February 21, 2020
MLB Commissioner Apologizes for “Disrespectful” Comments
Controversy has been building in Major League Baseball for some time now, ever since the Houston Astros cheating scandal erupted, calling into question many things, including the legitimacy of recent playoff and World Series wins. Fans remain disgruntled and players have begun speaking out. It could have been an opportunity to reset and redirect the narrative but, instead, the MLB Commissioner made it worse.
While addressing concerns about the “tainted” World Series win in a lengthy interview on ESPN, Rob Manfred called the World Series trophy – the top team award in all of baseball – a “piece of metal.”
Players and fans, already upset, absolutely exploded. Twitter went toxic immediately, and countless baseball fans were calling for Manfred to say something to pull back on his comments – and players were even more direct.
Cubs pitcher Jon Lester, a three-time World Series champion, threw heat toward Manfed during Cubs camp, saying: “That’s somebody that has never played our game. You play for a reason. You play for that ‘piece of metal.’ I’m very proud of the three I have… That’s a lot of years, a lot of hard work… If that’s the way he feels, then he needs to take his name off the trophy.”
Braves outfielder Nick Markakis added his comments last week as well, saying the commissioner “completely mishandled” the situation, adding that “every single guy over there” (talking about Astros that cheated or knew about the cheating) “deserves a beating.”
The criticism got so hot, it even spilled out beyond baseball players and fans. NBA superstar LeBron James shared his opinion with his tens of millions of social media followers in a long-form message that included multiple tweets describing exactly how he felt about the cheating scandal and about MLB’s handling of it. He said, in part: “Listen here baseball commissioner, listen to your players speaking today about how disgusted, mad, hurt, broken, etc. about this… You need to fix this for the sake of sports!”
Manfred, clearly realizing his misstep, walked his comments back the following day, calling his comments “disrespectful,” saying, “I referred to the World Series trophy in a disrespectful way, and I want to apologize for it… There’s no excuse… It was a mistake to say what I said.”
As of this writing, fans and players aren’t interested in hearing that, which brings the story back around to just how bad Manfred and MLB are playing this. The real issue – the perceived lack of action in the wake of the Astros sign stealing scandal – is the fundamental PR problem MLB is facing at the moment, from people both in and out of the League.
However, Manfred made matters worse by speaking out of turn and treating the issue with much less seriousness than fans, players, and sports media expected. That, in itself, compounds the PR crisis MLB is facing… and, at this point, making any potential message of reconciliation, of reaching across the widening gulf to reassure disaffected fans and outraged players, even further away.