The sounds of silence, ushered in by a lie

MLB lockout

Today was supposed to see pitchers and catchers reporting to start spring training. There went that idea, thanks to the owners and their Pinocchio. (CBS Sports photo.)

Say what you will about the Major League Baseball Players Association, but they haven’t pleaded poverty yet at all, never mind with the thought that they could say it without their noses growing. On the day pitchers and catchers would have reported to spring training but for the owners’ lockout, a five-day old lie by commissioner Rob Manfred still rattles through baseball’s sounds of silence.

George Burns once said of his logically illogical wife Gracie Allen, “All I had to do was ask, ‘Gracie, how’s your brother,’ and she talked for 38 years.” All you have to do is ask a question, and Manfred will talk out of so many corners of his mouth you’ll suspect it resembles a martial arts throwing star, while his nose grows long enough to cross the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.

Last Thursday, as an owners meeting concluded, somebody asked Manfred whether owning a baseball team was a sound investment. All Commissioner Pinocchio had to do was speak what’s not exactly a badly kept secret. He chose to play the poverty card, as the owners often enough have done during baseball labour disputes. This time, however, the joker in the deck isn’t very funny

“If you look at the purchase price of franchises,” Manfred began, citing what he’d been told by investment bankers without identifying just whom, “the cash that’s put in during the period of ownership and then what they’ve sold for, historically, the return on those investments is below what you’d get in the stock market, what you’d expect to get in the stock market, with a lot more risk.”

Hello, darkness, my old friend.

Commissioner Pinocchio knows very well that baseball franchises, even those mired out of the races and even those accused plausibly of tanking, increase in value as investments up to ten percent annually. Yahoo! Sports writer Hannah Keyser wasn’t going to let him get away with that kind of lie.

“Let’s get something out of the way: The owners cried poor during the negotiations to start the pandemic-suspended season in 2020 to justify demands that the players take a pay cut,” Keyser began.

And although the owners have been quieter about it during the current collective bargaining negotiations, the implicit entrenched position is the same — on the broadest scale, they don’t want to make all the economic concessions that the union is asking for and one of the reasons they’re citing is that they can scarcely afford it.

That’s why Manfred said what he did. It’s not that he’s stupid (he’s just hoping you are) or confused. It’s strategic. To concede on the record that the current economic system is working fabulously for owners—and increasingly so in recent years—would be chum to a union that’s angry, energized and determined to push the pendulum in the other direction.

Baseball and other sports teams’ owners, according to ProPublica, whom Keyser cited, and who managed to get IRS records to probe, “frequently report incomes for their teams that are millions below their real-world earnings, according to the tax records, previously leaked team financial records, and interviews with experts.” Tax code provisions and creative amortization use, Keyser noted, “allows owners to negate gains or claim losses, substantially reducing their tax obligations and saving them millions of dollars.”

If you still believe baseball’s owners are really going broke, that Antarctican beach club for sale is now a couple of hundred thousand less expensive. They want to continue playing the poverty card despite it being about as legitimate as Astrogate? Here’s what the players should say in return: nothing. Not one proposal, not one further concession, not even a syllable, until the owners open their books completely, honestly, and without further smoke blowing, sand throwing, or shuck jiving.

It wasn’t the players who elected to strike over the owners’ three-card monte games this time. There wasn’t any legitimate reason for the owners to lock the players out after the CBA expired instead of letting the game carry forth while they sat down to honest negotiations.

Fair play: the players aren’t exactly without dubious issues. Their proposal for a mere twelve-team postseason instead of the owners’ reputed push for a fourteen-team postseason is still an idea whose time should be put out of its misery. The already-expanded postseason has diluted championship meaning and created saturation to the point where the World Series becomes a burden to watch for too many fans, not the penultimate baseball pleasure.

The seeming sounds of silence thus far on Manfred’s shameful insistence that minor league spring campers remain unpaid because the “life skills” they gain is more important than earning their keep is deafening.

So are the continuing sounds of silence on redressing what their late union leader Michael Weiner only began to redress, the now-525 pre-1980, short-career major leaguers denied pensions in the 1980 re-alignment. Weiner plus then-commissioner Bud Selig gained those players $625 per 43 games’ major league roster time, up to $10,000 a year, in 2011.

The bad news further is that they can’t pass those monies on to their families should they pass away before collecting their final such dollars. Nor did they receive any cost-of-living adjustment in the last CBA. No less than Marvin Miller himself subsequently said the 1980 pension freeze-out for them was his biggest regret. Weiner at least began a proper redress.

