Whether or not the New York Yankees engaged in a serious sign-stealing scandal, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred is only continuing his freefall in the court of public opinion.
Friday’s report from Evan Drellich of The Athletic that New York Judge Jed S. Rakoff ordered MLB to unseal a letter Manfred sent to the Yankees addressing the findings of a 2017 investigation into the team regarding sign-stealing provided more tremors in a coronavirus-extended offseason that has already shaken baseball to its core.
Negotiations between the players and the league regarding financial compensation are set to put Manfred in the difficult position of instituting a 48-to-50-game schedule this season — a drastically shortened campaign even compared to the 82-game slate originally proposed a month ago.
The long-term ramifications of the decision will already make the unpopular commissioner and sport that much less favored amongst a fan base that is already approaching its breaking point.
Before the coronavirus pandemic led to the cancellation of spring training and the indefinite postponement of Opening Day, MLB was amid one of its largest scandals ever when the Houston Astros — and on a lesser scale, the Boston Red Sox — was found guilty of illegally stealing signs during the 2017 season.
While the punishments handed down by Manfred seemed harsh on paper — the loss of draft picks and the year-long suspensions of manager AJ Hinch and GM Jeff Luhnow — the Astros were able to somewhat easily navigate their way around it by firing both men.
The worst of the Astros’ punishment is yet to come once fans are allowed back in MLB stadiums, but Manfred stressed in his nine-page report on Houston’s scandal that he and the league would be as transparent as possible to avoid such situations in the future.
That certainly does not seem to be the case here as Manfred seems to be trying to protect the Yankees in a case that originally didn’t really concern the team.
Players of daily sports-betting fantasy site, DraftKings, accused the league of defrauding them because of the Astros and Red Sox’s sign-stealing scandals, which was dismissed in April. The plaintiffs filed a motion to reconsider, but it was denied.
However, it included an allegation that Manfred and MLB “falsely represented its 2017 investigation into the Yankees when the league revealed its findings” (h/t Drellich).
Three years ago, the Yankees were fined by MLB for violating the use of a dugout phone during games — a minor slap on the wrist. But the Red Sox alleged that they were using YES Network cameras to steal signs.
“Plaintiffs alleged that the 2017 Press Release falsely suggested that the investigation found that the Yankees had only engaged in a minor technical infraction, whereas, according to the plaintiffs, the investigation had in fact found that the Yankees engaged in a more serious, sign-stealing scheme,” Rakoff wrote on Friday after the plaintiff’s appeal to the 2nd US District Court of Appeals.
The team and multiple local reporters have stressed that the team and commissioner’s desire to keep things under wrap isn’t hiding this proverbial “smoking gun.” Such a staunch approach on the matter only raises the level of concern, especially when the Yankees argued to Rakoff that the letter would cause “significant reputational injury.”
Manfred’s suggestion that the letter also remains sealed is a red flag and obviously goes against all that transparency talk he preached earlier this year.
The Yankees will be able to appeal the decision before its June 19 unveiling but only have until noon on Monday to submit a redacted version of it — where they’ll likely have backing from the commissioner.
Given their national moniker as the team everyone loves to hate, Manfred’s role as the Yankees’ gatekeeper won’t gain many supporters — especially if it is revealed that the Yankees did more than just illegally use a dugout phone.
This season alone has seen MLB’s commissioner ineffectively deal with illegal sign stealers, ineffectively oversee negotiations on return-to-play parameters between the owners and the players’ union, miss out on the chance for the game to return on July 4 weekend — catapulting its popularity while the other major sports leagues are set to return later in July — cut 40 minor-league clubs, and shorten the 2020 MLB Draft from 40 to five.
No wonder why sports fans’ patience is running thin with Major League Baseball.