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MLB commissioner Rob Manfred fights for his reputation during baseball’s attempted return

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred fights for his reputation during baseball’s attempted return

Monday night’s Commissioner Bowl on ESPN outlined the different stakes and situations for the leagues.

The NBA and NHL are lucky to be in a space with a regular season behind them. Their futures are complicated, but they can avoid the money fight. The NFL’s schedule -- and sudden embrace of social justice -- appears to have it in a good spot. That league also has time on its side, unlike the other three.

Major League Baseball? It’s a mess, as is the current reputation of its commissioner, Rob Manfred. Manfred is a self-assured lawyer steeped in baseball negotiations. He handled baseball’s first drug testing agreement with the MLBPA when he served as Executive Vice President of Economics and League Affairs almost 20 years ago. He went on to lead the league’s Biogenesis investigation in 2013. Manfred became commissioner the following year.

A quarter century ago, Manfred was outside counsel for the league. Major League Baseball was in the middle of a work stoppage. The postseason was flushed for the first time. No league champions, no World Series, baseball’s most harrowing stoppage in its history was under way in 1994-95 when he was advising the league how to handle things.

So, he’s seen all this. In all of its layers. What ugly stoppages look like. What no postseason does to the sport. How much integrity of a season and a league matter in times of strife.

Yet, baseball is in the muck and much of it is the commissioner’s doing.

His flip from “100 percent” guaranteeing a baseball season to taking a step back less than a week later is alarming. It signals he’s on unsure ground, that he didn’t see the union’s next move before it happened, that he is fearful of losing a grievance. He’s been outmaneuvered and is losing on two fronts: the baseball public is angry; his employers, the owners, are not pleased.

Which puts now and the future at his feet.

Manfred can impose the season as he sees fit. It appears to be one of the few line items both sides agree on. He has largely wound baseball into this boondoggle, now it’s his job to pull it out.

If he doesn’t, his job could be at stake. At a minimum, he will descend into Bettman Booing territory, where each public appearance is filled with verbal negatives. Trophy presentations, big events, wherever the commissioner is seen, “BOOOOO.”

RELATED: UNION FIRES BACK AT COMMISSIONER, ROUND AND ROUND THEY GO

Commissioner is a tricky and unforgiving spot. The NBA’s Adam Silver stands as the clear forerunner among the major four sports. Silver has masterfully satisfied all three audiences -- owners, players and fans -- as much as a commissioner can. No commissioner will be universally beloved. And, some are able to ride through periods of more prosperity than scandal -- as Silver is now -- instead of problem after problem.

But, those scenarios are also created by what a commissioner does. Is he immediately in tune with the social justice feeling of his league? Does he understand what’s better for everybody is better for everybody? Does he realize the players can’t play without the owners and the owners can’t make their long-term money without the players?

Manfred now says he wants to negotiate. The owners wasted all of May. They could have resolved this then. None of the parameters have moved. Only the calendar has ticked along.

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They wanted to wait. Why? The shallower the dates to play, the less games that could be played. They set this arbitrary and inflexible date of Sept. 27 for the season to end. As soon as they did that, they signalled their intention to shrink the season, shrink their losses and, accordingly, shrink the players’ pay. With a wall at one end, they just needed to keep pushing the wall at the other end closer. They could eventually throw their hands up, point at the timeline as the forcing hand, and try to exonerate their feet-dragging accordingly.

Instead, they are the clear losers in the public forum. The commissioner is contradicting himself in a matter of days. He’s riding a winter where he described the World Series trophy as a “piece of metal” and now is disparaging the players further. Does he love the game or his position? The players think they know the answer, adding a personal level of disdain to already problematic talks.

Half of June is over. Starting on July 4 is impossible. This has boiled down to the commissioner. Will he get something reasonable done? Or will this outcome, and his reputation as a steward of the game, sink further?

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Stephen Strasburg’s debut shows he still has a ways to go

Stephen Strasburg’s debut shows he still has a ways to go

WASHINGTON -- Elegant pitching took place in the top of the fourth inning Sunday when Anthony Santander led off the inning.

Stephen Strasburg threw him a 79-mph curveball for a called strike. An 87-mph changeup was a ball. Another changeup produced a swinging strike. A third consecutive changeup led to another swinging strike and an out.

