Sometimes you wonder if Rob Manfred really loves baseball.
It was a notion that bubbled to the surface once again Monday night when watching the commissioner take his turn on ESPN's special "The Return of Sports" that featured the bosses from all of the professional sports. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure he enjoys the game. But does he love it? Because I have a hard time believing that the face of this thing that is crumbling before our eyes wouldn't look and sound different than what I heard just after 9 p.m.
"This is about a lot more than money." (Is it?)
"The clubs are interested in one thing. The clubs are interested in finding a way to get back on the field." (Are they?)
"It’s just a disaster for our game. It shouldn’t be happening." (True.)
"I’m not confident." (Huh?)
These were a few of the lines that emanated from Manfred's mouth in his interview with ESPN's Mike Greenberg, with the last utterance obviously the money (pun intended) quote.
The person who is supposed to be leading this game -- and that is absolutely a description that should be attached to any commissioner regardless of their relationship with ownership -- told the world Wednesday that he was 100 percent certain there would be baseball in 2020 and now five days later he offered a "never mind."
I've heard the excuses such as how five days is an eternity when it comes to negotiations, or how things flipped when the MLBPA took its stance a few days later. None of it matters. There is no leader of anything who should offer such definitive optimism at such a delicate time without knowing there was going to be zero room for slip-ups. Zero. But that's exactly what Manfred did, looking like a man who was more concerned with nailing the message of the billionaires he evidently is beholden to.
Again, did it really look like a person who loved the game he was helping stick a dagger into?
Not helping Manfred was the cavalcade of fellow commissioners and players he was juxtaposed against throughout the two-hour special.
Gary Bettman of the NHL? He actually had a hockey net in his backdrop while simply presenting his league's protection against COVID-19 in its return.
The NBA's Adam Silver was truly the anti-Manfred, constantly referencing dialogue between the league and its players while dealing with tough issues, along with acknowledging the plight of those not so fortunate to be worrying about making money playing professional sports.
"It's a difficult time for everybody," he said. "We will conversations to work through all issues. It might not for everyone ... Listen, it's not an ideal situation. There is more of a sense we have an obligation to try this. This is what we do."
Let's soak that in: "This is what we do."
Can you imagine Manfred, the commissioner who once inexplicably referenced his game's championship trophy as a piece of metal, uttering such a line? Nope. But it's exactly what a true leader would utter the minute he got these misguided men of baseball in one room. Instead, there was "woe is us" negotiating ploy. (For more on that, please click on Trevor Bauer's Twitter timeline where he presents a very plausible reason for Manfred's recent about-face.)
Manfred had one last chance during the two-hour show to look semi-decent. Roger Goodell still had his slot. But, alas, no such luck for the baseball commissioner. The guy who has been the epitome of a one-sided commish, always digging in with the owners of his teams, actually offered the appearance of someone who showed some empathy toward his players and his game.
These are tough jobs in tough times. That is completely understood. But there are some basic tenants of leadership that are not being followed by baseball's most important person at baseball's most important time.
Ernest Hemingway once said about leadership, "When people talk, listen completely." Manfred clearly has his ears open to the wrong people because after Monday night the screams from those who count the most -- baseball fans -- are deafening.