It is a "disastrous outcome," to use MLB commissioner Rob Manfred's own words, that there are regular season games canceled in the 2022 Major League Baseball season. Of course, you wouldn't have known it to see him smiling and laughing through some of his press conference on Tuesday, announcing the news after negotiations surrounding a new collective bargaining agreement fizzled out.
This wasn't fueled by a worldwide pandemic, either, or anything else completely out of MLB's control. It's a cocktail of greed laced with Manfred's incompetence. The laughter was symbolic of someone unable, unwilling or some combination thereof to solve the problem at hand. He had plenty of time to prepare for this, and yet every step of the way, Manfred has seemed ill-prepared to deal with whatever is thrown at him.
Let's start illustrating with a personal anecdote. It was 2019 Opening Day in Cincinnati. Before the Reds hosted the Pirates, Manfred had a press conference. He had a bit of an opening statement, and talked about the annual parade held for the great fans in the city of the first professional team. Then he said -- sort of tongue-in-cheek, though given everything we've seen from Manfred, I think it's pretty clear this was his earnest request -- it was OK to open things up for "some positive questions."
Mine wasn't positive.
I wondered how, at the time, a system that was paying Tyler Flowers more than eight times more than Ronald Acuña, Jr. was going to be fair for the younger players moving forward -- especially when Dallas Keuchel, who won the Cy Young in 2015 while making the league minimum, remained unsigned into the season in his first foray into free agency.
Manfred was visibly upset.
"The system in place is a principle tenant that the MLBPA has voted for since my first negotiation which was 1989 and they wanted a seniority-based system," he said. "That's what they bargained for and that's what they have. It's just not more complicated than that."
It seems a little more complicated than that now, doesn't it, Mr. Commissioner?
Manfred pointing 30 years in the rearview mirror while scoffing at my question pretty well sums up where we are now, doesn't it? No foresight. No concerns about something bubbling under the surface with the players (player salaries have decreased as a percentage of league revenue for four consecutive seasons, mind you). No thought that maybe during the course of 30 years and thousands of different players things could change. Nah, just an air of condescension that anyone would dare to question his years of experience and self-assured expertise.
Why could I see what was coming while the commissioner who makes $11 million a year couldn't?
He isn't solely to blame, to be clear, but Manfred's incompetence is now part of the equation in a problem affecting a large number of people. Whether it is hardcore fans who are the lifeblood of Major League Baseball by spending money on the product, stadium or team employees who depend on an MLB season to earn a living, minor leaguers who remain severely underpaid or a good number of major leaguers who aren't part of the inaccurate and pretty mindless "millionaires vs. billionaires" trope, plenty of people out there are at risk of being impacted negatively on some level with this ongoing lockout.
If my accusation that Manfred is ill-suited for this job stemmed simply from this labor dispute, it would be too hasty. I mean, don't get me wrong, we're in the midst of witnessing the most significant item on the checklist, but he's been a gaffe machine for years. Let's run through a few examples, while noting this is not an exhaustive list.
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Piece of Metal
Just over two years ago, Manfred called the World Series trophy a "piece of metal."
In and of itself, he isn't factually incorrect. The problem is he's supposed to be the boss of a sports organization where that piece of metal means an awful lot more than its physical make up. To the players who have been part of World Series-winning teams, it represents a lifetime of the proverbial blood, sweat and tears. It's all those days riding buses and playing for peanuts in the minor leagues. It is battling through injuries and other adversity. It is getting through a grueling 162-game season with one of the best records in baseball and then getting through the grind that is October and emerging as a champion. Hoisting that "piece of metal" is the pinnacle of their profession. Those who have never gotten there dream of it. Those who have, yearn to get back as soon as they can.
"In an effort to make a rhetorical point I referred to the World Series trophy in a disrespectful way," Manfred said a few days later. "It was a mistake to say what I said."
Give him credit for the accountability, but let's look under the hood here for a second. Why did Manfred try to "make a rhetorical point?" Because he's just not very good on his feet in those press conferences when he feels like the questions aren't to his liking. See above when I pushed him on pre-arbitration player salaries. He lets this stuff get to him.
And the piece of metal comment was regarding a really sore subject for him...
The sign-stealing scandals
Yes, the "piece of metal" comment came in light of people asking Manfred if the 2017 Astros (and maybe also 2018 Red Sox) should be stripped of their World Series championship(s) in light of sign-stealing scandals.
The whole thing was a mess for Major League Baseball and at the time, my colleague R.J. Anderson correctly pointed out the credibility problem for MLB and Manfred.
Perhaps the biggest black eye for Manfred on the matter? The league knew about the cheating going on and tried to stop it before the media found out and reported it. From my colleague Dayn Perry's sign-stealing timeline:
Prior to the  ALCS between the Red Sox and Astros, [special assistant Joe] Torre warns Astros manager A.J. Hinch, [Astros GM Jeff] Luhnow, [Red Sox manager Alex] Cora, and Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski that any activities in violation of MLB rules need to stop before details are leaked to the media. ESPN's Karl Ravech will report this in late February of 2020.