But when Commissioner Pinocchio and his employers the owners look you in the eye and claim owning a baseball team isn’t profitable, you should be very tempted to demand polygraphs, if not sobriety tests.

“Do you know how else I know Manfred isn’t telling the truth?” Keyser asks, before answering. “Because if he were, he wouldn’t be a very good commissioner. If it was true, he would be failing in his de facto fiduciary duty to the owners. Say what you will about Bud Selig, but under his commissionership, team valuations skyrocketed. He made being a baseball owner into a very lucrative proposition. So Manfred is saying that during his reign, that has ceased to be the case. Or he’s lying.”

Once upon a time, a Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher caught by his wife en flagrante with a woman other than said wife ran down the stairs, pointed upward to where he’d been caught, and said, “It wasn’t me!” It’s not exactly unrealistic to suggest the owners and their wooden puppet are that kind of honest.

Death threats be not proud, continued

Don Denkinger

MLB umpire Don Denkinger needed FBI protection after threats on his life over his 1985 World Series mishap. In the social media era, it wouldn’t take just radio people blasting his address and phone number around the world for further such threats.

What does it tell you, when almost the first thing on the mind of a professional athlete who loses a contest isn’t what a tough loss it was but how many death wishes or death threats are liable to show up in his or her direction on social media? It ought to tell you how brain damaged too many sports fans are.

Shelby Rogers got waxed in straight sets by Britain’s Emma Raducanu in round four of tennis’s U.S. Open Monday afternoon. The 28-year-old told a press conference after the match she expected “nine million” social media death threats afterward. That’d teach her to draw the spotlight after she flattened number one-ranked Ashleigh Barry in the third round.

“Obviously we appreciate the spotlight in those moments,” Rogers told the conference, “but then you have [losing to Raducanu] today and I’m going to have nine million death threats and whatnot. It’s very much polarizing, one extreme to the other very quickly.”

She wasn’t alone. Former Open winner Sloane Stephens lost this time, Angelique Kerber beating her in three sets after she took the first set. Stephens says her Instagram account was flooded with a few thousand abusive messages some of which went from mere swearing and racial insults (she is black) to downright threats of death and sexual abuse.

“This isn’t talked about enough,” Stephens posted, “but it really freaking sucks.”

It really freaking should be talked about more than enough. I’ve done it. I don’t want to minimise what Rogers and Stephens now deal with, but baseball and other sports people have put up with that kind of vile nonsense for decades. Just not so instantly as today.

Long before there was such a thing as social media, hapless umpire Don Denkinger found himself on the wrong end of a harassment campaign after his blown call in the ninth inning of 1985 World Series Game Six helped cost the Cardinals a win they should have been two, not three outs from consummating.

Back then, about the worst that could happen beyond snarky newspaper columns was a radio disc jockey obtaining and airing your home address and telephone number. Two St. Louis disc jockeys did just that to Denkinger. He received death threats by mail for a couple of years to follow and, at one point, needed MLB to ask the FBI for help.

The fact that the Cardinals still had three defensive outs to play to nail that Series, or still had a seventh game to play if they lost Game Six, escaped the slime contingent. Denkinger being rotated to calling balls and strikes for Game Seven didn’t mean the Cardinals should implode in that game escaped them, too.

At least Denkinger waited until after that Series for the full brunt of his mishap to happen. Phillies reliever Mitch Williams had no such fortune in the 1993 Series. Thanks to a few death threats from enough indignant Phillies fans, the hyperactive lefthander spent a sleepless night or two with a shotgun in his lap after blowing a Series save . . . in Game Four.

Williams went on to throw the pitch Joe Carter belted to win that Series in the bottom of the ninth in Game Six, of course. His stand-up post-game performance may have saved his life otherwise. But he shouldn’t have had to spend a night cradling his weapon instead of his wife.

I’ve said it until I’m blue in the keyboard. Don’t ask what would have happened if Denkinger, Williams, and members of the long, sad roll of sports “goats”—the Bill Buckners, Ralph Brancas, Gary Andersons, Roberto Baggios, Wrong-Way Marshalls, Fred Merkles, and Andres Escobars—had had their moments of horror in the social media era.

Horror, or death: Colombia’s goalkeeper Escobars inadvertently put the ball into his own net in soccer’s 1994 World Cup tournament. That night, he was out with friends when a car pulled up, an argument broke out, and he was shot to death.

Denkinger at least had FBI help until the idiocy passed. What defense or protection do you have against social media, even if you leave it? Rogers says she doesn’t like social media but she’s forced to make a presence there because of her sport’s marketing. Maybe her sport and all sports need to re-think that a little.

