Despite a cavalcade of incredibly entertaining postseason games, it has been a brutal and disastrous finish to the season for Major League Baseball in 2019.
Scandals litter the headlines, calling into question some of the fundamental integrity of the game during a time when people across the globe are otherwise celebrating the World Series, the showcase of the very best our sport has to offer.
But, oddly enough, MLB seems to be sidestepping the landmines for now.
A major story that broke out of Houston that eventually lead to the firing of Assistant GM Brandon Taubman has quieted down since the extreme backpedaling of the organization but that situation only begins to touch on the massive issue the league needs to address when it comes to the way women are treated and thought of around the game.
Far too many Roberta Osunas, Aroldis Chapmans, Addison Russells and Jose Reyes’ are given second, third, and fourth chances while the people they’ve victimized have to be endlessly reminded that their pain is less important – in the grand scheme of things – to the outcomes of baseball games.
We will see how the league ultimately handles the Felipe Vazquez ordeal as all eyes will be watching.
Female reporters oftentimes don’t feel safe around MLB clubhouses and inside press boxes as they are almost assured to be in the minority. DNVR spoke to a few women journalists who say it is a different and largely unwelcoming world to cover baseball as opposed to the other sports. This is a problem and it needs to be actively fixed.
An apology to Stephanie Apstein of Sports Illustrated and the dismissal of Taubman was literally the least that could be done. The Astros need to take more internal steps but baseball needs to attack this issue head on and announce policy directly aimed at making the sport more inclusive while providing legitimate disincentives and punishments for the mistreatment of women and minorities.
Picking up an abuser for cheap should not be seen as taking advantage of a market inefficiency.
Chapman and Josh Hader, who had his own issues with racially insensitive tweets, won their respective awards for best reliever in each league, twisting the knife just a little bit more for anyone hoping to enjoy their baseball without having to worry about moral compromise.
And then came the umpire issues.
We won’t litigate the facts here but simply present them.
First, Joe West is currently suing former MLB catcher Paul Lo Duca for defamation after the backstop alleged that West took bribes in the form of access to a nice car owned by closer Billy Wagner.
In various player’s polls, West has been voted among both the most and least favorite umpires in the game.
Then another umpire, Rob Drake, came under fire after tweeting (and then deleting) that he was going to buy an AR-15 and “you will have another Civil War” if the President is impeached.
This comes at a time when scrutiny for umpires is at an all-time high and the push toward an electronic strike zone is finally in full gear. But, if the MLBUA has given us any indication, it is going to be a long battle to implement any kind of reform.
And finally, there’s the baseballs.
In any other sport, manipulation of the ball (or puck, I guess) would be a news story that would permeate every single element of the way the game is talked about. Sure, plenty of folks have been kicking up dust over the “juiced” baseballs going back a couple of years now. But for some reason, this issue never quite seems to take center stage, even when Justin Verlander – one of the best pitchers of this generation – comes out and confirms what we can all see with our own two eyes.
Now, multiple reports have surfaced that make it seem incredibly likely that MLB changed out the baseballs for the postseason. The New York Times recently reported that plenty of players are convinced this is true and conducted research showing major differences between the way the baseballs are behaving now as opposed to the regular season.
How is this in any way acceptable?
In 2006, the NBA infamously tried to introduce a new basketball. The uproar was so loud in the span of just a few months that the NBA Players Association got involved and filed two unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board. The union argued that the players “were not properly consulted before the ball was implemented,” and ultimately commissioner David Stern conceded.
“I won’t make a spirited defense in respect to the ball,” Stern said, “In hindsight, we could have done a better job. I take responsibility for that.” On December 11, less than two full months into the experiment, the league lamented and returned to the old ball.
And we are still talking about that one time Tom Brady sat on a football and all the crazy impact that had.
Commissioner Rob Manfred has continually insisted that MLB hasn’t done anything intentional to manipulate the baseballs but has softened a bit on his stance that there was nothing different about them to begin with.
Whatever the truth of the matter, the answer to all of these scandals is the same: MLB needs to be far more transparent.
At the end of a disappointing 2019 campaign, the Colorado Rockies owner, general manager and manager sat in front of the media and took every single question we had. Lots of people took lots of different things from that event and many weren’t happy with what was said, but it was still a rare kind of transparency that was greatly appreciated and did wonders toward helping us all to understand vital facts.
There need to be multiple press conferences by MLB to take questions on each of these important topics. They can send out the slickest of lawyers they can find, but these questions need to be answered.
How is MLB going to make sure that women feel safer and more respected in the game?
What will MLB do to make sure violent acts don’t lead to a better career situation?
How is MLB going to work with the umpires union to ensure their rights but also the integrity of the game?
And what in the world is going on with the baseballs and how soon can we get back to some kind of normalcy?
They need to answer all of these and many more about the specific timelines and internal conversations about how to deal with these matters. Having these conversations behind closed doors only breeds more rampant speculation that the league isn’t doing its best to take care of the fans and make sure that they receive the best, fairest, and most inclusive version of the game.