Mr. Commissioner, meet the real faces of the game

Rob Manfred, Liam Hendriks

Commissioner Rob Manfred with White Sox relief pitcher Liam Hendriks before last year’s Field of Dreams game. (The Athletic.)

Having a read of ESPN writer Don Van Natta, Jr.’s profile of commissioner Rob Manfred, I was almost convinced that maybe, just maybe, there really was more to Manfred than met the eye. Or, more than what comes forth in his stiff presence and often clumsy remarks.

Just maybe, the man isn’t the baseball-hating or baseball-illiterate Rube Goldberg-like abecedarian the caricatures so often portray. He did, after all, grow up a Yankee fan in upstate New York and can say proudly enough that he’s the only baseball commissioner ever who played Little League baseball. “All glove, no bat,” he remembers of being a Little League infielder.

My parents received a set of classic Revere copper-bottom cookware as a wedding present eight years before Manfred was born. (I still remember the fragrance of that special powder used to clean the copper bottoms, too.) Who knew Manfred (three years my junior) was the son of Revere’s production supervisor at their home plant in Rome, New York? An hour’s drive from Cooperstown, as it happens.

Born in 1958, Manfred took in his first live major league game at Yankee Stadium with his sports-obssessed father, sitting between the plate and first base on an Old Timers’ Day. Come game time, Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle crashed a pair of home runs and the Yankees beat the Twins, 3-2. When he finally became the game’s commissioner, he handed his father the first baseball with his stamp upon it.

“This is really an unbelievable thing,” Manfred, Sr. told his son. “I can’t say I disagree,” Manfred, Jr. told Van Natta.

A couple of hundred fathoms down, though, Van Natta noted that “more than once” Manfred told him what few baseball commissioners have dared to admit, that being the buffer absorbing the heat that should go to his bosses, the owners, is part of his job. Even if it’s about as pleasant as your private parts being caught in the vacuum cleaner’s handle.

And then it came.

“Every time it’s me, it ain’t one of those 30 guys—that’s good,” Van Natta quoted Manfred as saying. “Look, who the hell am I? I don’t have $2 billion invested in a team. I’m just a guy trying to do a job. I mean it. [The owners] deserve that layer. I believe they deserve that layer of protection. I’m the face of the game, for good or for bad.”

Mr. Manfred, unless it’s to boo and hiss your heads off over this or that piece of mischief, you may rest assured that no baseball fan anywhere in this country is paying his or her hard-earned money to head for the ballpark to see you or your bosses.

But I’m going to do you a small favour, as if you know me from the greenest bat boy on any professional baseball team. I’m going to introduce you to the true faces of the game. The ones whom those fans do pay their hard-earned money to see at the ballpark regardless of the machinations and deceptions of your bosses and theirs.

Mr. Manfred, meet Mike Trout. This is the guy you blamed once upon a time for not being baseball’s face, based upon his committing no crime more grave than letting his play and his clubhouse presence and his agreeability with fans before and after games speak for themselves, with no jive about the magnitude of being him.

Meet Shohei Ohtani. This is the two-way star who lights up the joint just by flashing that thousand-watt grin of his, never mind when he strikes thirteen out on the mound one night and belts baseballs onto the Van Allen Belt the very next. Between himself and Mr. Trout, you should be asking what on earth is wrong with the Angels that they still can’t find quality pitching enough to keep them in a race after they start in one but sputter unconscionably.

Meet Aaron Judge. This is the Leaning Tower of River Avenue who sends baseballs into the Delta Quadrant one moment and then, when made aware, goes out of his way to meet a Canadian kid to whom he’s number one among baseball men and who was handed one of his mammoth home run balls by an adult fan who knew the boy wanted nothing more than to catch one Judge hit out.

Meet Joey Votto. This is the future Hall of Fame first baseman who got himself tossed from a game early last year, but—after he learned his ejection broke the heart of a little California girl to whom he’s a hero above heroes—sent her a ball with his handwritten apology and autograph on it, prompting his team to drop game tickets and a little extra swag upon her the very next day.

Meet Bryce Harper. This is the guy who never apologised for being on board with letting the kids play. The guy now on the injured list with a thumb fracture and surgery to repair it after getting hit by a pitch thrown with one of the baseballs you and yours still can’t see fit to manufacture uniformly and with allowance for fairness on both sides of it, fairness for the pitchers and for the hitters alike.

Meet Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. and Bo Bichette. One is the son of a Hall of Famer who did last season what even his old man never did: led his league in on base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, and OPS+, and led the entire Show in total bases. The other is the son of a respected major league slugger, has quite a lethal bat in his own right when his swing is right, and currently leads his league in trips to the plate. Together they’ve put some zip back into the Blue Jays.