Mets relief pitcher Edwin Diaz walked himself into trouble and a Mets loss in Washington Monday. All that did was throttle the Mets’ pennant race recovery a little. It didn’t blow up the subway during rush hour.

Diaz is known as much for his mound struggles as his mound triumphs. Maybe that protects him from death threats. Or maybe we don’t know that he’s received them, or how many he’s received. The Mets’ administration seems to care more about their players replying to the boo birds than whether the boo birds might graduate to threatening their players’ lives.

Remember Indians reliever Nick Wittgren—battered for five runs in the ninth, his wife and family subject to social media death threats. Wittgren said it was said that such is now the pro sports norm—and that 90 percent of players he knows personally have received them. If you need me to tell you what’s wrong with that picture, you have problems I’m not qualified to solve.

Social media contends with the shouting-“fire”-in-the-movie-house dilemna. It thrives on free speech, but it also has to draw certain lines that, often as not, refuse to be drawn organically. The sports goat business stopped being funny a long time ago. The sports death threat business needs to be put out of business even faster, if possible.

The law says you can’t threaten the lives of the president of the United States or any public official. The law also says you can’t send threatening snail or e-mail to someone. A professional gambler faces five years in federal prison for Instagram threats he sent the lives of players in a 2019 game the Rays lost to the White Sox in extra innings.

It shouldn’t stop there. Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms should think seriously about not just banning such scum contingent from their platforms but arranging such charges against as many of them as possible regardless of whether or not they have money on the table.

Games are not life and death. The fate of what’s left of the free world doesn’t hang in their balance. Mortal men and women in an entertainment try their best and fail. It doesn’t make them cowards, chokers, or moral degenerates when someone on the other side is just that hair’s breadth better in the biggest of the big moments.

Yet people are prepared to perform massacres upon the defeated in sports while letting far more grave misbehaviour die on the proverbial vine. This is above and beyond mere fan passions. It shouldn’t be enabled.

You wish for openers that people were at least as outraged over New York’s mishandlings of the pan-damn-ic (it took a sexual harassment scandal to do what that malfeasance didn’t and rid the statehouse of Andrew Cuomo) as they might be over Shelby Rogers losing a shot at winning the U.S. Open, or the Mets losing a shot at the postseason.

Fans alone don’t pay the salaries anymore

Mets Fans

Mets fans at the ballpark. The conceit that fans alone pay players’ salaries ended long before enough of these folks were actually born.

If there was one somewhat dominant retort to the Javy Baez-Francisco Lindor-Kevin Pillar thumbs-down prior to Monday, it was reminding the miscreants that the fans pay their salaries. Well, now. Has anyone really stopped to think about whether that’s really true anymore?

Guess what. It hasn’t been true for longer than you think.

It was true once upon a time, when baseball teams were owned almost entirely by rich men and women for whom it was secondary to the enterprises that made their wealth in the first place. (Jacob Ruppert, longtime Yankee owner, was a brewer by profession; Walter O’Malley, longtime Dodger owner, was an engineer and attorney by profession.)

Some of them did it because they genuinely loved the game. (See Bill Veeck, Horace Stoneham, Joan Payson, to name two.) Some of them did it for things like dumping excess income to duck Uncle Siphon’s tax hounds. You get the idea.

In that generation, men such as Dan Topping (eventual Yankee co-owner) thought he could strong-arm his manager Ralph Houk into changing his lineups to get Mickey Mantle, the fans’ presumed preference over that interloper Roger Maris, the better shot at breaking Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record in 1961.

Topping apparently reminded Houk the fans paid his salary. To his eternal credit, Houk reminded Topping—with or without succumbing to the temptation to tell Topping where to stuff it—that, the last he looked, his job as the manager was to arrange the lineup most likely to, you know, win baseball games and Yankee pennants first and foremost.

That was then, when baseball teams really did depend upon the gate to earn their keep. This has long been now, when baseball ownership isn’t just a group of wealthy sportspeople indulging passions: Baseball fans haven’t paid the lion’s share of player salaries for a few decades.

By way of multiple sources, you can look it up if you so desire: Ticket sales account for maybe 30something percent of a baseball team’s revenues. The concession stand takes get divided between the owners and the vendors/manufacturers who provide the beer, dogs, snacks, merchandise, and chatzkehs sold at the ballpark. Those vendors and manufacturers also have that little matter of paying the people who cook, pour, and sell the goodies.

