The World Series may have been played in front of a sparse crowd because of the coronavirus pandemic, but not even that prevented MLB commissioner Rob Manfred from being loudly booed as he spoke after the trophy presentation on Tuesday night.
Manfred looked taken aback by the boos and jeers who greeted him as he took the stage for the trophy presentation after the Los Angeles Dodgers clinched a first World Series title since 1988 with a 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.
The MLB commissioner clearly looked nonplussed as the boos began cascading down from the stands, with jeers punctuating his winding speech. Manfred’s delivery in itself was a source of debate amid fans watching on TV, as it was delivered with an unusually inconsistent cadence and tone.
However, according to ESPN’s Karl Ravech, Manfred was perfectly healthy and his uncertain delivery was simply down to some technical difficulties, which mean the in-stadium audio caused a delay.
The commissioner has long rubbed baseball fans the wrong way, with many not forgiving him for his lenient punishment of the Houston Astros in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal that emerged last November.
In February, Manfred referred to the World Series trophy as “just a piece of metal”, as he defended the MLB’s decision not to strip the Astros of their 2017 World Series title.
Manfred said the league had considered the option of revoking the title but had chosen not to proceed as it was mindful of creating a potentially dangerous precedent.
While the Astros were fined a record $5 million and lost its first and second round picks in the 2020 and 2021 draft, players escaped the punishment, even though Manfred acknowledged the sign-stealing scheme had been “player-driven.”
To make matters even more uncomfortable for the commissioner, any praise he was prepared to heap on the MLB for negotiating the coronavirus pandemic was tempered by the news Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner was pulled from Game 6 after testing positive for COVID-19.
“It’s a bittersweet night for us,” Manfred conceded when speaking to FOX Sports after the game.
“We learned during the game Justin tested positive, and he was immediately isolated to prevent spread.”
Turner is the first player to test positive for coronavirus since the postseason began, a remarkable achievement for the MLB, considering the very existence of the shortened regular season looked in jeopardy back in July when the league had to cancel a host of games due to several players and team personnel testing positive to COVID-19.
Manfred can rightfully claim some credit for baseball managing to crown a World Series in the most unprecedented of seasons. Opening Day was initially scheduled for March 27, but was postponed indefinitely because of the coronavirus pandemic before months of negotiations between the MLB and the players’ union resulted in a 60-game regular season with an expanded postseason.
Parts of the playoffs felt surprisingly normal, with a limited amount of fans being allowed into Globe Life Field, one of the hubs the MLB used during the postseason and for the World Series.
Manfred could have to make some very difficult and possibly unpopular choices in the near future, after admitting that the coronavirus pandemic had blown a giant hole in baseball’s finances.
In an interview with Sportico on Monday, the commissioner explained the 30 MLB franchises will post combined operational losses in the region of between $2.8 billion and $3 billion this year after racking up an unprecedented $8.3 million in debts.
“We are going to be at historic high levels of debt,” Manfred said. “And it’s going to be difficult for the industry to weather another year where we don’t have fans in the ballpark and have other limitations on how much we can’t play and how we can play.”
“I think the one thing we’ve learned is that COVID is a really unpredictable virus. We don’t know what’s next. But at this point it’s just impossible to speculate what next year’s going to look like. We’ll just have to get closer and then we’ll make the best decisions we can.”