Meet Oneil Cruz. The bat has yet to come to full life but the footwork, the glove, the throwing arm, have shown so far that you can be as tall as Frank Howard, J.R. Richard, and Randy Johnson and still play shortstop as though the position was created for you and not the Little Rascals in the first place. They’re falling in love with him in Pittsburgh, which needs all the love it can get, but they ought to fall in love with him all around the Show—except when he’s going so deep into the hole grabbing a grounder or a hopper that an enemy batter loses his lunch when he’s had a base hit stolen from him.

Meet Clayton Kershaw. He’s been around the block a few times. He’s a Hall of Fame lock as maybe the best pitcher of his generation. He’s still a quality pitcher and a class act. They still buy tickets on the road when they know he’s going to take the ball for the Dodgers. He’s faced his baseball aging curve with grace under pressure. And, for good measure, he’s the one active player who was seen fit to be part of the ceremony when the Dodgers unveiled that statue of their Hall of Fame legend Sandy Koufax this month, and you know (well, you damn well should know) what a class act Koufax was on the mound and has been in the decades since off it.

(You’re not still P.O.ed that Koufax waxed your Yankees’ tails twice while his Dodgers swept them in the 1963 World Series when you were seven, are you?)

Meet Justin Verlander. Missed a year plus recovering from Tommy John surgery. He has a 2.23 ERA and a 3.53 fielding-independent pitching rate so far this season. For any pitcher that’d be a remarkable return so far. For a future Hall of Famer who’s still suiting up at Jack Benny’s age (that’s a joke, son), it’s off the chart so far.

Meet Verlander’s 25-year-old Astros teammate, Yordan Álvarez. He’s leading the entire Show with his .667 slugging percentage, his 1.081 OPS, and his 206 OPS+. If there’s one untainted Astro who’s must-see viewing whenever he checks in at the plate, it’s him.

Meet Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers. The left side of the Red Sox infield is a big reason why the Olde Towne Team yanked themselves back up from the netherworld into second place in that rough and tumble American League East. Did I mention that Devers currently leads the entire Show with 177 total bases?

Meet José Ramírez. The Guardians’ third baseman is giving Devers a run for his money in the All-Star balloting that closes today. That thumb injury has put a crimp into his bat for now, and it’s had its role in the Guardians’ sudden deflation at the plate, but this guy just may be the face of his franchise right now. He ought to be one of the faces of this game.

Meet Mark Appel. This is the guy who went from number one in the draft to injuries as well as pressures and even to an exit from the game only to try giving it one more try—and finally coming up with the Phillies, nine years after that draft, and tossing a scoreless inning . . . at age 30. That’s as feel good a story as it gets for the oldest former number one to make his Show debut, no matter what happens with the rest of what remains of Appel’s career. They don’t all go to hell and back.

Those are only some of baseball’s faces, Mr. Commissioner. They’re the ones the fans want to see and pay through the nose to see. Despite your tinkerings. Despite your often erroneous readings of the room. Despite your inability or unwillingness to demand the same accountability of umpires that you do of players, coaches, and managers.

Despite your inability to let your professed deep love of the game come through without tripping over itself because, as an improvisor, well, if you were a musician the consensus would be that Miles Davis you ain’t.

Bauer outage: suspended two years

Trevor Bauer

Bauer’s two-year suspension won’t ease his victims’ pain or his way back to baseball—and in that order.

In considering Trevor Bauer’s unprecedented two-season suspension Friday for violating MLB’s domestic violence protocols, under which he won’t be paid and the Dodgers will be off the hook for the rest of his salary, I can’t help harking back to something pointed out last August. That’s when Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Dianna Gould-Saltman lifted a temporary restraining order against the pitcher.

During the hearings preceding that lift, the victim in the case testified for twelve hours. Bauer’s legal team may have drawn some inconsistencies from her regarding secondary items, but as Cup of Coffee writer and former NBC Sports analyst Craig Calcaterra wrote then, they never discredited “the central claim that he assaulted her in horrible ways.”

Maybe that makes it harder for the accuser to recover any money from him in a civil suit. Maybe that makes a prosecutor less likely to bring a criminal claim against Bauer for fear of the case being difficult. But the central truth of this entire affair—the stuff that Major League Baseball will look to regarding Bauer’s behavior, irrespective of whether charges are brought—points pretty clearly to Bauer doing exactly what his accuser said he did. Everything else is secondary.