There's a lot more on this front we could place at Manfred's feet, but we're trying to be as brief as possible.
MLB Network fires Rosenthal
This is less about Ken Rosenthal -- though he's at the top of my industry and deservedly so -- and more about muzzling of opposition. It's laughable and embarrassing what happened here.
On June 16, 2020, Rosenthal wrote in The Athletic that Manfred could "ruin his legacy" if a deal wasn't struck with the players for a 2020 season. Go read it and see if the word "scathing" ever comes to mind. It's relatively tame as far as bashing sports commissioners goes. This, to me, appears to be the harshest part of Rosenthal's analysis:
The best commissioners offer statesmanlike presence and superior vision. Few ascribe those qualities to Manfred, and few would argue baseball is in a better place since he took over for Selig on Aug. 14, 2014. Rather than simply enjoy the fruits of the 2016 CBA, a lopsided victory for the owners, the clubs have gorged on them, alienating the players. And once again, they are valuing their own short-term interests over the long-term interests of the sport.
Rosenthal was then quietly "suspended" from being on air on MLB Network, not appearing again until Aug. 31. He was eventually let go this year (full story here).
A strong leader wouldn't even be bothered to consider caring about Rosenthal's column and certainly wouldn't cut ties with him from the league's network. In fact, I'd go as far as to say a strong leader would use this as motivation and look to prove the column wrong. One with great foresight would know the news of firing an employee over this would get to the public and look petty.
Instead, it's just a really bad look in a sea of bad looks.
'Below what you get in the stock market'
During Manfred's press conference last month during the lockout, he was asked if owning an MLB team is a good investment. Here's his answer:
"We actually hired an investment banker -- a really good one, actually -- to look at that very issue. If you look at a purchase price of franchises, the cash that's put in during the period of ownership and then what they sold for, historically, the return on those investments is below what you get in the stock market."
David Glass bought the Royals for $96 million in 2000. He sold them in 2019 for over $1 billion.
Jeffrey Loria bought the Marlins in 2002 for $158.5 million. He sold them in 2017 for $1.2 billion.
If Loria were to have put his original $158.5 million into an S&P 500 index fund, his gains from 2002 to 2017 would have been $530.5 million, or a 234.7%, before assessing tax on his long-term capital gain.
I have no doubt that there are complications, but it was just an incredibly weird and unnecessary thing for Manfred to say.
You don't need me to tell you this, but the physical baseball is kind of an important part of the game of baseball. And MLB has had all kinds of issues trying to explain how different the baseballs can be from year-to-year, month-to-month and even game-to-game. It's exhausting. For more, read my colleague Mike Axisa.
The Arbitration Championship Belt
An under-the-radar gem. From 2019:
MLB awards a $20, WWE-style championship belt to the team that keeps salaries the lowest in arbitration.
MLB told the Athletic that the belt is "an informal recognition of those club's salary arbitration departments that did the best."
We're at a point in Major League Baseball that the majority of players don't reach free agency. In the three (for nearly all of them) years of pre-arbitration, players rarely make $1 million in a season. This is an industry worth well over $10 billion a year. The lesser-experienced players making relative chump change is one of the things the players most want to change with this CBA.
Every little bit here is a nice illustration of why the players have such disdain for Manfred. From the piece of metal to the belt for suppressing salaries, the players sure have a good case that the office of the commissioner doesn't seem to treat them as more than dollar signs for the owners.
All along, the owners could have ended the lockout and negotiated a new CBA while the players took part in spring training. But Manfred and the owners decided a lockout had to happen in order to spur action. It was so necessary to lock the players out in order to jumpstart negotiations that the owners waited 43 days before submitting a proposal. Try to line that up. You can't do it honestly.
That "defensive lockout" letter was an embarrassment in and of itself, too. My colleague Dayn Perry conducted an astute fact check of it here.
Perhaps the worst part?
"Simply put, we believe that an offseason lockout is the best mechanism to protect the 2022 season."
That aged poorly.
Of course, those missteps pale in comparison to Manfred's greatest failure yet. That would be the fight between the players and owners that started back in 2020, the culmination of which is unfolding right in front of us and will apparently continue for a while.
The absolute last thing any fan wants to hear about -- especially coming so soon after everything affected by COVID-19 -- is a fight over money between professional athletes and uber-wealthy owners. And yet here we are. The owners are digging their heels in over what amounts to very small percentages of billions of dollars in revenue for short-term gain. They seem to be missing the big picture.
Manfred is the commissioner of baseball. Ultimately, he works for the owners. They hired him and he's been doing their bidding throughout the process of this negotiation.
Manfred had the chance to push owners instead of just being their mouthpiece. While the players made several concessions along the way (advertising patches on uniforms, dropping the request for earlier free agency, expanded playoffs and more), the owners didn't budge for months. It was a one-sided "negotiation." If Manfred is the great negotiator -- supposedly that was his biggest strength when hired by the owners -- why isn't he pushing the owners to meet more in the middle?
A stronger commissioner would have seized the opportunity to get a deal done, whatever the cost.
Instead, we've got an ineffectual gaffe machine who is overseeing another disaster.