All those player jerseys and player-specific souvenirs? For one thing, they’re not sold at the ballparks exclusively. For another, they have nothing to do with player salaries. For a third, the take there gets split evenly between the clubs and the players’ union . . . and the union distributes their take evenly among all players, no matter whose goodies are how popular. Scrubby Sackostones gets the same share as Shohei Ohtani.

You might want to consider all that the next time you lament how much you spend on food, drink, and souvenirs at the game. If you really think the owners and their vending partners today would cut concession prices, if they could get away with suppressing players’ pay again, I’ve just cut the sale price again on that Antarctican beach club.

Broadcast revenues? Whether it’s those national broadcast rights that fetch megabillions, or the local broadcast rights that fetch individual teams from millions to billions depending on markets, those dollars plus the revenue shares certain teams get from certain other teams get paid before a season even begins. Thanks to baseball’s continuing, insane blackout rules, you can’t watch as much as you think, still.

Ballpark naming rights? You don’t pay for those, either. The companies who buy the rights do. Count your blessings. You wouldn’t have come up with such names as Guaranteed Rate Field, Minute Maid Park, American Family Field, Oracle Park, Globe Life Field, Citi Field, or Petco Park. (Would you?)

On the other hand, you know as well as I that there isn’t a major league ballpark anywhere named for any of the men who made you love the game in the first place—except in Los Angeles and the south Bronx. It’s not the players’ fault you can’t watch a game in Thomas Field, Bagwell Park, Yount Yards, Mays Field, Rodriguez Park, Seaver Stadium, or the Gwynn Grounds.

Let’s try something for argument’s sake. Let’s assume just for funsie that baseball fans really do still pay player salaries. In the non-sporting world, those who pay the salaries have certain rights of authority over those who get paid the salaries. But those who pay those salaries are held to certain levels of accountability—including whether they cross the line between authority over and abuse of the hired hands.

Baseball fans never were and never are held officially to that kind of accountability. Not merely for booing, hissing, or holding nasty sounding signs up, though it does behoove fans to remember that that bad play, or that game-losing pitch or error, isn’t caused by non-hustle, brain freeze, or mediocre arm, as often as you think.

Players make their best efforts and still come up short seventy percent of the time. It’s the game’s nature, for better or worse. Those who continue to obsess about baseball’s  “unwritten rules” might want to consider the one nobody had to write in the first place: when people play a game, somebody isn’t going to win. (If a team is that bad, how about holding to account the front office fools who mis-assembled it in the first place?)

Fans have long gone beyond booing, hissing, and holding up snarky signs. In today’s social media universe, they can rip an errant player or a losing team about a hundred new ones—when they’re feeling civil. When they’re not feeling civil, they can, do, and have levied threats against the lives of players and the players’ families.

“Sadly, this is considered ‘normal’ in professional sports’,” tweeted Indians pitcher Nick Wittgren after a bad outing at July’s end. “It’s happened to 90% of players I know and basically after every bad outing a player has. But there is nothing normal about threatening someone and their family’s lives.”

Unless it’s someone like Benjamin Tucker Patz—the California gambler who pleaded guilty last month to threatening the lives of several Rays and one White Sox player, after a July 2019 game the White Sox won in extra innings—fans throwing death threats at players and player families are almost never held to account.

Patz faces up to five years in the federal calaboose. It’s a shame he can’t face five years per threatened player. Writing for the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America’s Here’s the Pitch newsletter, I suggested it was time to think about doing likewise to the not-so-famous Twitterpated, Instagrammarians, Facebookies, any social media slugs who think it’s a laugh and a half to threaten players and their families’ lives over bad days, bad nights, bad slumps, even whistleblowing.

Tell me why you think the price of a ticket or your beers, snacks, and chatzkehs gives you the right to forget baseball players aren’t androids or automatons. Tell me what fount of wisdom told you that merely paying a baseball player $1 million or $10 million a year means Britt Reid turns automatically into the Green Hornet. Tell me why you think a player struggling during a multi-season, nine-figure contract—or while trying too hard at first to live up to such a contract—gives you the right to be as subhuman as possible.

You want to cling to the long-gone idea that you pay player salaries? If your boss was an abusive son of a bitch to you on the job, you’d have every right to demand him or her being brought to account—and maybe fired. Don’t go there about ballplayers knowing what they signed up for. They signed up to play baseball in public, they didn’t sign up to be saints. Or, to just suck it up when fans go from mere displeasure to incessant abuse and even danger.