After 12 hours of testimony, his accuser said, under oath, “I did not consent to bruises all over my body that sent me to the hospital and having that done to me while I was unconscious.” There was zero evidence presented which explained how those bruises appeared in a way that was benign or refuted the idea that the woman was unconscious when Bauer inflicted them. That, in my mind, is all that matters. (Emphasis added.)

This past February the 31-year-old righthander found himself off the purely legal hook, after Los Angeles County prosecutors decided not to press criminal charges against him. “Those words don’t say the evidence is false,” I wrote at the time, “as much as they say getting a criminal conviction at trial would be tougher than hitting an outside slider over the center field fence.”

The Dodgers knew Bauer was a mere misogynist when they signed him as a free agent in February 2021. “The Dodgers didn’t know Bauer would be accused of sexual assault,” writes Los Angeles Times columnist Dylan Hernández. “However, they knew he was always in some sort of trouble.

They knew how respected baseball people such as Kevin Towers and Terry Francona wanted nothing to do with him. They knew he sliced open his pitching hand repairing a drone.

They knew he threw a ball over the centerfield wall instead of handing it to the manager when he was taken out of a game. They knew of his online harassment campaign against a female college student . . . The question was never about whether Bauer would get into trouble; the question was about what kind of trouble he would get into.

But almost from the moment Bauer’s suspension was announced, defenders sprang up all around the social media universe to decry justice denied. He was cleared of all wrongdoing by a court of law! Well, not exactly. Wrongdoers aren’t always compelled to answer for their wrongdoing in the courts.

Employees from the most obscure clerk, warehouse worker, or line worker, to the highest-powered executives do get suspended and even fired from their jobs over wrongdoings that won’t get them into legal trouble at all, never mind prison time or fines. They are no less wrongdoings for lacking the weight of the law’s punishments.

Why would baseball suspend Bauer two full seasons if prosecutors decided they couldn’t get a criminal conviction against him? ESPN writers Alden Gonzalez and Jeff Passan asked and answered:

The standards in criminal and civil cases differ from those of a private business. The judge dissolving the temporary restraining order and declining to issue a permanent one does not absolve Bauer of liability within the joint policy. Neither does a prosecutor passing on pressing charges.

MLB’s imposed discipline is based on its own investigation, separate from the criminal proceedings. The league’s investigation into Bauer’s case lasted 10 months. Details about MLB’s findings have not been released, but the league’s investigators considered more than just the sexual assault allegations of the San Diego woman from last year. They looked into at least one other allegation, from an Ohio woman who sought a temporary restraining order against Bauer in June of 2020, details of which were reported by the Washington Post.

Hours after Bauer’s suspension was announced, the Post published a story about another Ohio woman who accused Bauer of choking her unconscious without consent during sex on multiple occasions over the course of a relationship that dated back to 2013. Bauer strongly denied those allegations, as he did the allegations by the other women. But the two Ohio women told the Post they cooperated with the league’s investigation, and we don’t know if others were involved as well.

What kind of sex you enjoy is irrelevant so long as it’s with a fellow human and under mutual, conscious consent. What you do while your partner is unconscious and thus unable to consent any further is very relevant when you’re being investigated formally after accusations of sexual assault, whether it’s a legal investigation or one by your employer.

There are those among Bauer’s defenders who raise the question as to why it should have been Bauer and not other known domestic violence violators to be hit with a hammer as heavy as the one with which he’s been hit. (Bauer said at once he’d appeal the suspension.) That’s not an unfair question.

Among others, Yankee relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman was suspended thirty games in 2016 for choking his girlfriend and possessing a firearm he fired into a wall. Then-Cubs infielder Addison Russell was suspended forty games in 2018—after the Cubs lost the National League wild card game—for beating his now-former wife. Braves outfielder Marcel Ozuna was suspended twenty games retroactively in November 2021 over what proved to be trying to choke his wife before throwing her against a wall and hitting her with the cast on his broken left hand.

Those were letting such crimes off the hook too easily, even allowing that those players “accepted responsibility” for their acts. But then free agent reliever Sam Dyson was suspended for the entire 2021 season after his former girlfriend accused him of rape, battery, and psychological abuse.

Some of Bauer’s defenders think commissioner Rob Manfred came down heaviest upon Bauer because Bauer’s been an outspoken critic of of Manfred’s administration in the past, before his sexual assault issues came forth. A very few of those defenders even implied Bauer’s entire domestic violence issue might have been ginned up as a way to try shutting him up.

