Rob Manfred speaks

About the Astros and other things.

Did not age well

When it comes to the Astros’ sign-stealing saga and its aftermath, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred does have one big regret.

Was it his non-punishment of any individual players or granting immunity to them to get candid answers out of them? In an expansive interview with ESPN’s Don Van Natta Jr. that published Wednesday, Manfred said he wasn’t interested in “rehashing past stuff” like the Astros scandal.

But there was something in the wake of his punishment of the Houston franchise (a $5 million fine, stripping two years’ worth of first- and second-round draft picks and year-long suspensions to now-former general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch) that still gnaws at Manfred.

It was Manfred’s choice of words in the aftermath to the sanctions about why he didn’t strip the Astros of their 2017 World Series championship.

“The idea of an asterisk or asking for a piece of metal back seems like a futile act,” Manfred said in February 2020, referring to the Commissioner’s Trophy.

Those words generated a fierce backlash from MLB players and fans and two-plus years later, Manfred calls the “piece of metal” reference one of his biggest miscues since becoming commissioner in January 2015.

“The ‘piece of metal’ thing — the worst,” Manfred told Van Natta. “I regret it because it’s disrespectful to the game. I also regret it because I was being defensive about something.”

You can read the interview here – it’s quite long. I agree that was a dumb thing for him to say, but I’ve always had the impression that a lot of fans – and other players – were mad about the fact that no Astros players received discipline for their role in the scheme. There are lots of reasons for that – MLB wanted their cooperation, the collective bargaining agreement didn’t allow for it, the real responsibility belonged to management, etc – but it’s how people felt. No one ever said this stuff was entirely rational.

As for his September 2017 letter to the Yankees that recently became unsealed and revealed a $100,000 fine for New York using the dugout phone to steal and transmit opponents’ signals during the 2015 and 2016 seasons, Manfred was asked if widely publicizing that punishment at the time would’ve instilled a greater fear among teams for the repercussions of sign-stealing.

“Look, I think the answer to that question is really temporal,” Manfred said. with Van Natta noting the commissioner showed “a flash of irritation and not sounding as thick-skinned as he claims.”

I mean, speaking as a Yankees fan who didn’t understand why they fought the release of that letter so hard – it really made them look guilty of something, and in the end it was largely no big deal – that would have been better from my perspective. Maybe next time.

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