Don’t go there unless (hah! you thought you’d escape another mention) you’re willing to go to work with 55,000 people right there in your cubicle, on your dock, in your warehouse, at your drive-through, in your operating room (God help surgeons if their hospitals take the old colloquial “operating theater” seriously beyond a few med students/interns observing from above) . . . and another several million listening in on the Internet, on television, on the radio.

Don’t go there unless you’re ready to just suck it up if you make a mistake on the job, or especially if you get injured on the job doing nothing more than your job . . . but all those people are ready to dismiss you witlessly and hammer you mercilessly as a fragile weenie because you’re silly enough to think it’s not a clever idea to go back to work until your health is restored fully.

(Hands up to every Cub fan who remembers when Leo Durocher’s demoralising of his 1969 pennant contenders included leaving injured players afraid that, if they spoke up when they were injured in the line of duty, as more than a few were, the Lip would rip them as quitters.)

Don’t go there unless you can just suck it up, when those people crowding you on your jobs and listening over the airwaves decide you’re witless bums who deserve to die —with your wives and children—because you committed no crime worse than making an honest mistake or not being better than the other guys for more than two games.

Try to remember that—out from behind the often one-sided relationship between fans and players—all Baez, Lindor, and Pillar did was give playful thumbs down. They didn’t flip you the bird. They didn’t throw firecrackers at you. They didn’t shoot bleach at you with water pistols.

They didn’t burn the White House, sink the Titanic, wreck Mrs. Lincoln’s date night, trigger the Malbone Street subway wreck, blow up the Hindenburg, bring down the World Trade Center, introduce the coronavirus, or make the world safe for Billy Big-Mouth Bass.

The players are supposed to just suck up the booing, hissing, snarky signs, and even death threats. But the fans—who don’t pay their salaries, after all—aren’t supposed to just suck up a measly thumbs-down. Got it.

This commissioner gotta commission better

Commissioner Rob Manfred hands a piece of metal to 2020 World Series-winning Dodgers co-owner Mark Walter.

Once upon a time, when Ed Fitzgerald chaired the Milwaukee Brewers and former Red Sox star George Scott was their first baseman, Scott surveyed the lay of the team’s baseball land. Then, he offered Fitzgerald sage counsel which the chairman may or may not have taken above and beyond a shaft of Scott’s underappreciated wit.

“You know, Mr. Fitzgerald,” said the Boomer, “if we’re gonna win, the players gotta play better, the coaches gotta coach better, the manager gotta manage better, and the owners gotta own better.” It’s to wonder whether Scott, who died in 2013, might be surveying the lay of baseball’s land today from his seat in the Elysian Fields, adding, “And, the commissioner gotta commission better.”

Good luck with that. Commissioner Rob Manfred remains baseball’s Nero, fiddling while the game burns. The good news is, the fires are scattered and more vulnerable than the current edition of the Pirates. The bad news is, Manfred too often behaves as though this fire needs just a couple of sprinkles to quench while that fire requires gasoline. When he’s able to make up his mind in the first place.

The fact that there is confusion about whether or not there will be a universal DH in MLB for the upcoming season,” tweets former Dodgers and Mets player development official Nick Francona, perhaps channeling his inner George Scott, “is a reflection of how bad the commissioner is at doing commissioner things.”

Commissioner things include something outlined formally in the Major League Baseball Constitution: Section 2(b) and 2(c) let the commissioner investigate and remedy or punish “any act, transaction, or practise charged, suspected, or alleged not to be in the best interests of the national game of Baseball.”  Section 3 outlines the commissioner’s punitive remedies, including the maximum $2 million fine against a team, $500,000 fine against an owner or club executive, and “an amount consistent with the then-current basic agreement with the Major League Baseball Players Association.”

In other words, baseball commissioners have slightly broader powers over the game than presidents of the United States have over the country. But they don’t always use those powers when they should and ignore them when they shouldn’t.

Think of things this way: Presidents have itched for grander powers than that chintzy Constitution gave them in the first place. Sometimes they’ve gotten them; sometimes, Congress has handed them to the president on a platter. But even there the president has his (or her, perhaps, in the future) limits, even if he (she) accepts them kicking and screaming.

Richard Nixon once thought that if the president does it it’s not illegal–and was disabused of that idea profoundly enough. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama shamelessly believed, as Clinton’s aide Paul Begala once said, infamously, “Stroke of the pen, law of the land. Kinda cool,” regarding lawmaking which isn’t really the executive branch’s constituted function, though assorted Congresses past have pawned enough of their lawmaking off to the executive branch. Donald Trump once said, “Then I have an Article II, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president.”