Even Manfred isn’t that foolish. You’d have to have precisely the imaginative mind Manfred lacks to forge that kind of plot just to push a particulaly outspoken critic to one side. Even if you’re a commissioner who can be accused of abuse of power. But there is a way for Manfred to show he doesn’t care what his in-game critics say or think when it comes to certain very grave matters.

Get with the Major League Baseball Players’ Association and adjust the domestic violence protocol to allow for suspending any player found violating baseball’s domestic violence policy for one full season’s worth of games minimum from now on. I phrase it that way because they won’t all come forth before a season begins, as Dyson’s did.

The bad news is that even that won’t ease their victims’ pain. But it would send forth a more powerful affirmation that baseball suffers no domestic violence benignly and that, no, Bauer wasn’t just singled out for particular punishment, for any corresponding reason.

Baseball’s unlocked. But . . .

“I believe that God/put sun and moon up in the sky./I don’t mind the gray skies/’cause they’re just clouds passing by.” So wrote Duke Ellington, and sang Mahalia Jackson, in his 1943 magnum opus reworked for 1958’s album  Black, Brown, and Beige. The lyric was part of a segment called “Come Sunday.”

Come Sunday, this Sunday, the gray skies yield metaphorically as spring training finally begins. And, early-series cancellations notwithstanding, there will indeed be 2,430 regular season baseball games played in a 162-game schedule this year. It might mean a tighter calendar, of course. But, given that, does it now feel as though spring has arrived properly at last?

Baseball’s owners’ lockout, which ended 26 years of labour “peace” needlessly, ended Thursday. Commissioner Rob Manfred called it a “defensive lockout.” Those who believe that might as well believe Vladmir Putin decided to defend himself against Ukranian “aggression.”

The owners could very well have elected to let baseball continue operating while they negotiated and hammered out a new collective bargaining agreement. The now-concluded 99-day lockout was and will ever be on them entirely. But they had the players right where the players wanted them. Sort of.

The players now have the owners accepting the largest hike in the so-called competitive balance tax—too long used by the owners as a de facto salary cap—since the tax was born after the 1994-95 players’ strike. They also have the owners accepting the largest jump ever in the minimum major league player’s salary, and a pre-arbitration bonus pool for young players emerging as early stars that’s worth $230 million new money just over the time span of the new CBA.

Yet the Major League Baseball Players Association’s vote for accepting the terms was a mere 26-12. The Athletic‘s Evan Drellich writes that it was “telling” for “roughly a third of the executive board [feeling] there was more to accomplish right now, in continued negotiations in 2022, not in the future.”

There’s the warning from Hall of Fame baseball writer Jayson Stark: The new competitive-balance tax threshold may not necessarily mean putting the “competitive balance” all the way into it:

You know those seven teams that came within $8 million of going over the [old] threshold last year? They’re likely to do that same thing this year—other than the Mets, who are already well north of it. But if all those teams spend another $20 million or so apiece, that’s a notch in the win column for players, except for one thing . . . teams that weren’t spending money before still have no incentive to spend now.

“All this does is just increase payroll disparity,” said one longtime club official. “Just because the Phillies go up $10 million doesn’t mean a team like the Marlins goes up $10 million.”

In other words, there’s still room enough for continuing tanking. Maybe that was why that one-third of the union’s executive board felt there was still more to get done now, if not yesterday. Remember Hall of Fame shortstop Derek Jeter took a hike from running the Marlins almost a fortnight ago, saying, essentially, that he didn’t sign up to preside over the Fish only to see their “direction” resemble a killifish and not a barracuda.

What, then, of commissioner Rob Manfred, who is probably the single worst salesman in baseball and barely sold it when he proclaimed at a Thursday press conference that he was “thrilled” the lockout was over and a new deal was done?

At least three questions presented to him inquired about future mended relationships between MLB and those who actually play baseball. Manfred actually doffed his stegasaurus-in-the-china-shop cloak to admit he hasn’t been so successful at promoting “a good relationship with our players. I’ve tried to do that. I have not been successful at that.”

Gee, what gave him the clue? Standing with almost no apology for the precept that the general good of the game is making money for the owners? Allowing the owners to go 43 days worth of silent after their lockout began? Dismissing the World Series championship trophy as “a piece of metal” while not quite holding all the Houston cheaters accountable when Astrogate tainted their 2017 World Series title and outraged as large a percentage of players as it did fans?

Saying it was Mike Trout’s fault Trout wasn’t considered baseball’s face outside the game itself? Abetting the owners trying to cheat the players out of their proper pro-rated 2020 salaries during the pan-damn-ically short season? Tinkering like Rube Goldberg with the game’s play, from the free cookie on second base to open each half inning to the three-batter minimum for relief pitchers?

