It is not in the nature of American culture to praise baseball commissioner and Grim Reaper doppelganger Rob Manfred for saying things, since that is his only recognizable job that doesn’t involve screwing the players’ union. Yet two things tumbled out of his piehole in his annual Stop Hating Me address to the Baseball Writers Association Of America And Whatever Other Countries Will Have Them that hint at some sort of rapprochement with the sport he is typically credited with treating like spackle on burned toast as part of a healthy breakfast.
One, no more seven-inning doubleheader games.
Two, no more runner on second to start extra innings.
Now if there was a third, restoring the fullness of the minor leagues and all the players and jobs therein, we’d have to come up with someone else in baseball’s hierarchy to hate. Because those are among the leading items in the Why Manfred Is A Tool compendium, and acknowledging their time has expired is an admission of adaptability and is as much to his credit as, well, anything he has done as the game’s owners’ elf.
And that’s the thing to remember here: that as commissioner, he has 30 constituents, not thousands or millions. He works for them, and if there was a way to monetize the runner on second, he would have suggested putting the runners on third as a bold new innovation.
But these two he got right (or at least described them correctly so as to give the BBWAA some free copy for their pregame notebooks, as is his God-mandated duty) because there was no good reason to maintain them. There was no ongoing defense for making patrons pay for two games and giving them 78 percent of what they paid for, and the runner on second was a cheap affectation to speed up games and juice up offense that missed on both fronts, as offense is still down and every team is still averaging more than three hours per game.
In short, he has ultimately gotten two fewer things wrong than normal, and credit must be given. And you know how fair-minded we are.
But this is only the start, and we are omitting all the post–Home Run Derby demands for fixes to the Home Run Derby format even though the Home Run Derby was better than it’s been in years, because people will complain when they see a crumpled up $20 in the gutter and are pissed that it’s not a crease-free $50. We are also not in need of more new uniforms designed by art classes short on supplies; we need no more jerseys, honest. We are even willing to wait on all the things that actually need to be changed at club level to make the game less slow, orthodox, and math-oppressed, and then make it appear as fun and athletic as the players would make it if left to their own devices.
So right now, we’ll just say, “Put all the minor league teams back because you should want baseball in more places, not fewer, and hire back all the people in all the towns where you closed up shop, if only to make yourself seem a bit less like Scrooge on crank.”
Ah, that’s more like it. If Manfred told you he had the winning lottery numbers and was going to give them to you for free, you’d sic your dog on him anyway just on general principle, and you’d be right to do so.
Fixing the minors wouldn’t be hard for him to sell—just gather the owners, take the “KICK ME HARD” badge off his lapel, and pitch the idea of expanding baseball, even if it means spending a few million here and there and pissing off the efficiency nerds in HR. People like being given more, whether it’s innings or teams, and the hard fact is that despite what Darren Rovell may be saying, Shohei Ohtani cannot cure all the things that ail baseball. Not even cloning Shohei Ohtani gets that done, because one of the clones would break programming and go back to Japan rather than play for the Pirates.
Given that today’s two positive developments outweigh, at least in column inches, the one negative non-development, we will leave Manfred be until CBA negotiations start. Because that’s when he WANTS to appear as the guy who hates baseball, if only for tactical reasons.