Feb 18, 2020 - Sports

MLB's Rob Manfred is latest villain in Astros' cheating scandal

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred's decision to grant Astros players immunity in exchange for confessions about their sign-stealing scheme has undermined his reputation — and he only made himself look worse on Sunday.

The interview: In a 45-minute conversation with ESPN, Manfred asserted that public shame was punishment enough for the Astros. He also called the World Series trophy "just a piece of metal" and said that taking a title away from Houston "seems like a futile act."

The reaction: Fans and the media were critical of the first comment, confused as to why it was up to them, not him, to impose some kind of lasting toll on the Astros. And Justin Turner laid into him for the "just a piece of metal" line:

"I don't know if the commissioner has ever won anything in his life. Maybe he hasn't. But the reason every guy's in this room, the reason every guy is working out all offseason ... is specifically for that trophy, which, by the way, is called the Commissioner's Trophy.
"So for him to devalue it the way he did yesterday just tells me how out of touch he is with the players in this game. At this point the only thing devaluing that trophy is that it says 'commissioner' on it."
Dodgers infielder Justin Turner

More player backlash:

  • Mike Trout: "They cheated ... I don't agree with the punishments, the players not getting anything ... Guys' careers have been affected ... I lost respect for some of those guys."
  • Kris Bryant: "I know everybody around the league is really upset [because] it's a disgrace to the game. ... I personally think it's worse than steroids. I really do."
  • Kenley Jansen: "Everybody in the world is laughing [at how MLB has handled this]. ... What are you gonna teach kids out there? You're not gonna teach anything."

The big picture: As I pointed out on Friday, MLB's problems extend far beyond Houston, with things like juiced balls and minor league cuts making Manfred the target of even more scorn. But his "just a piece of metal" comment, in particular, has taken the outrage in a new direction.

  • That lack of respect for winning, combined with the fact that he presides over an economic environment that encourages an alarming number of teams to trade their best players in the name of tax savings or even intentionally get worse, casts Manfred as more than just a spineless leader.
  • Now, he's a villain — just like the Astros.

Go deeper: Inside the Astros' front office's sign stealing operation

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