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:
Followed up with MLB which has offered a clarification of Manfred's statement. According to MLB, MLB's proposal will keep a form of organized baseball with MLB's support and involvement in all cities. The players may not be professional. https://t.co/3s3F7iQunZ
— JJ Cooper (@jjcoop36) February 16, 2020
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.