Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Houston vs. Atlanta Is Rob Manfred's Nightmare World Series

I've been watching a lot of sports, but I've had no time to write about them. 

John Gruden, my favorite guy, resigns. Dodgers win seven elimination games in a row, but can't hold on against the relentless Braves.

College football: U.S.C.'s program has been nuked, their head coach fired. (And besides that, there's more scandals on that campus than the Vatican.)

Work's been busy and thus posting light. I'll pick up the pace after I get my term papers graded. That's the semester hump. After that it's pretty much downhill.

Anyway, don't miss this piece at W.S.J. Very good, "The MLB commissioner yanked the All-Star Game out of Atlanta and punished the Astros for their cheating scandal. Fans are not expected to be forgiving in either city":

HOUSTON—Sometime in the next week or so, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred will hand off the World Series championship trophy in one of the two cities in America in which he might be most despised.

One is Houston, the site of Tuesday night’s Game 1, where Manfred is seen as a villain over his handling of the sign-stealing scandal that tarnished the Astros’ title in 2017 and stained their players’ legacies. Many fans here believe Manfred scapegoated the Astros for committing a crime that was widespread at the time and unfairly transformed them into the most hated franchise in professional sports.

The other is Atlanta, where Manfred sparked a political firestorm by pulling the All-Star Game in response to Georgia’s new voting law. The move, which the Braves publicly opposed, enraged some state officials and alienated a portion of fans, who are now celebrating even more important games coming to town.

However it shakes out, it is a hellish proposition for Manfred. Sports commissioners frequently hear boos. (Just ask Roger Goodell how much he enjoys showing his face in New England.) But the vitriol Manfred will face at the end of this World Series will be particularly vicious, and coming from all directions—whatever he does now.

Manfred is pinned between liberal and conservative American politics in part because MLB began to respond to calls to act on social issues last year. It left the commissioner simultaneously under pressure to take those stances to their logical conclusion, at the same time he is still facing resentment from people aggrieved at the positions.

If the series ends in Atlanta, Manfred will deliver baseball’s highest honor at the ballpark that he deprived of hosting the All-Star Game. At the time, Manfred said relocating the game was “the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport.” The Braves responded by saying they were “deeply disappointed” and noted that moving the game was “neither our decision, nor our recommendation.”

“Unfortunately, businesses, employees and fans in Georgia are the victims of this decision,” the Braves said.

To Manfred, relocating the All-Star Game had nothing to do with the Braves or the people of Georgia but was rather a move to stave off further controversy, people familiar with the matter said. MLB worried about the possibility of players boycotting the game—or having to answer questions about their status for months leading up to it. Ultimately, MLB knew that no matter what it did with the All-Star Game, people would be angry. Manfred determined moving it to Denver was the better option.

Certainly, some people in Georgia who are against the voting law supported Manfred. Republican politicians in the state, however, are viewing the Braves advancing to the World Series and as some sort of karmic payback. “It’s really ridiculous to inject politics into sports and then to baseball, but that’s what they did,” Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said on “Fox & Friends” on Monday.

Astros fans feel like victims, too, and blame Manfred for undermining what should have been the proudest moment in the history of the franchise. In January 2020, Manfred suspended then-manager A.J. Hinch and then-general manager Jeff Luhnow for their involvement in the Astros’ scheme. (They were both fired that same day, though Hinch has since resurfaced as the manager for the Detroit Tigers.) Manfred also docked Houston’s first- and second-round picks in the 2020 and 2021 drafts and fined the team $5 million.

Whether they should be mad at Manfred is another story. In spite of everything, no players were punished for their roles in the scheme. In the two seasons since the revelation of the scandal, the Astros advanced to the American League Championship Series and now the World Series. They’re doing just fine.

But to some in Houston, the Astros were singled out for something other teams were already doing...