This has been a tumultuous offseason for Major League Baseball. The trend of the top players going unsigned until February is thankfully gone, but in its place comes something vastly more serious: sign stealing and the repercussions for it.
Many players believe the Astros got off lightly with their scandal, and the sign stealing scandal which involved the Red Sox has yet to impose punishments, but all reports suggest that will be light as well (yet the Red Sox’s alleged actions pale in comparison to those of the Astros). However, some reports suggest that this is not limited to one team: it is rather an epidemic. Multiple sources have condemned the Yankees, Dodgers, and others as well as the Red Sox and Astros, including a live “slip-up” of Joe Girardi talking about how there was a system of relaying signs “from upstairs”, although it is unbeknownst as to which stop in his career he was discussing.
This includes former Red Sox and Yankees outfielder Chris Young, who, per himself, brought the Apple Watch system to Boston from New York, a scandal which resulted in fines. However, the Commissioner of the MLB, Rob Manfred, is turning into an embarrassment in multiple arenas. Manfred began this collapse with the complete and utter bungling of the Astros investigation. The investigation reportedly granted immunity to the Astros players in exchange for their testimony, in which the players mostly blamed former Red Sox manager Alex Cora, while according to a Wall Street Journal investigative report, they and General Manager Jeff Luhnow, failed to mention that the sign stealing system was set up by the front office rather than Alex Cora. Manfred later stated that he granted the players immunity due to “concerns that the MLBPA would not accept anything less”, when Tony Clark, a former Red Sox, Diamondbacks, and Yankees first baseman and current president of the MLBPA, directly refuted that claim in a statement released yesterday. This unravels Manfred’s credibility.
Manfred has also openly defended the Astros, even going so far as to calling the World Series Trophy (Commissioner’s Trophy, for those who don’t know) a piece of metal. That’s right: the trophy that every kid who played baseball dreamed of winning, labelled by the head honcho of baseball as a piece of metal, connotated the same way as one you find on the side of the road. The trophy that many players go their entire careers without even coming close to a sniff of it is, in the eyes of el jefe, a piece of metal. Manfred later apologized for these remarks, but, at the vehement opposition of many MLB players, will likely never be able to shake this incident.
On top of that, Manfred announced that any pitcher who throws at an Astros player with intention is likely to incur suspensions and/or fines, which will be more time and money lost than any Astros player is likely to receive. The bruise may even be the only mark left on any Astros player after this.
Additionally, Rob Manfred instituted multiple rule changes that begin starting this season. For instance, the three batter minimum for pitchers. This is an absolutely terrible rule. This essentially makes the situational lefty obsolete, ensuring that the jobs of pitchers like Oliver Perez of the Cleveland Indians, Jace Fry of the Chicago White Sox, Alex Claudio of the Milwaukee Brewers, Andrew Chafin of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Adam Kolarek of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the unsigned free agent Aaron Loup, formerly of the Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies forever altered if not completely decimated altogether. There are further effects on those who have these jobs in the minor leagues and even majors: the gameplay. For years, if a reliever came in and walked two batters right off the bat, a manager would pull him. Now, that pitcher MUST pitch to that third batter. If it is a 4-3 game in the bottom of the 8th inning of the world series with Mike Trout coming up, would you let that pitcher pitch to him? HELL no. Now, that pitcher is going to have to, and the results will be catastrophic.
Despite the bad ideas, the commissioner did also institute some beneficial rules. For instance, the 25 man roster was expanded to 26, and the 40 man September increase was decreased to 28. The extra man will be incredibly helpful for many teams, and may refrain some from having to place players on the IL with minor ailments. Additionally, the 28 player rosters will result in less clutter in the dugouts during September, but perhaps 30 is a better number for this.
Now, I intend to make a plea to the commissioner of baseball for the problems facing the MLB and its future.
First, regarding these cheating scandals. The MLB and especially its head office will likely suffer the PR consequences from its players during and after the fallout of its punishment, or lack thereof, and subsequent defense of the tainted Astros players. Not only will it suffer amongst young fans the MLB is hoping to attract, older fans who appreciate the sanctity of the game can and will leave its fandom in flocks. This results in seemingly the one thing the MLB cares about: ca$h, or a huge loss of it. This will also leave its players, coaches, executives, and owners irate. Obviously not those of the Astros, but many other teams and players have already publicly voiced their displeasure at the commissioner and will continue to do so. The outrage again, continued, after the Astros half-hearted apology and Houston owner Jim Crane’s assertion that the cheating did not impact the World Series victory. The commissioner’s office needs to fix this right now and duly punish the players that benefited from this scandal.
Secondly, regarding the changes to make the game more fast paced. Yes, I understand that some complain about baseball being too long. Yet, anyone who knows business knows that, to be successful, you have to appeal to the target market. The target market is composed of people who LOVE baseball as it is and do not want to see it unchanged. That is how they will continue to make money. Plus, these changes to make the game more fast paced may do the opposite: while it will take away the incessant pitching changes, which do, admittedly, prolong the game. However, they archaify the situational lefty, a position which has been incredibly important over these last few decades, and will impact the sanctity of the game.
Thirdly, the MLB is constantly trying to appeal to a younger market. They have largely been losing the young populus to football and basketball, as it currently sits as the third or even fourth most popular sport in the United States. The young market is watching TV in new and different ways, streaming being chief among them. While the MLB has made inroads into the streaming market, it has done so rather unsuccessfully. While it does have the MLB.tv package, that package blacks out local and national television streams. Many young people do not have the funds to justify spending exorbitant amounts of cash on different streaming services to simply watch their team. Again, if the MLB wants to gain more young fans, they don’t have to. They just have to make their games more accessible to those who can’t watch their teams due to blackout restrictions on streaming sites.
They don’t have to change the game to draw in younger fans. Younger fans are already there, and baseball isn’t boring. They just have to tweak it a little. Don’t change the dynamic of baseball, but alter the way it is played and the way it is watched. That will allow you to keep the fans you have and regain those you have lost. Oh, and punish the Astros players. That will make 29/30 of MLB fans happy.
Photo Credits: LM Otero, AP
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