Manfred did at least observe that the new deal should give the owners and the players more than a little room to move on working out such things as doing away with draft-pick compensation for players reaching free agency; and, on establishing a joint committee aimed at addressing issues involving field competition. But . . .

“The committee can implement rules changes with 45 days notice,” writes another Athletic staffer, Ken Rosenthal, “and with the league holding a majority of members, Manfred can push through any changes he desires. Will he do it, continuing the league’s chest-pounding, zero-sum style? Or will he and league officials show greater understanding that players are the product, and become better listeners?”

They’ve barely understood, if at all, that no fan has ever paid his or her way into a ballpark to see their team’s owner. “Recent history suggests that when the owners give in one area, they take from another, which again leaves the middle class of players vulnerable,” Rosenthal warns. “Don’t hold your breath waiting for the league to suddenly become more benevolent to its most valued employees, though even a mildly less aggressive approach would be helpful.”

But Rosenthal points to at least one team administrator not named Steve Cohen (the deepest-of-deep-pockets owner of the Mets whom enough owners fear for his willingness to invest in his team and its organisation) who has more than a clue. “It’s paramount,” said Twins president Dave St. Peter on a Zoom call to writers covering the team, “that we as an industry do a better job of building trust with our players.”

Coming in the wake of such petty tacks as scrubbing players from MLB’s own Website early in the lockout, St. Peter’s words may sound encouraging on the surface. But it’s wise to remember a remark once made often enough by the maverick journalism legend Sidney Zion: Trust your mother, but cut the cards.

Try not to get too hopped up over the new service-time adjustments, either, which mean rookies finishing with the Rookie of the Year or in second place for the award get a full year’s service time even if he didn’t spent the entire season in the Show. “[A]ny system based on counting days is a system that can be manipulated,” Stark warns. “So why do we suspect we could be back in this same, uncomfortable place in five years, trying to remind the powers that be again that there’s something wrong with a sport that rewards teams for not putting its best players on the field.”

For the moment, we can revel in a few things. The entire baseball family, from the teams to the fans, is watching to see the swift enough movement of the game’s remaining free agents. And we’ll be spared at long enough last the overwhelming, century-plus-old futility of pitchers at the plate wasting outs (those who can hit have always. been. outliers), now that the designated hitter will be universal instead of everywhere but the National League.

At long enough last, we should see a cutback in basepath injuries thanks to coming new bases that will be—relax, ladies and gentlemen—a mere three inches larger than the bases have been in the past, but designed with more give that may mean less leg injuries taking players out for two-thirds of a season or longer.

That twelve-team postseason format? With three wild cards per league? The good news is that the odds of a team with a losing record making the postseason under it aren’t great. Since the first wild-card game in 2013, Stark says, if this format had been in play only once might a sub-.500 team have burglarised its way into the postseason: 2017. (The Angels, the Rays, or the Royals.) And, the extra-card clubs would still average 87 wins.

“So despite this expansion,” Stark continues, “the baseball playoffs will still be the most difficult to make among the four major professional sports.” And still rather profitable for the owners, who stand to pull down $85 million postseason from ESPN with the third wild card. They may also change the trade deadline atmosphere, as Stark observes: “More buyers. Fewer sellers. Less incentive for teams hovering near contention in July to hold those depressing closeout sales.” May.

Myself, I remain in favour of something else: eliminating the wild cards entirely, adding two more major league teams to make sixteen-team leagues, and doing away with regular-season interleague play. But with or without the third of those, 1) divide each sixteen-team league into four four-team conferences; 2) best-of-three conference championships; 3) best-of-five League Championship Series (you know, the way the LCS was from 1969-85); and, 4) leaving the World Series its best-of-seven self.

Goodbye postseason saturation, welcome home genuine championship.

For now, I hope, too, that the remaining 525 pre-1980, short-career players maneuvered out of the 1980 pension realignment won’t be forgotten much longer, either. The lockout also suspended the annual stipend the late MLBPA director Michael Weiner and former commissioner Bud Selig got them—$625 per 43 days’ major league service time, up to $10,000 a year. (It would have been paid normally in February.)

Which would, of course, require what they once called the vision thing. This commissioner and his bosses tend to lack that. Today’s players have it, but they could use a lot more depth. Doing right further for those pre-1980 men whose playing careers were short, but who supported the union in its most critical early years, toward the end of reserve era abuse, and the rightful advent of free agency, would show vision even philosophers only imagine having.