Maybe those men should have sought to become baseball commissioners. Section 4 of the MLB Constitution says that, unless it’s something on which votes are required, the commish can’t be limited in acting in the game’s best interest.

Tanking teams? Guess what. Section 4 says the integrity of the game “shall include without limitation, as determined by the Commissioner, the ability of, and the public perception that, players and clubs perform and compete at all times to the best of their abilities.” (Emphasis added.) For clubs, you’d have to be naive at minimum or sight and hearing impaired at maximum to believe a club’s performance is limited to the play on the field.

Astrogate? Well, it was fully within Manfred’s right to decide the better part of valour was to hand players on the 2017-18 Astros blanket immunity in return for spilling about the how and why of the Astro Intelligence Agency. That doesn’t mean it was within his smarts. So the Astros got fined $5 million max, owner Jim Crane got fined five hundred large, Manfred threw in a couple of forfeited choice draft picks for good measure, and—except for general manager Jeff Luhnow—the cheaters got away with it officially, if not in the public eye.

If only the powers to act in the game’s best interest included the kind of intelligence test that would have required Manfred to remember the good of the game isn’t restricted to making or saving money for it. He could have told the tankers, “Nobody likes to lose, money or games, but if you didn’t get into this game to even try winning you might want to think about getting out.”

(P.S. The commissioner can force an ownership out, at least by way of calling for a vote to throw him or her out. There’s no “deprivation of property rights” involved, as someone of my former acquaintance tried to plead when Bud Selig finally forced Dodgers owner Frank McCourt to sell. Baseball’s a franchise business. Just like McDonald’s. Break the rules, abuse your franchise, you’re out, whether you’re making Big Macs or a baseball team.)

Manfred had the same power to tell the 2017-18 Astro players, “You’re going to spill, or I’m going to spill you.” The Astros might not have even thought about trying that non-apologetic apology/apologetic non-apology presser last year before the pan-damn-ic shut spring training down.

And Manfred could have made an effort toward more than near-boilerplate in denouncing cheating, the way A. Bartlett Giamatti—then president of the National League—did in upholding the suspension of ball-doctoring Phillies pitcher Kevin Gross, even if Manfred isn’t anywhere in Giamatti’s league as a writer, speaker, or thinker:

Acts of cheating . . . are secretive, covert acts that strike at and seek to undermine the basic foundation of any contest declaring the winner—that all participants play under identical rules and conditions. Acts of cheating destroy that necessary foundation and thus strike at the essence of a contest. They destroy faith in the games’ integrity and fairness; if participants and spectators alike cannot assume integrity and fairness and proceed from there, the contest cannot in its essence exist.

Manfred’s ham-handed bid to try tying the universal DH to the expanded postseason was so clumsy—though not quite as clumsy as his try at reneging on the pro-rated players’ pay deal before last year’s irregular season finally launched—that you couldn’t blame the players union from saying no, nein, and nyet. The commissioner also gives little indication that he understands the former’s benefit to the game on the field and the latter’s compromise of it.

Has anyone shown Manfred the historical futility of pitchers at the plate instead of throwing to it? (Does he even know the DH was a National League idea first?) Has anyone explained to him the universal DH isn’t going to add jobs as much as it’ll offer a fair number incumbent pine riders chances to get in the game, because they may not be leather virtuosi but they can sure swing the bat and create runs?

Has anyone really sat Manfred down to explain that the postseason was diluted and saturated already with the double wild cards in each league without his even thinking about making last year’s pan-damnic-ally inspired expansion/dilution a permanent thing? Has anyone explained to Manfred that the more postseason games, the more saturation, and the more general fan interest dissipates by the time the World Series rolls around?

All that and more might require something that seems beyond Manfred’s competence, if not his being. Whatever errors his predecessor and former boss Bud Selig committed, and Selig was baseball’s Fiorello La Guardia in that regard (the legendary New York City mayor: When I make a mistake, it’s a beaut), even his least flexible critics never questioned that Selig genuinely loved baseball.

Few fans and certainly no commissioner before or since have been as eloquently shameless in loving baseball as deeply as the ill-fated Giamatti loved the game. It’s not even close. But not even in anger would Selig refer to the World Series trophy as just a piece of metal, under any impetus. Dive into the voluminous published writings about his successor and you won’t go more than a few minutes without seeing questions as to whether Manfred even likes, never mind loves the game. One minute it seems yes, the next, no.

