, but it keeps being easily proven as a lie. He’s not operating in a grey area, he’f just flat out lying. The Astros should be stripped of that title, Altuve should lose his MVP. The minor league issue, he just continues to look like an out of touch mouth piece for the owners. It’s truly embarrassing, and it will drive people away from a dying game.

  6. RedsFaninNC

    Aside from anything Manfred says, couldn’t most of the potential cost savings being achieved by reducing teams be chalked as funds freed up to pay players who remain a lot more (more than is being proposed right now). I know he’s not saying that. But, if he were, I could really understand and support the elimination of teams in various leagues in that case.

  7. BK

    First, I will say Manfred didn’t do very well at the press conference. He seemed genuinely surprised at all of the attention on the Astros scandal; that by itself is a little surprising. To me, he seemed nervous. I think he was trying to inject humor with some of his comments, but actually came across as smug and snarky. Humor is not a good match for the seriousness of the questions. The press pool clearly had a lot of questions they seemingly wanted answered. In retrospect, MLB should have held a press conference sooner and the one associated with the start of spring training may have gone a little better.

    I think asserting Manfred is lying is going too far. First of all, parsing words with the intent to look for even the slightest inconsistencies tends to miss overarching themes. If you begin by believing anyone is going to lie before they speak, you will almost certainly find some support for your preconceived position. Manfred spoke carelessly at the press conference, but it’s a bit of a stretch to challenge his veracity on whether the “Dream Leagues” are professional leagues as we know few details about them at this point. Further, the WSJ report amplifies with greater detail the report that MLB put out. It really doesn’t contradict the report which stated,

    “The investigation also revealed that Luhnow neither devised nor actively directed the efforts of the replay review room staff to decode signs in 2017 or 2018,” Manfred wrote. “Although Luhnow denies having any awareness that his replay review room staff was decoding and transmitting signs, there is both documentary and testimonial evidence that indicates Luhnow had some knowledge of those efforts, but he did not give it much attention.”

    Busy executives go to lots of meetings and read hundreds of emails. Few read every word of long emails or recall details of each meeting. I think Manfred concluded that how much Luhnow actively participated was mute–he clearly had opportunities to stop “Codebreaker” and a responsibility to do so. In a better run organization, his assistants would have ensured he was aware and been empowered to stop cheating … that didn’t happen and it was clearly Luhnow’s responsibility.

    There are good reasons to question whether the punishment was appropriate. However, I’m not sure what additional insight the press wants that wasn’t included in the report. Granted, MLB essentially released an Executive Summary, but that statement is fairly thorough. Is there something specific that’s missing or are we all just left with an empty feeling that we were all duped into thinking the Astro were a model operation? The problem is likely not a lack of transparency, but the fact that there are few remedies to restore wronged parties. It’s a stain on the game that will linger for a while. There’s really no good way to restore the players, teams and fans that a cheating franchise impacted. This is not all Manfred’s fault.

    Back to the press conference … Manfred needs to be prepared for more hostile questions as MLB has some lingering structural problems. First, the 30 franchises enter each season with vastly disparate resources. You simply don’t see this problem in other major pro sports. Primarily the owners are responsible for this, but the players have some power to shape this through the CBA. Until the playing field is leveled, expect baseball to slowly decline in interest compared to other major pro leagues in America.

    Second, they’ve got a contract with MLBPA that rewards elite, older players at the expense of all others. This one is on the players to fix. Owners want a degree of certainty on costs and a reasonable return on investment for player development. Again, the dollars seem to flow more evenly in other professional sports compared to baseball. The service time controversy is a direct result of a contract that in some cases really doesn’t work well for either side.

    Third, until this year, I had no idea how dysfunctional the relationship between MiLB and MLB really is. Effectively, MLB has outsourced player development. The end result they have a bloated system that lacks accountability for bad franchises and sub-optimizes what should be a strong symbiotic relationship. Do you think the Miami Marlins benefitted by their AAA affiliate moving from New Orleans to Wichita, Kansas? Under the current arrangement, they have no say even if the move more than doubles travel time from their highest minor league affiliate to Miami. In fact, they are actually lucky they didn’t get stuck with a western time zone team like the Mets did a few years back. No one would set up the current system if given a clean start, today.

    Throw in the Astros and the forthcoming Red Sox scandals and expect to see whoever is leading MLB to get knocked around like a piñata when he speaks to the press. MLB is true paradox: a great, but exasperating game that is a joy and a chore to follow.

    • Billy

      You made a remark about owners wanting a “reasonable return on investment for player development.” It just occurred to me that, of the four major sports in the US, only hockey (which has nowhere near the money involved as baseball) and baseball have to invest in their own player development via minor leagues. I still don’t think it gives baseball owners a right to skimp on the salaries of the minor leaguers, but I can see where they may see how other sports owners have a means to acquire already developed talent without spending their own money, and it makes them wonder why they should have to pay for it.

      • BK

        Billy I agree with you and many others on the minor league salaries. MLB should want their athletes training year-round–like other sports do. As a kid, I remember the star of the local professional football team worked as a car salesman at one of the local dealerships. That would never happen today. Likewise, players need to be compensated so they can train in a manner fitting with the revenue MLB generates. As fans, we should demand it. The days of pro athletes having to moonlight in the offseason left other sports decades ago. MLB needs to catch up. That said, I understand teams reluctance to divert money from their current on-field products, particularly small market teams. That puts money as one of several friction points between MLB and MiLB. Even for profitable businesses, resources are finite.

  8. Rob

    Manfred definitely has a lot on the plate right now and unfortunately I don’t think he’s doing a very good job with any of it. FWIW, Elizabethton is owned by Boyd Sports who also owns the Greeneville Reds (as well as the Johnson City Cardinals and Tennessee Smokies). I have seen the facility there get better in the last year, but unlike Greeneville, who probably had the best or second best field in the Appy League last season.. the field is taken care of by the city so there is a little difference in how they’re operated than Greeneville. Hopefully the league can be saved, it is massive for this Tri Cities area and while there is no denying many of the facilities need improvements, it can also be said that the Reds have the best in the league and one of the best surfaces.