Missing: The MLBPA leader who didn’t like to wait

Michael Weiner

Michael Weiner, watching pre-game activity at the 2013 All-Star Game, four months before his premature death. Would the late MLBPA leader have helped things be very different now if he could have lived longer?

This much we know about baseball’s current paralysis: The owners and their trained parrot (it’s almost impossible to think of Rob Manfred as a proper commissioner) think both the players and (most) fans make a bag of hammers resemble the Harvard Classics. The Major League Baseball Players Association, however, did commit one barely discussed but crucial error.

Musing about how the owners and the players might, maybe, be able to straighten their priorities out, ESPN’s Buster Olney remembered a not-too-distant time when the players, at least, did a lot more advance work with a collective bargaining agreement’s expiration on the horizon.

“Why didn’t we start this sooner?” Olney thinks the players should ask themselves, before remembering someone on their side who actually did, once upon a time.

“The late union leader Michael Weiner constantly engaged with Major League Baseball in the months leading up to the CBA expiration, working through the complicated puzzles,” Olney writes. “[Current MLBPA director Tony] Clark has taken a very different approach in the past two CBA negotiations, waiting and waiting before diving into the core issues.”

Earlier in the essay, Olney remembers Manfred speaking of “wanting to forge relationships with individual players” upon becoming commissioner but failing to do precisely that. Further down, Olney suggests the players with Weiner’s successor (and former first baseman) Clark could do with doing similar, among themselves and with the commissioner’s bosses.

“The players are rightly furious about some of the owners’ tactics and PR spin,” Olney continues. “But is it possible the union would be better served by a Weiner-style engagement? Moving forward, could the business relationship be improved by more consistent dialogue?”

Weiner’s death of an inoperable brain tumour in November 2013 saddened a sport that came to love him back as much as he loved the game. He was known as a geniune baseball fan, who didn’t let that stop him from both reasonableness and deep-diving preparation. He was practically the union’s version of a commissioner who’d died prematurely, too.

Weiner was a man with vision though not a proper professional scholar. But he had this much in common with A. Bartlett Giamatti: Whatever particulars confronted them otherwise, Giamatti didn’t seem to believe the good of the game equaled little more than making money for the owners, and Weiner didn’t seem to believe the good of the game equaled little more than making money for the players.

Both men grew up as polar opposite baseball fans. Giamatti grew up loving the Red Sox; Weiner grew up loving the Yankees. Giamatti became a baseball executive in 1987, as president of the National League; Weiner joined the Players Association in 1988, the year before Giamatti became commissioner. Surely the two looked upon each other, measured each other’s lifelong rooting commitments, and concluded, “Well, that doesn’t make him a terrible person.”

Both men loved the game itself too deeply to isolate to single passions or by way of single quoted commentaries. They also loved the game too deeply to let either the owners or the players push it to the point of no return.

Giamatti could be seen visiting spring training camps and mingling with players, umpires, managers alike. He could also be seen in the stands, itching to shake his fist and cheer, when Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan blew Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson away for Ryan’s precedent-setting 5,000th career strikeout. “Giamatti knew,” wrote the New York Times‘s George Vecsey upon his death, “that baseball is about rooting, about caring.”

Weiner could be seen in the spring camps every year, too, spending as much time just enjoying the sounds and sights of players rounding into season’s shape as he did picking their brains. You just knew Weiner, by then wheelchair-confined, unable to walk or use his right arm, was dying to leap if he could and holler with the Citi Field masses when Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera—entering with the field left empty by both sides, allowing him to stand for tribute before throwing eight warmups alone—became the 2013 All-Star Game’s ceremonial and baseball story alike, and its most valuable player.

The Pete Rose case overwhelmed too much of the commissioner’s other business. But Giamatti’s handling and disposition showed baseball’s government was in good hands. The second case of Ryan Braun and actual/alleged performance-enhancing substances plus the Biogenesis/Alex Rodriguez case didn’t overwhelm Weiner’s union business quite so heavily. But his handling of both—and, especially, his shepherding of the union’s emerging stance athwart such substance users—showed the union was in hands just as good.

Said former major league general manager Jim Duquette upon Weiner’s death, “It was almost ridiculous. You’d be negotiating contracts with agents, or just talking shop, and you’d always hear it: ‘The most reasonable guy in the union, the guy with the best rationale, is Michael Weiner.’ Then they’d go on to explain how he thought about something, and you’d think, ‘Wow—this guy really gets it’.”

