WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Rob Manfred’s day of public reckoning began around 6:30 a.m. in the West Palm Beach facility that houses the team his investigation damned.
Though, Manfred was on the opposite side from the Houston Astros on Sunday morning for a sitdown interview with ESPN, tucked into the small room Davey Martinez uses for daily press conferences and the eye doctor claims to dilate pupils. Manfred stated shortly after the sun came up the Astros’ attempt at a group apology was “not successful” then his day ended a three-hour drive away with him asking reporters to move onto topics other than the cheating scandal.
There are crass, alliterative phrases easily applied to what’s going on in Major League Baseball. Here, let’s call it a combination of PR fail from the league to the Astros to the players. They are all jostling for space inside the aflame dumpster, and Manfred is yet to get his arms fully around the situation.
Players remain irked it took this long for the league to do something. Privately, they talk about the multiple complaints filed in the past against the Astros -- unacted upon by the league in their view -- when discussing this current mess. The future of technology in the game is up in the air. Unfinished tattoos are being zoomed in on. Buzzers, whistles, banging. The chaos has spliced in so many directions, plugging all holes is impossible.
So, Manfred is charged with recoiling what he unleashed. The league’s investigation into the Astros may have been too late, it may have left some issues on the table, it can be chastised for granting immunity. But, it was the right thing to do. It’s just hard to see that through the player-on-player sniping and the Astros’ endless bungling of the situation despite hiring a crisis management team.
Which puts baseball in a chaotic state. Not long after Manfred departed the facility, Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki was trying to extract himself from any back-and-forth about the situation. Days of public insult volleying have pervaded the start of spring training. Some players, like Manfred, want to stifle the discourse.
“We’re kind of all trying to backtrack on what happened in the past,” Yan Gomes told NBC Sports Washington. “I think there are some sides that kind of don’t have the floor to make some comments. It’s kind of the world we live in. Everybody’s entitled to their own opinion. You guys (the media) have the floor to spread it around. Want to keep talking? You’re feeding the fire. Whatever it is, investigations have already been done. We should just move on. We’ve got to get ready for the 2020 season now. Bring this season on instead of keep going backwards.”
Manfred’s press conference on Sunday was, of course, focused on the Houston scandal. He asked to change the subject after seven minutes of questions.
“This has been really fun, but I’d like to move on to other topics at some point,” Manfred said.
He’s in a tenuous position. He jabbed a media member for obtaining a private letter he sent. He tried to steer the press conference with at times vague answers (he is a lawyer by education and works for the owners). He was asked to justify his processes, which prompts him to be defensive.
The challenge for him is similar to that of the Astros: any irritation from their end only further roils an already-festering situation. Houston learned this during its failed apology effort. When Manfred had gaps in his explanation (such as his answer about buzzers), speculation finds a home.
Which is why, despite his desire or that of any player, this situation is so far from done. Saturday night in West Palm Beach, Max Scherzer will be on the mound to face the Astros. What shouldn’t be a thing will be just that. Every stop Houston makes this season -- the first visit to New York, when it comes to Washington, the All-Star Game in Los Angeles should any players make it -- will be another chance for the cheating to be brought up. And, so far, no one quite seems to know how to talk about it.
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