Houston, TX

Astros Fans Shower Commissioner Manfred With Well-Earned Boos


Controversial Commissioner Rob Manfred aroused the ire of Astros fans at Minute Maid Park.Arturo Pardavila III from Hoboken, NJ, USA, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

By Dan Schlossberg

Two days after Rob Manfred issued a “State of the Game” press release, he was hit with an unending deluge of boos when he tried to present the Commissioner’s Trophy to the newly-crowned World Champion Houston Astros.

Almost in unison, the fans at Minute Maid Park halted their universal euphoria to let the baseball czar know exactly what they think of him and his constant tinkering with the traditions of America’s national pastime.

To be honest, I can’t blame them.

They’re still raw over the 99-day owners’ lockout that wiped out the winter meetings, shortened spring training, and forced a regular-season schedule realignment that pushed the World Series into November.

But that’s hardly the only issue.

A look at the lengthy press release suggests Manfred is out of touch with the fans and persists in following the money-grubbing path perfected by previous commissioner Bud Selig during his 22-year Reign of Error.

In the release, Manfred says, “The game’s history and traditions provide a foundation that has stood the test of time. But the game is always evolving on its own and we should be unafraid of encouraging those trends that fans love and managing those that are less favorable.”

The first sentence is right on the money — literally — as MLB raked in nearly $11 billion in league revenues this year, topping pre-pandemic levels.

But the second sentence is contradictory. The game is not evolving “on its own.”

In the very same press release, Manfred says “The skill of our players and the success of the new playoff system are also good for business.”

Of course, the skills of the players are good for business. But a playoff system that allows a third-place team to reach the World Series? Absolutely not!

Trying to emphasize his own point, the commissioner states, “The crowds in 11 of our ballparks prove that fans embraced the new system.”

Earth to Manfred: fans would have packed parks anyway to cheer their teams toward a potential World Series.

“I’m a firm believer,” he writes, “that we should make our great game even better by listening to our fans.”

But does he? Every fan I questioned personally when I covered the NL Championship Series and World Series in Philadelphia — and those I asked earlier at the All-Star Game and Hall of Fame inductions — said the “Manfred Man” ghost-runner makes a travesty of the game.

Players like it because they get to go home earlier. But they, unlike fans, have iron-clad contracts that stipulate they get paid for playing even when hair-brained rules turn professional baseball into a Sunday afternoon beer league.

According to the baseball czar, “Fans want to see more balls in play, athleticism, defense, and base-running. They don’t want unnecessary delays that prevent them from enjoying the late innings and conclusions of our games.”

Hey, Rob, fans can’t enjoy late innings and conclusions when they are manipulated by such artificial devices as “the Manfred man.” It was a Covid-era experiment, like the 60-game season and seven-inning doubleheaders, that deserves to be tossed into the dustbin of history.

One line in the Manfred release makes total sense: “It’s incumbent upon us to strike a balance between honoring our history and implementing well-considered change that benefits our fans.”

It would be nice if Rob Manfred really cared about honoring the history of the game.

As for “well-considered change,” he could improve the pace-of-play by curtailing walk-up music, curtailing commercial time between innings, and ending inter-league play, which had the Astros ending their season twice against the Phillies (once during the regular season).

Instead, his various research committees are making things worse. Next season, for example, every team will play each of the other 29 teams for the first time ever.

That means less traditional rivalries, such as Braves-Mets or Red Sox-Yankees, and more meaningless games. It’s a sure formula for hurting attendance, merchandise sales, and TV ratings even more than the lockout that started last Dec. 2.

Manfred concludes his message by stating, “It is our duty to deliver the best version of the game to our fans.”

Pitch clocks and shift restrictions will help and maybe larger bases too. But Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle wouldn’t recognize the game today and certainly wouldn’t like it.

And that’s not a good thing.

No wonder the Minute Maid Park patrons tried to drown him out — even as he tried to present their team the 2022 Commissioner’s Trophy.

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is the author of 40 baseball books. He covers the game for forbes.com, Latino Sports, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Sports Collectors Digest, Here’s The Pitch, and other outlets. He answers e.mails sent to ballauthor@gmail.com.

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