MLB and Rob Manfred
There’s a famous scene in the hit TV series Breaking Bad, where Mike Ehrmantraut (played by Jonathan Banks) tells Walter White (Bryan Cranston) a story about how he regretted not preventing a domestic abuser from killing his wife, despite Ehrmantraut arresting him multiple times, then threatening him one final time. Now obviously Breaking Bad isn’t the best depiction of how justice is served, but the point is straightforward, half measures are ineffective means of getting a job done, even if they appear to do the job.
Rob Manfred’s report on Astrogate was a half measure. By placing the blame squarely on the coaching staff under the incredibly vague and nebulous “encouraging the environment of cheating” and publicly outing Beltran as a co-conspirator without punishing him, Manfred indirectly put the onus on disciplining Beltran on the Mets, instead of handling it himself, like a commissioner should do.
Whether or not Manfred intended to push the responsibility of dealing with Beltran on the Mets, his actions were irresponsible, reckless, and unfair to an organization that had nothing to do with the scandal in the first place
Never mind that Beltran was no longer under the MLBPA’s protection, never mind that Manfred stated Beltran wouldn’t be disciplined, by publicly outing him, and only him as the only player on the report without punishing him, he essentially was saying to the Mets organization that they were now responsible for the Astros mess by association.
There’s a major hole in regards to the whole “no players would be disciplined” part of the punishment, because, at the time of its release, Beltran was one of three players on the 2017 championship team that were no longer playing. Brian McCann and Evan Gattis both had retired, and yet neither was listed on the report. Why was Beltran the only player listed on the report when there were more that were no longer playing?
The speculation is that Manfred was too afraid to go toe to toe with the MLB Players Association. With relations strained enough as it is and a lockout impending, obviously Manfred felt it was in his best interest to appease the union by not implicating any players despite evidence showing players cheating, see: Jose Altuve, Josh Reddick, and Alex Bregman allegedly wearing haptic bandages.
In outing Beltran without punishing him, Manfred essentially took the path of least resistance, making Beltran a scapegoat with the expectation that the court of public opinion would turn on Beltran. Basically, Manfred said to the public, “See, the players did do it, even though we can’t punish them we can point out they were involved in this!” In pushing the “promoting an environment” angle, Manfred could say that MLB at least did something to discourage cheating.
Ultimately, it was poorly handled. In naming Beltran, Manfred not only threw him under the bus but he had to have been aware he was putting the Mets in a bad position. He had to have known the heat would be taken off him if his punishment was viewed as too lenient, which depending on who you talk too, it’s either appropriate, or the Astros were let off easy. The collateral damage in getting the Mets involved in something that they weren’t a part of especially shows how feckless Manfred is as a commissioner.
Manfred’s best course of action would have been to actually punish the players or suspend or fine Beltran. In suspending the players, sure, the MLBPA would be geared up for a long and costly legal battle, and Tony Clark could use that as a means to not come to the negotiating table to hash out the post-2021 Collective Bargaining Agreement, but Manfred would be effectively punishing those responsible for implementing and using the system. In suspending Beltran, Manfred would have saved the Mets the trouble of having to make a difficult decision with the league actually taking charge.
However, in Manfred’s book, the path of least resistance is the best path. He did something to send a message, never mind the collateral damage, never mind that more and more players are coming forward with accusations and turning this offseason into a perfect storm of mistrust. As long as people saw he at least made an effort to curb electronic sign stealing, he could say that he did the right thing, no matter the cost.