Opinion: Rays’ AL pennant lets Rob Manfred off the hook

MLB: ALCS-Houston Astros at Tampa Bay Rays
Tampa Bay Rays celebrate the victory against the Houston Astros following game seven of the 2020 ALCS at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Representing a majority of the baseball-viewing public, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the Tampa Bay Rays — America’s Team — for knocking out the Houston Astros in the ALCS.

Well, sort of. It’s a little more complicated than that. 

After all, this is the team that knocked the Yankees out in the ALDS, elongating the city of New York’s championship drought to eight full years — its longest since a 15-year stretch between the New York Baseball Giants’ World Series titles in 1905 and 1921. 

What’s eight years of futility — and now 11 years of Yankees emptiness — compared to a reminder that baseball can be won by the little guys? 

The small-market Rays are a throwback team, riding strong pitching and a cast of non-household names to an unlikely pennant and just a second World Series appearance in 22 years. 

Granted, that’s as many trips to the Fall Classic as the Mets have had during that stretch. 

And they’re a feel-good story, too. 

Not many people knew who Randy Arozarena was before this postseason. Now he’s a superstar and the first rookie in MLB history to hit seven home runs in a single postseason. 

Mike Zunino, in his eighth MLB season, has added four home runs and eight RBI in his first-ever postseason appearance.

Charlie Morton, written off by the Braves, Pirates, and Phillies, revamped his career in Houston, bet on himself by signing a big deal in Tampa, and pieced together a Game 7 gem in the ALCS to pace the Rays to the pennant. 

Go up and down the roster and the casual baseball fan will be hardpressed to tell you much about this team. That’s what makes their story so great.

It’s not often that David even gets to meet Goliath on sports’ biggest stage. Now the Rays have their hands on the slingshot and are beginning to take aim. 

Through all this, though, which would salvage the dumpster fire of Major League Baseball’s 2020 season, there is a cynical part of me that believes commissioner Rob Manfred doesn’t deserve to be let off the hook by a potential Rays World Series win. 

That would be too easy, too convenient for him.

This is the man who let Astros players avoid punishment for their roles in the sign-stealing scandal in 2017 in exchange for testimony that threw said players’ coaches and teammates under the bus.

After instituting what was basically self-described as harsh punishments to Houston, Manfred has since gone to bat for big-market clubs like the Yankees, appealing a US Court of Appeals decision back in June that his 2017 letter to New York GM Brian Cashman that could include details about alleged sign stealing be kept sealed.

Then came the failed months-long negotiations between the players’ union and the league owners on a legitimate return-to-play plan that saw the start of the 2020 MLB season pushed back by nearly a month after an initially expected July 4 start. 

So it only would have been poetic justice that Manfred would have had to hand over the Commissioner’s Trophy, awarded to the World Series winner, to the Astros as yet another reminder of his recent failures as MLB commissioner. 

It’s the least he deserves.