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Manfred confronted by HOFs


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Manfred got an earful from 4 HOFs at this year's ceremony. Rod Carew gave us the details..


Because Carew wrote a scathing account of the dinner on Aug. 10, saying in his weekly online newsletter that Manfred was uncomfortable with the discussion and “looked as if he wished there was a trap door that he could’ve escaped through.”

“He tried to sweet talk us. We laid into him,” Carew said.

Four Hall of Famers confirmed the exchange with Manfred was contentious. Several others declined comment, invoking the old clubhouse credo, “what you say here, what you see here, make sure when you leave here it stays here.” Manfred, who has spoken at the dinner and presented gifts to the new Hall of Famers every year since becoming commissioner in 2015, said there is an explicit understanding among the participants that the conversations will remain confidential, and took exception with Carew going public.

“The idea that somebody is talking about in the detail that Rod elected to is wholly inappropriate,” Manfred said. “It’s not up to one person to decide that an assumption the group has proceeded on for years, he can blow up by himself.”

Carew, in his 678-word essay, acknowledged the dinner is “usually one of those times when ‘what happens in the room stays in the room.’” But in a telephone interview, he said he was upset with the changes taking place in the sport and his perception that Manfred does not want advice from former players. Carew’s son, Devon, 33, who accompanied him to Cooperstown, added, “He is really trying to defend the sport he loves. He feels that baseball is changing for the worse and if he can stop that he is willing to speak up, even if he normally doesn’t.”

“There were more voices than mine that brought up the situation in baseball today,” said the elder Carew, who was elected to the Hall in 1991 and now works as a special assistant for the Twins.

“I don’t think he expected us to talk about it. But we’re all interested in the game and what’s going on in the game. We’re trying to get to see if he would talk to us about it. In a roundabout way, he did. But I think a lot of guys weren’t satisfied so they kept asking him questions.”

Carew and other Hall of Famers, voicing frustration shared by many currently working in the game, say analytics is damaging the sport and negatively affecting the way players perform. Manfred does not dispute that point, saying, “analytics has had a deleterious effect on the way the game is being played on the field.”

In Jan. 2021, Manfred hired former Red Sox and Cubs executive Theo Epstein as a consultant to help bring back what Epstein calls “the best form of baseball.” The new collective-bargaining agreement created a joint competition committee that currently is working on rules changes for 2023, including restrictions on defensive shifts that will address one of Carew’s principal complaints.

To Carew and others, improvements cannot come quickly enough. Carew said he used to watch six to eight games a day. Now he watches only the Twins, for whom he works.

“I’m interested in the game. I’m interested in the kids coming up,” Carew said. “They’re not allowing these kids to use the sixth tool, which is their brain. Think instead of trying to do everything somebody else says they should. Baseball has never been that way before.”

Some who know Carew found it jarring to see him lead the charge against Manfred in Cooperstown; one Hall of Famer, who asked not to be identified, said he was “shocked” by how forceful Carew was at the dinner. But Bert Blyleven, a teammate of Carew’s with the Twins from 1970 to 1975 and a Hall of Famer since 2011, speculated that Carew’s newfound voice might stem from a series of health scares he experienced in the previous decade.

During a span of 15 months in 2015-16, Carew survived a massive heart attack and three operations — a six-hour, open-heart surgery for the insertion of a Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD); a procedure to drain two blood clots on his brain, and a heart and kidney transplant that took 13 hours to complete.

“Rod’s coming out of his shell a little bit. He’s gone through a lot in his life,” said Blyleven, who, like Carew, is a special assistant for the Twins. “But he loves the game of baseball as much as anybody. He hit a point where he thought something needs to be said.”

Devon Carew was by his father’s side the entire weekend in Cooperstown. As Rod renewed acquaintances with his fellow Hall of Famers, he would ask them what they thought about the state of the game. The discussions, Devon said, often turned “fiery.”

“This is the first year where I felt a lot of Hall of Famers were genuinely angry, not just upset about the direction of the game, but more passionate about it than ever before,” Devon said. “I know my dad has said they have had debates before in that post-induction dinner. But I think this one was particularly cross.”

Accounts of the exchanges between the Hall of Famers and Manfred at the dinner vary.

Jim Kaat, a new Hall of Famer and teammate of Carew’s with the Twins from 1967 to 1973, did not find the discussion to be overly heated. Blyleven, though, noted it was livelier than usual, saying of Manfred, “I don’t think he knew exactly how to answer everybody. With everybody kind of talking, he didn’t get a chance to answer too much.”

Andre Dawson, a Hall of Famer since 2010, said while the conversation did not reach the level of argument, “there was a sense of urgency. It kind of led to a lot of back and forth and voices being raised.”

The event, Dawson said, often amounts to a venting session.