He even delivered what might have proven only a beginning toward a redress of certain injustice had he lived to build on it further. He worked with then-commissioner Bud Selig to give pre-1980, short-career major leaguers—frozen unconscionably out of the 1980 pension re-alignment—a $625-per-quarter stipend for every 43 days’ major league service those players actually had, up to four years’ worth. (Reminder: The owners’ lockout also blocked their February payments; the payments are covered by CBAs.)

Weiner’s death prevented any further, more advanced redress for those players. Clark seemed distinctly disinterested in pursuing further such redress even prior to the current owners’ lockout. Never mind that the players in question often walked pickets and supported the union’s battles themselves, on the path toward ending the abusive reserve era.

But Weiner believed in advance and continuing dialogue and in preparation going in. He knew that waiting until somewhere too close to the eleventh hour did neither the players nor, truly, the owners any big favours.

Nothing here should be construed as saying baseball’s present paralysis is anyone’s fault other than the owners’. But it’s only too possible that a far different commissioner and a far different union leader would have avoided it. Even if they’d agreed, as should have been done this time, to just operate and play under the terms of the expired CBA while wringing forth a new, better one.

“Rational thinking can be hard to find in baseball, with so many competing interests among—and within—the ranks of the players and the owners,” wrote another New York Timesman, Tyler Kepner, upon Weiner’s death. “Weiner always had it.” Had he lived, he might even have persuaded Manfred and the owners that a lockout equaled the next best thing to a suicide mission.

Above and beyond what they used to call the vision thing, and each man’s genuine love for the game, Weiner has one more sad thing in common with Giamatti. Both men were the same age upon their deaths—51.

Baseball’s death wish?

Rob Manfred

Rob Manfred announcing the cancellation of the 2022 regular season’s first two weeks. He has made clear his vision for the good of the game is making money for the owners and too little more.

I’ve quoted it often but it all but screams now. “We try every way we can think of to kill this game,” said Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson once upon a time, “but for some reason nothing nobody does never hurts it.”

That’s Anderson’s body among many now performing imitations of washing machine spin cycles in their graves, while their beings in the Elysian Fields pray today’s baseball owners haven’t pushed the game closer to its own.

“I had hoped against hope,” commissioner Rob Manfred said Tuesday evening, “I wouldn’t have to have this press conference where I am going to cancel some regular season games. I want to assure [baseball] fans that our failure to reach an agreement was not due to a lack of effort by either party.”

It was to laugh that you might not wish to commit manslaughter.

That was the man whom we are, as one Twitter denizen tweeted, “old enough to remember [saying] cancelling regular season games over his MLB #Lockout would be a disaster.” The disaster is of Manfred’s own and his bosses’s making.

That was the man whose bosses, the owners, compelled him to impose a lockout, just after midnight 1 December, when baseball’s previous collective bargaining agreement expired, rather than allow themselves and the Major League Baseball Players Association to continue operating the game under the former agreement while negotiating a new one.

That was the man who presided over 43 days’ worth of absolute dead silence from the owners’ side to follow. Dead silence, including nothing in the way of an offer from the owners to the players. Dead silence, but not oblivion.

Eyes unclouded by either cataracts or selectivity saw this was not dismissable as mere  billionaires versus millionaires. Eyes thus unclouded saw that Manfred claiming major league baseball franchises return less on what is invested to buy and run them was a shameless and shabby lie.

Eyes at full strength see that only 31.4 percent of the players’ union’s active major league membership earns more than a million dollars in a season, that 28.2 percent of that membership are minor league players on teams’ forty-man rosters who earn no more than $40,500.

“Player pay has decreased for four consecutive years, even as industry revenues grew and franchise values soared and the would-be stewards of the game pleaded to anyone who would listen that owning a baseball team isn’t a particularly profitable venture,” wrote ESPN analyst Jeff Passan on the day of Manfred’s first deadline for a deal without cancelling games.

Players’ service time has been manipulated to keep them from free agency and salary arbitration. The luxury tax, instituted to discourage runaway spending, has morphed into a de facto salary cap, and too many teams are nowhere near it anyway, instead gutting their rosters and slashing their payrolls because the game’s rules incentivize losing. The commissioner has called the World Series trophy a “piece of metal,” and the league has awarded the team that did the best job curtailing arbitration salaries a replica championship belt.

Eyes open wide saw that Manfred and his bosses are the (lack of) class attempting nothing short of its level best to push players further back toward what they were prior to 1975-76.

That was then: Curt Flood, in his courageous but failed bid to break the ancient abused reserve clause, proclaimed, “A $90,000 a year slave is still a slave.” And, Andy Messersmith, who finished what Flood started: “I was tired of players having no power and no rights.” This is now: Owners and their administrators, enough of whom originate in the corporate world, refer to baseball players as assets, commodities, elements, liabilities, pieces.

