Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred on Sunday spoke with reporters at Grapefruit League media day in Florida and, not surprisingly, much of his time was spent talking about the Houston Astros and the continued fallout from their sign-stealing scandal.
One issue Manfred made emphatically clear was that MLB has put managers on notice that on-field retaliation against the Astros -- particularly by way of beanballs -- will not be tolerated.
"This is another topic on which we're trying to be proactive," Manfred told reporters. "I met with half the managers here in Florida before I came out here, and I'll meet the other half in Arizona. I hope that I made it extremely clear to them that retaliation in-game by throwing at a batter intentionally will not be tolerated -- whether it's at Houston or anybody else. I think it's dangerous and it is not helpful to the current situation."
Perhaps the most stunning admission was that the league did indeed take a look at stripping the Astros of their 2017 World Series championship, something many critics of the league's punishment -- particularly as it pertains to the Astros players -- have called for.
"We thought about it," he said of stripping the club of its title. "It was high in terms of the minutes that we spent talking about it. My thinking involves several points. First of all, it had never happened in baseball. And I'm a precedent guy. I'm not saying you always follow precedent, but I think you ought to start by looking back at the way things have been done and you have to have a really good reason to depart from that precedent.
"I believed that the most fundamental obligation was to get the facts, put them out there, and let people make their own judgment as to what happened in the 2017 season and the 2017 World Series. If nothing else, I think we can all agree that we've gotten enough facts out there, and plenty of people have made their judgments as to what went on."
That is very much why Manfred contends any penalties incurred by players who took part in the cheating are sufficient.
According to multiple reports, the Astros players were granted immunity from punishment from the league in exchange for their honesty in divulging the details of the sign-stealing system, which involved the catcher's signs being caught on video real-time, then the signs decoded and the upcoming pitch relayed to the batter by way of banging on a trash can.
"When we began the investigation after we became aware of the Houston situation, we started with an important and fundamental goal and that goal was to make sure that we found the facts, completed the investigation, figured out what was going on and put ourselves in a position to be as transparent with our fans and the other clubs as possible," Manfred said. "Our desire to find the facts, to figure out what really went on, drove a lot of the decisions we made in the investigation process."
MLB last month did suspend Astros GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch for one year each following its investigation, but Astros owner Jim Crane fired both only hours after the announcement of the suspensions. The club was also fined $5 million and docked multiple high draft picks. But the players getting nothing has drawn the ire of many, both inside professional baseball and outside of it.
"I understand people's desire to have the players pay a price for what went on here," Manfred told ESPN in a different interview Sunday. "I think if you watch the players, watch their faces when they have to deal with this issue publicly, they have paid a price. To think that they're skipping down the road into spring training happy, that's just a mischaracterization of where we are."
--Field Level Media