Baseball hasn’t been quite as irrevocably “traditional” as its self-appointed purists wish to think. Much like the country that is its home, the game has rid itself of dubious traditions in the past and created or allowed newer ones throughout its history. It takes a commissioner of vision to conjugate the distinctions and develop or promote the remedies required if and when required.

Manfred isn’t exactly a man of vision. Unless you consider monkeying around with the ball, awarding free cookies on second base to open extra half innings, imposing arbitrary limits on pitching changes, ignoring the real culprit of protracted games (hint: it takes less time to bring relief pitchers in and have them ready to face the next batters than to run the commercials that run during those changes), and fiddling while the tankers burn the their fans and the game itself visionary.

It’s enough to make you afraid of what’s going to happen when the current collective bargaining agreement finally does expire after this season. That is, unless Manfred and MLBPA executive director Tony Clark—himself not necessarily over-endowed with vision—decide at last to start thinking about the true good of the game above and beyond saving or making money for it.

Maybe it’s time to consider a different way to choose a baseball commissioner. From the beginning, the commissioner has been the owners’ pick alone. Maybe it’s finally (if not long past) time to bring the players into that process. Maybe it’s time for a commissioner to be chosen from a vote of thirty team ownership representatives and thirty team player representatives.

Quick: Name one fan who ever paid his or her hard earned dough for a day or night at the ballpark to see the team’s owner—except perhaps for lusty protest over protracted calamity. (Who else remembers the Yankee Stadium Banner Day winner of the late 1980s, wearing a monk’s outfit, carrying a Grim Reaper’s scythe, from which hung the placard, “Forgive him, Father, for he knows not what he does”—and ejected from the yard promptly on official orders?)

Manfred is in over his head holding the job. He shouldn’t have had the job in the first place. But so long as he does—barring an uprising among his employers, the owners, he has it through the end of 2024—this commissioner gotta commission better.

No 2021 expanded postseason or universal DH. Guess which one should stay—forever.

Marcell Ozuna, one of the men who helped the Braves’ 2020 designated hitters out-hit the rest of the Show’s.

The good news, as reported by The Athletic Wednesday evening: last year’s expanded-to-the-stretching-point major league postseason won’t happen this year—so far. The bad news, as reported by the same journal’s Evan Drellich: neither will the universal designated hitter return this year—so far.

I say “so far” because Drellich says reversals can never be ruled out, even though “both sides are proceeding as though there will not be any last-minute addition of the DH in the National League, or additional playoff teams from the current field of 10, for 2021.”

Here’s to hoping at least one reversal among the two is ruled in—and that it won’t be another expanded postseason past the customary three division winners and two wild cards in each league, either.

That’s the one that was agreed upon at the eleventh hour last year, after the owners tried pulling a few fast renegings on previous season agreements with the players and the players told them, appropriately, where to shove them. The one that ended up including two teams with losing records into the postseason at all.

Sound thinking required the hope that some way, some how, the Astros (29-31) and the Brewers (29-31 likewise) would bump, nudge, elbow, shove, kick, and bop their way past all comers and face each other in last year’s World Series. The reason: it would have shown only too vividly the absurdity of allowing losers or at least so many lesser winners (including the Astros and Brewers, there were ten wild card teams in the rounds) to even think about playing for a championship.

I’m not married till death do us part to tradition for its own sake, even in baseball. There have been traditions worth keeping and traditions worth sending to the place where the Edsel reposes and where the ball point pen, the bagless vacuum cleaner (go ahead, tell me you just love getting a faceful of dust when you empty the cup and those mounds of dirt hit the rest of the trash and recoil), and artificial baseball turf ought to repose.

Sound championship competition doesn’t deserve to end. “The players are concerned an expanded postseason harms competition,” Drellich writes, “disincentivizing teams from adding talent they would otherwise pursue for a chance to crack a smaller field. The league believes the effect would be the opposite, that the format would encourage teams to upgrade in an effort to claim additional spots.”

The players know the owners only too well. It would be nice, however, if they’d also speak up for two further points: 1) The more expanded the postseason remains, the greater chance for saturation than existed already, something you’d think the broadcasters buying postseason baseball would enunciate as well. 2) The harm to competition goes a lot deeper than just removing incentives for teams to improve on the fly.

If anything, the format rudely interrupted by last year’s pan-damn-ically provoked irregular season deserves to be reduced further. There’s already been a postseason saturation factor for a long enough time. There’s also no reason why the World Series should remain practically just another playoff round.

