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MLB

Rob Manfred Reaches A New Low

HOUSTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 26: Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred looks on prior to Game One of the World Series between the Atlanta Braves and the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on October 26, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Bob Levey/Getty Images

Most corporate lawyers choose that path by believing they are the smartest person in the room. It is a short step from that to believing that everyone else in the room is spectacularly more stupid than you. But you haven’t really made it in the profession until you’ve reached the state of legal nirvana that Rob Manfred has achieved—namely, when you don’t care if YOU are the stupidest person in the room but nobody is there to either harm you or stop you from being so out loud where everyone can hear you.

Thus, when Manfred proffered a new and fascinating framework by which the Atlanta Braves as a company exist and operate—that they’re racist, their fans are racists, and they should absolutely go where the money is even if it means working in the milieu they are given—he took his role to a new and exciting place. In other words, he moved his queen off the board, chucked it into the toilet, and declared checkmate. Well done, Rob.

He was asked before Game 1 of the World Series what he thought of the team’s position toward the Braves’ nickname, its imagery, and the tomahawk chop, and here’s how he managed to catch that hand grenade and hold it until it detonated:

So let’s break this magnificent wickiup of slander, ignorance, and arrogance, starting with:

“We don’t market our game on a nationwide basis.” Well, yes you do, all the time, and we can prove it. The television deals are national, the World Series in particular is nationally televised, and the MLB Network is on all the time as a national entity. Nice try, Skippy, but this is just a clumsy lie.

“Ours is an everyday game.” Yeah, and what’s that got to do with anything? My grocery store is an everyday operation. The family dog is an everyday game too, otherwise it would be an ex-dog. What’s your point?

“You’ve gotta sell tickets every single day to the fans in that market.” Aha! Now we’re getting to the crux of it. The iconography that was so offensive in Cleveland is the thing that makes the Braves marketable. Suburban Atlanta WANTS this even though it has been a source of consternation for decades. Suburban Atlanta NEEDS this because there are two racial stereotypes in play here, and the second is that fans won’t come to games unless the racist memes are in full display. That is presumably why they moved the ballpark to Cobb County, right Robbo? Because the fans there are all racist? Does anyone vet the words and ideas that ooze out of your face at all? Ever?

“And there are all sorts of differences between the regions in terms of how the teams are marketed.” So the answer to my questions is no, I take it.

Actually, he is right about the last part, but for all the wrong reasons. He is still saying that the Braves market to racists even though it’s probably safe to say that this is a wild generality that at least some Braves fans might find offensive. But never mind that. Why didn’t Rob step in and clear the brush in front of Progressive Field and tell the Dolans in Cleveland that they didn’t have to change the team name to Guardians after all? They could just market differently. Seems like the rule is a clear one—be inclusive to all unless you don’t feel like it. I can see the Laughing Brave’s face nodding in agreement now. I can also see it slapped back onto the uniform sleeves and caps any day now because “there are all sorts of differences between the regions in terms of how the teams are marketed.” The commissioner said it’s OK, kids. Get cracking on some new ideas that make fun of native people because even though Cleveland isn’t using the name, nothing says we can’t kind of steal their old stuff and repurpose it here.

But Rob wasn’t done there. He also offered this.

OK, Chuckles. Describe the “Native American community.” Certainly it does not include the many groups nationwide, or the National Council of American Indians, who have called for the team to drop the name and the chop. The Braves would likely point you to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, who’ve helped the team do damage control for the last couple of years after an opposing pitcher of native descent spoke up against the chop and the chants. The Braves probably won’t tell you the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, through the casino they own, are also a corporate sponsor of the team.

But Manfred does get credit for this one: “For me, that’s kind of the end of the story.” For him, maybe. The end of the story is this: The Braves under Liberty Media and its president John Malone have made all these choices willingly and with great forethought and no mere commissioner was going to get in the way of that. Manfred had to explain a difficult position and did it with his usual oven mitts-inside-catcher’s mitts precision. He’d have saved himself a lot of well-deserved shame if he’d just hitched up his cooler and left the room saying, “Hey, I just work here. Cold beer! Get your cold beer here! Get it while it’s cold! Get it while it’s beer! Getcher cold beer right here!”

See, it’s all about local marketing because baseball isn’t a national game any more, which will be quite the revelation when the current CBA expires in December and the owners tell the union leadership, “Sorry, you’ll have to negotiate with the 30 teams separately from now on because we’re just a bunch of mom’n’pops now. MLB is just a shell corporation, because we’ve worked so hard to make it that way. Ask John Malone. Never mind that Forbes nonsense that he’s worth $8.1 billion and has a national cable company. He’s just a small local businessman trying to get by day to day. He doesn’t even know who the Houston Astros are.”

And I guess THAT’S the real end of the story.