On February 6th, tucked inside a press release that few people paid attention to, the MLB released a list of Commissioner’s Office staff changes that should give every baseball fan cause for concern.
Joe Torre, former player, manager, and broadcaster turned baseball executive, has been removed from his role as Chief Baseball Officer. Despite still being listed as such on the official MLB website (as of February 12, 2019), he is now something called a Special Assistant to the Commissioner. The most crucial parts of this move is that Torre is no longer in charge of fines and suspensions for on-field incidents nor will he serve as oversight liaison with the MLB Umpires Association.
Torre has publicly opposed the automated strike zone, which Manfred has been pushing heavily for a long time. Effectively in a reduced role now, it could be that Torre, who is 80 years old after all, is thinking about retirement and taking steps in that direction.
But the timing sure smells a bit funny, don’t it?
In addition, Morgan Sword is now the Executive Vice President of Baseball Economics & Operations. You might not know who he is or heard about his 120 Plan, but you probably know about the 42 teams on the chopping block and that’s the main component of said plan. Called the “head bean counter” by the Daily News, he seems to be marching in step with Manfred when it comes to changing the game of baseball. Before Sword was promoted to his current position, he was instrumental in getting the the automated strike zone testing started in the Atlantic Leagues. Also in his former position, he oversaw the amateur draft and wrote many of the current regulations surrounding the movement of money in baseball. What gets him pumped up? Salary arbitration hearings. That’s not a joke, he actually said that.
When questions arose about the 2019 season balls being juiced, it was Sword who they trotted out to basically shrug and suggest that maybe climate change made the cows that provided the leather be somehow different from previous years. That’s also not a joke.
It should be noted that the other MLB source quoted in that juiced ball article, aside from Manfred himself, was former pitcher Chris Young, who was also mentioned in the February 6th press release as getting a promotion. He was VP of Field Operations at the time of the article. He’s taking Joe Torre’s old job now. Yeah, it’s really not that funny, is it?
What is a joke is the overt way Manfred is surrounding himself with loyal foot soldiers. Even if Torre really is headed voluntarily towards retirement, it certainly looks like Manfred is trying to consolidate power and possibly try to oust or at least diminish anyone who publicly disagrees with him.
It’s worth mentioning Dan Halem, Deputy Commissioner – Baseball Administration and Chief Legal Officer, who in 2018 either knew about the Astros using electronics to steal signs and was lying about it or he was listening to and believing people who were lying about it. Either option isn’t a good look for the supposed top legal mind in your organization. Halem was also (and likely still is) completely clueless about how fans consume baseball content and echoed the same bad Manfred doctrine of shorter games and less mound visits that All Star player Trevor Bauer railed against recently.
Manfred might be the head viper, but he’s filling the nest with nasty little biters as well.