They wish you to forget that baseball is unlike the typical industry in which the worker bees make the products sold, because in baseball the worker bees are the product sold.

They also wish you to forget that a small market is in the eye and the adjusted ledger of the beholder. “There is no such thing as a ‘small market’,” tweeted Ben Verlander, an actor and the brother of future Hall of Fame pitcher Justin Verlander. “If you want a bigger market. Put more money into your team and make them competitive.” (The “small market” Pirates, believed among baseball’s premiere tankers, are worth $1.2 billion.)

Last weekend, negotiations dragged before Monday’s marathon sessions deep into the night enabled exactly what the players thought would occur, the owners refusing to budge more than milliliters if that far on any concessions the Players Association wanted to sign on the proverbial dotted line—and then propagating as Manfred ultimately did that by God they’d gone to the mattresses trying to get a deal.

This time, however, the players had an invaluable weapon in the PR wars. They weren’t shy about taking it to social media, any more than serious fans were shy about hitting the Internet running to fact-check any and just about every one of Manfred’s claims about the owners in serious binds. Finding them very wanting.

“If times are so tough for these clubs financially over the last five years,” tweeted Giants third baseman Evan Longoria Tuesday afternoon, “show us the financials. Be transparent.”

From the moment the lockout began through the moment Commissioner Nero announced the first two series of the regular season were cancelled—if not for his entire commissionership—he’s been very transparent about his view of the good of the game: making money for the owners, and precious little else.

Another future Hall of Fame pitcher, Max Scherzer, whose plainspokenness and willingness to put in sixteen-hour days at the bargaining table has impressed as much as he impresses on the mound, makes plain he’s not thinking purely of himself or the considerable dollars he’ll lose for every regular season day with an unplayed game.

“It’s about everybody else. I’m in a position to fight for those guys and sacrifice my salary to make this game better,” Max the Knife insisted to USA Today baseball columnist Bob Nightengale.

We all want to make the game better for the next generation behind us, and we’ll do whatever it takes to make that happen. The former players that fought for the game and fought for the players, I realized the benefits from that. I had an unbelievable career for all of the rights that everybody fought for, going back to Curt Flood. Now I have the opportunity to do that for the next generation.

“Scherzer and the union are fighting for pay for the young players who aren’t eligible for salary arbitration, seeking large raises in minimum salary and bonus pools,” Nightengale continued.

They are fighting to make sure that teams are actually trying to win and not to collect draft picks with a draft lottery. They are fighting to make sure that every team can freely sign free agents without a restrictive luxury tax, pointing out the absurdity of the San Diego Padres having a larger payroll than the New York Yankees. They are fighting to make sure the integrity of the regular season is not compromised, willing to accept a twelve-team playoff system, but not fourteen teams.

It would be even better if Scherzer and his fellows, and Nightengale and his fellows in the baseball press, also remembered a particular group among the former players who fought for their brethren and for the game itself and who deserve considerably more attention than either the Players Association or the owners have paid.

There remain 525 former major leaguers, playing prior to 1980 but whose careers were short for assorted reasons, frozen out of that year’s pension re-alignment, but who were gained $625 per 43 days’ major league service time in a 2011 deal between the late Players Association director Michael Weiner and then-commissioner Bud Selig, worth up to $10,000 a year for them depending on their actual major league time.

Those players—including 1969 Miracle Mets Rod Gaspar and Bobby Pfeil and former Rangers fresh-from-high-school pitching phenom turned mishandled David Clyde—didn’t receive those annual stipends as they should have in February, also thanks to the owners’ apparent baseball death wish.

“The owners . . . still they couldn’t help themselves, couldn’t resist going for the throat,” writes The Athletic‘s Ken Rosenthal. “They, too, could end up net losers, depending upon how much [baseball’s] place in the entertainment landscape is diminished. But they seemingly would rather take that risk than satisfy the players who pitch and hit and make teams so valuable.”

The day you see baseball fans walking about wearing jerseys with names on the back such as Angelos, Crane, Lerner, Liberty, Monfort, Moreno, Nutting, Guggenheim, Reinsdorf, Ricketts, or Steinbrenner, among others, is the day you should see swine in the colours of American Airlines.

“They may not break the union,” writes Rosenthal’s fellow Athletic scribe Andy McCullough of Manfred and his bosses. “But they will break something.” They already have. They’ve broken the heart of a nation starved for the sort of post pan-damn-ic normalcy that baseball alone might provide.