Rob Manfred has come in for a lot of criticism during his six-plus years as commissioner of baseball. For instance, he has faced the perception that he cares more about making the owners money than about the game itself. This was encapsulated when he defended his decision not to strip the Houston Astros of their 2017 World Series win—a victory that is now tainted by a massive sign-stealing scandal. His reasoning? The Commissioner’s Trophy, awarded to the World Series winner, was just “a piece of metal.” He was later forced to apologize.
But let’s give Manfred credit where it’s due. Under his watch, he seems to be doing as much, if not more, than any of the leaders of the five major North American leagues to combat sexual harassment. Any doubt of this was erased yesterday, when he announced that Hall of Fame second baseman Roberto Alomar would be permanently banned from baseball for sexually harassing a staffer on he team where he achieved his greatest success, the Toronto Blue Jays.
On Friday morning, The Sports Network—the Canadian counterpart of ESPN—revealed that Alomar had been fired from his post as a special consultant to Manfred charged with promoting the game in Alomar’s native Puerto Rico. The Blue Jays had also fired him as a special consultant. The issue? Years earlier, a female Blue Jays staffer had accused Alomar of harassing her.
Hours later, Manfred announced that he’d gone nucular and banned Alomar from baseball.
Major League Baseball has placed Roberto Alomar on the Ineligible List and terminated him as a consultant following an investigation into sexual misconduct by the former Blue Jays second baseman.
Commissioner Rob Manfred released the following statement Friday:
“At my office’s request, an independent investigation was conducted by an external legal firm to review an allegation of sexual misconduct reported by a baseball industry employee earlier this year involving Mr. Alomar in 2014. Having reviewed all of the available evidence from the now completed investigation, I have concluded that Mr. Alomar violated MLB’s policies, and that termination of his consultant contract and placement on MLB’s Ineligible List are warranted. We are grateful for the courage of the individual who came forward. MLB will continue to strive to create environments in which people feel comfortable speaking up without fear of recrimination, retaliation, or exclusion.”
Any baseball fan would know that it is literally impossible to overstate the significance of this move. Alomar made 12 consecutive All-Star Games from 1990 to 2001, has the most Gold Gloves of any second baseman in history, and is considered one of the best all-around players ever to play the game. He also played a key role in the Blue Jays’ two World Series victories in 1992 and 1993. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011, the first to earn his Hall of Fame credentials primarily as a Blue Jay.
In short, all of this was a recipe for a slap on the wrist once his behavior came to light. Nope. Now the only way he can get into a baseball game is to buy a ticket, and he can’t set foot on a baseball field without Manfred’s permission.
Contrast this with the tortured way the NFL has handled sexual assault and domestic violence under Roger Goodell. For those who don’t recall, Goodell only suspended Ray Rice two games for assaulting his then-fiancee, Janay Palmer, but was all but forced to suspend him indefinitely after video came to light showing him decking Palmer in an elevator and knocking her unconscious. Goodell claimed he hadn’t seen that video during its earlier investigation—a claim that is laughable given the NFL’s vast resources.
Frankly, Manfred’s move should send a chill down the spine of a lot of people in baseball. Like former New York Mets general manager Jared Porter, who was fired barely a month after taking his post after ESPN reported he’d sent numerous lewd texts to a reporter while serving as the Chicago Cubs’ scouting chief. Manfred’s office is currently investigating the matter.
And like Los Angeles Angels pitching coach Mickey Callaway, who faces allegations that he engaged in stomach-churning conduct with female reporters over at least five years spanning his tenures as a coach with the Cleveland Indians, as manager of the Mets, and as the Angels pitching coach. The Angels suspended Callaway pending an investigation by Manfred’s office.
It also comes on the heels of Manfred placing former Astros assistant general manager Brandon Taubman on the ineligible list for making misogynistic comments to female reporters after the Astros won the 2019 American League pennant. Manfred had looked into Taubman’s possible involvement in the sign-stealing scandal, but concluded that his comments in the clubhouse were so outrageous that they were enough by themselves to warrant discipline.
I’m no fan of Manfred. But let’s give credit where credit is due. Under his watch, it seems that baseball is actually willing to do something about sexual harassment. While he deserves applause for pulling this year’s All-Star Game out of Atlanta in response to Georgia’s cruel voter suppression law, his apparent tough line on sexual harassment ought to get a lot more ink.