As things turned out, the two winningest teams in last year’s irregular seasons did wrestle their way to the World Series, and the Dodgers won it (at last!) in six gripping games. I say “winningest” instead of “best” because, in several ways, the irregular season stopped enough teams short of the chance they’d have had in a full season to re-horse and rise from the dead a la the 2019 Nationals. (19-31 after 23 May; 74-38 the rest of the season and, oh yes, they won the World Series.)

But wouldn’t real fans prefer to see a postseason such as what I’ve said before but will say again, and as often as necessary?

* If we must have three-division leagues, the wild cards should be eliminated and the division winner with the best season record should get a round-one bye while the other two division winners play a best-of-three division series.

* The bye team and the division series winner should play in a best-of-five League Championship Series. (There was a tradition worth keeping: from its 1969 birth through 1984, the LCS was a best-of-five.)

* The primacy of the best-of-seven World Series would be restored appropriately. The postseason saturation factor would likely reduce to zero. Teams would no longer have several disincentives, including and especially working toward playing for the thrills, chills, and spills of fighting to the last breath to finish . . . in second place.

Now, about that universal designated hitter. Bringing it aboard last year was as much a question of assuring pitchers’ health further as a question of sound baseball playing. Still.  “The DH in both leagues has long been of interest to the union,” Drellich writes, “because it means an additional talent set that teams would pay for and pursue.”

That’s only half right. Teams probably would pursue off-season free agents they might not think about otherwise in the instances of players whose defense is dubious but whose bats are true weapons. But speaking technically, absent a team signing a Marcell Ozuna or a Nelson Cruz the universal DH wouldn’t add jobs so much as create them for the incumbent pine riders whose defense would have them on trial for treason but whose bats would add runs to the scoreboard.

Incidentally, and I discovered it last October, the designated hitters in the National League (one of whose owners thought of the idea in the first place, in 1891)  out-hit the American League’s, and the Braves’ DHs out-hit everybody else’s. (The Braves’ DHs slashed .316/.411/.589 and a 1.000 OPS. They also hit more home runs than anyone else’s except the Twins’.) Did I mention again that six of the top ten teams’ DHs for OPS were National League teams?

Tell me now that you’d rather return and keep permanent all those .130/.161/.165-slashing  National League pitchers wasting a lineup spot that could be deployed better with solid bats—maybe even a second cleanup hitter or a technically extra leadoff type which, by the way, has been tried and not found wanting.

Tell me you absolutely must continue a lineup spot filled with batters who’ve hit about .166 on average from the advent of the live ball era through the end of the 21st century’s first decade. Show me one position player who’s going to have a major league job hitting like that even if he might be the second coming of Mark Belanger with the leather.

Tell me it was really worth all that waste just to have seen Bartolo Colon hit one out at long enough last, and to have watched him run it out like a pregnant hippopotamus on feet flatter than the first five lines of a Rob Manfred speech.

Tell me again Thomas Boswell was wrong when he wrote, “It’s fun to see Max Scherzer slap a single to right field and run it out like he thinks he’s Ty Cobb. But I’ll sacrifice that pleasure to get rid of the thousands of rallies I’ve seen killed when an inning ends with one pitcher working around a competent No. 8 hitter so he can then strike out the other pitcher. When you get in a jam in the AL, you must pitch your way out of it, not ‘pitch around’ your way out of it.”

Tell me it’s worth it to see a pitcher at the plate when no few pitchers have had careers interrupted, compromised, or ruined because of mishaps swinging or running the bases. (Sandy Koufax, Carlos Zambrano, Adam Wainwright, Steven Wright, Chien-Ming Wang, Masahiro Tanaka, Jacob deGrom, for openers, call your offices.)

You want to say those are outliers or aberrations? So are Don Drysdale being the 1965 Dodgers’ arguable best hitter, Madison Bumgarner hitting a pair of Opening Day home runs, and Shohei Ohtani, period—though Ohtani won’t be batting on the days he pitches. Try again.

The owners recently tried to strong-arm the players into accepting the continuing expanded postseason if they wanted the universal DH that badly. The players told them, politely but firmly, where they could shove that trade-off. Both sides should be thinking not of trade-offs but of sound baseball and the overall good of the game—which isn’t the same thing as merely making money for it or for them.

Baseball government letting the National League continue standing upon a nebulous tradition isn’t as grave or as grotesque as Kenesaw Mountain Landis allowing the major league game to remain segregated until the days after he died. But the time for ending the NL’s nebulous “tradition” is long past. The universal DH is sound, smart baseball the way expanded postseasons are not. It’s long past time to bring it aboard to stay.