Strasburg needed just 43 pitches to finish four innings in his season debut. The problem was he went to pitch the fifth -- and that his achy right hand still has mild issues.

He recorded one out, faded rapidly and was removed after allowing five sudden runs. The hook was too late. The Nationals fell behind, 5-0, and were on the verge of a weekend sweep at the hands of the Orioles and a troublesome 4-8 record before the game was suspended because of oddball circumstances with a malfunctioning tarp.

“You can look at the negative, or you can look at the positive,” Strasburg said. “I think there was a lot more positives. I'm just going to focus on that. Obviously command and execution wasn't very good there in the fifth. They just hit a bunch of singles and found the right spots. So they made me pay for it.”

Strasburg’s start came two weeks after he was supposed to be on the game mound for the first time in 2020. A right wrist impingement caused a nerve problem in his right hand, which led to pain in his thumb. All of the issues with the hand subsided after time off and treatment. He threw a bullpen session Wednesday. Sunday, “Seven Nation Army” poured out of the stadium speakers for the first time this season.

The first four innings showed a pitcher with lowered velocity, but exceptional command. In essence, Strasburg looked like himself. Plenty of curveballs, changeups and outs. Of his 69 pitches, 37 were curveballs or changeups.

RELATED: NATS VS. ORIOLES SUSPENDED DUE TO EXCEPTION IN MLB RULE BOOK

Javy Guerra quickly worked to warm up when Strasburg faltered in the fifth inning. The first out of the inning came on a 101.1-mph line drive from Dwight Smith Jr. It was a harbinger.

Austin Hays hit a line drive to right field. Chance Sisco hit a line drive to right field. Davey Martinez and trainer Paul Lessard came up the dugout steps to head toward the mound because Strasburg shook his right hand. Strasburg waived them back to their spots, though there was an issue.

“To be honest, I felt it,” Strasburg said of his hand pain. “I don't know if it was necessarily like fatigue or just not having necessarily the stamina built up quite yet. But it's something where I don't think I'm doing any long-term harm on it. But it does have an impact on being able to feel the baseball and being able to commit to pitches. That's something I haven't quite figured out how to pitch through it yet, so I think the goal is to continue to get built up and get the pitch count up to where that won't be flaring up over the course of the start.”

He walked the next batter. Pitching coach Paul Menhart went to talk to him. This, presumably, is when Strasburg should have been removed from the game. He was left in.

Bryan Holaday singled. A run scored. Hanser Alberto doubled. Two runs scored. Santander singled. Two runs scored.

Guerre came in. Strasburg departed.

The good news is Strasburg finally made a start in 2020. And, Max Scherzer is expected to return to the mound on Tuesday in New York.

The bad news is 25 percent of Strasburg’s potential starts are over. Starting pitchers were only in line for 12 this year. He missed two, then failed in the fifth inning in what would have been his third start. That gives him nine to go -- if the season makes it to the end -- with a hand that isn’t quite right.

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Davey Martinez defends Nationals' grounds crew following tarp snafu

Davey Martinez defends Nationals' grounds crew following tarp snafu

Sunday's matchup between the Nationals and Orioles came to a halt in the sixth inning due to a brief rainstorm, but the game was delayed and eventually suspended after the grounds crew had multiple issues unraveling the tarp to cover the infield.

For much of the rainfall, the infield and pitcher's mound in Nationals Park were exposed. As the rain continued to fall, the dirt turned into slushy mud.

Despite the grounds crew's inability to properly cover the field, which ended up being the reason for the game's suspension, Nationals manager Davey Martinez refused to place blame on the crew.

"Feel bad for our grounds crew," Martinez said to reporters after the game was called off. "Personally, these guys, to me, are the best if not one of the best. Unfortunate that that happened."

RELATED: NATS-O'S WAS SUSPENDED, NOT CANCELED, DUE TO AN EXCEPTION IN MLB'S RULE BOOK

The whole situation was a perfect metaphor for 2020 as a whole, a year of chaos and unexpected twists and turns, mostly in a negative fashion.

While Sunday's game came to a finish prematurely, Martinez said all his team can do is keep moving forward and be ready to play the New York Mets on Monday at Citi Field.

"There’s going to be days when you don’t know what to expect. This is part of it," Martinez said. "So, we just got to keep moving on. At the end of the game, I told the guys, pack up, we’re going to New York. Get ready to play [Monday]. That’s all we can do."

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