“Every year that the commissioner comes down, the group basically wants to voice their opinions,” said Dawson, who now works as an ambassador for the Cubs. “It’s usually about the state, the direction of the game. They just want to seek clarification. It’s funny how the commissioner usually appears to be quite uncomfortable, almost as if he knows what is forthcoming. That’s kind of the fun part about it.

“I read Rod’s article. He pretty much nailed it right on the head. It appeared like (Manfred thought), ‘Hey, I need to wrap this up and get out of here as quickly as possible because it’s headed in a direction that doesn’t look pretty.’ That’s kind of the way it’s been the last couple of years.”

The objections raised by the Hall of Famers include the rise of defensive shifts and the offensive emphasis on launch angle, as well as rules changes such as the three-batter minimum and automatic runner on second base in extra innings. Their laments occasionally drift into “get off my lawn territory,” and Kaat said some of them do not understand the pervasiveness of analytics and Manfred’s limited ability to effect change.

Kaat, who recently retired from broadcasting after nearly 40 years of calling games for the Yankees, Twins, MLB Network and other national outlets, said the group at his table included Manfred and two current broadcasters — Mike Schmidt, who works for the Phillies, and John Smoltz, who works for Fox. Kaat, from his recent involvement in the game, shares a perspective with those two Hall of Famers. While they do not necessarily like the direction of the sport, they are familiar with the role analytics occupy.

Manfred talked about managing rather than eliminating analytics, Kaat said.

“A lot of these guys don’t understand analytics are here to stay,” Kaat said, referencing his fellow Hall of Famers. “I said, ‘We have to figure out a way to keep analytics in the front office and shut the computers and notebooks and let the players play during the game.

“That, to me, is the real challenge. That’s what Rob was basically saying when he said we have to learn to manage the analytics.”

Manfred said he was not going to put himself in the same category as Carew by going through the “jots and tittles” of what was said at the dinner. But he gave a point-by-point account of his position on analytics, saying his private and public versions are no different.

“No. 1: Analytics has had a deleterious effect on the way the game is being played on the field,” Manfred said.

“No. 2: Analytics are not going away because clubs correctly believe that analytics can be used to help them win more games, which is what they care about most.

“No. 3: No matter who you are, how effective you are, what power you have, you can’t eliminate analytics by fiat. It’s like telling people what they can and can’t think about.

“No. 4: Because all of that is true, the way forward to getting to what Theo often refers to as ‘the best form of baseball’ is to change the infrastructure, the rules within which clubs operate, in order to get the clubs to place value on the things that are missing from the game.”

Which is where the new competition committee enters the picture.

The committee, comprised of four active players, six members appointed by Major League Baseball and one umpire, was originally scheduled to vote on rule changes by last Friday. But the parties extended the deadline as they continued to work toward consensus-based change.

Manfred likely was reluctant to share the specifics on many of the issues raised by the Hall of Famers, preferring to let the committee work toward solutions. His point about “analytics not going away” also might have been misinterpreted by Carew and others as an admission that he is powerless to attack the game’s problems.

“Manfred tries giving off the vibe that it’s not his fault. OK, then — whose is it?” Carew wrote in his essay. “If the Commissioner of Baseball doesn’t have the final word, then nobody does. I think what he’s saying is that he, Rob Manfred, is helpless.”

Manfred disagrees, saying the first changes expected to be introduced by the committee — pitch clocks and restrictions on defensive shifts, starting next season — will create a wide-ranging, positive impact on the game.

“Everybody thinks the pitch clock is about pace of game. It’s not just about that. It is also about the effect a clock has on the ability of a pitcher to deliver maximum effort on every single pitch,” Manfred said. “And because of that effect, that alters the way the game is being played.

“The same thing, with respect to the shift. If you don’t have a short fielder (in right field) on a left-handed hitter, that left-handed hitter may decide I don’t need to go up over the top, all I need to do is get a base hit. Those changes will alter what clubs place value on, and will drive change in the game. I know that is more involved and indirect than saying, ‘I’m going to ban analytics,’ but it has to be more involved and indirect because you just can’t ban analytics.”

If the initial set of modifications put the game on a path back to “the best form of baseball,” then perhaps the disgruntled Hall of Famers will be less combative at future dinners with Manfred. Carew is open to changing his mind as events dictate. Just this week, he reacted to news of owner Arte Moreno’s planned sale of the Angels, one of his former clubs, by saying on Twitter, “Well, this is happy news. I have renewed hope that my relationship with the Angels organization can be fully restored.”

For now, though, Carew’s irritation with Manfred and the state of the game is real. And he said he is not alone in his opinions among Hall of Famers.

“I know the world evolves,” he wrote. “Baseball in 2022 shouldn’t look like it did from 1967-85, when I was playing, or even from 1992-2001 when I was coaching.

“But we need to make sure that this version of different is also better. Because I don’t think it is. And many of the 50-something Hall of Famers in that room with the commissioner agree with me.”

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