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MLB Rulings in the Age of Manfred

In an end to a long investigation and total embarrassment for the St. Louis Cardinals, MLB and the Commissioner’s Office have ruled that because of scouting executive Chris Correa’s involvement with a hacking scandal in which he stole proprietary data from the Houston Astros, St. Louis will forfeit their first two picks in the 2017 draft, as well as $2 million. Chris Correa is now serving 46 months in prison for corporate espionage.

What’s interesting about this ruling is not only the fact that Correa claims that the Astros infiltrated first and benefited, which we don’t really know, this establishes a precedent for team improprieties moving forward. It’s also firmly within the mold of new commissioner Rob Manfred’s recent rulings: a suspension dealt to Padres GM AJ Preller for deceiving trading partners on medical records and the infamous suspension of Aroldis Chapman for violating the new domestic violence policy in the CBA immediately come to mind. This stands in stark contrast to a predecessor. Let’s do a little time travel, shall we?

While not technically during his tenure, as an owner of the Brewers, Bud Selig was implicated in the owner collusion scandal of 1985-87, where $280 million were dealt in damages as owners coordinated on free agent signings to bring salaries lower than market value.

And then, in a pseudo-coup, Selig got the owners to issue a no confidence vote and Selig was named acting commissioner in 1992. It only gets worse, and because there are so many odd incidents, I need to bullet them to get them straight:

  • In 1994 he forced the sport into a work stoppage that led to the only season in baseball history without a World Series, and why? Selig wanted a salary cap.
  • In 2001, he tried to contract the Twins and Expos, only to wind himself into a federal racketeering scandal where the league reportedly paid $500 million in damages for essentially trying to wipe away a team for personal profit.
  • Then there’s steroids. Selig, in the wake of the Mitchell Report, completely reworked the sport’s policies on performance-enhancing drugs, but also seemingly cleared away his own negligence. He claimed in proceedings that he did not hear about steroids until nearly 2000, which, based on any available information at the time, especially for the Commissioner, was verifiably false.
  • More owner improprieties: in the 2011 Dodgers ownership dispute, bankruptcy lawyer Kevin Gross claimed, “Should the Commissioner falter in proving alleged wrongdoing, the Court may allow LAD (Los Angeles Dodgers) to take further, limited discovery.” He did not take action against the Wilpons in their mismanagement of the Mets, possibly because of their friendship.
  • Then, in his final act of mismanagement to seal his legacy as the steroid-buster, he reportedly ordered the theft of documents to implicate Alex Rodriguez in the Biogenesis scandal. Say what you want about A-Rod, but this does not hold up in any other court other than one outside antitrust laws.

This post is not solely about Selig, but it provides context. It’s also important to note that even though Manfred has a much different tone to his management than Selig, he was still involved in the ’94 work stoppage, and he still worked on the Biogenesis case. His hands are not clean, either. And while he may not be an owner, which rids him of obvious conflicts of interest, he’s still a man representing the owners’ interests.

That’s why it’s pretty hard to decipher what the overarching legal strategy is from Manfred just based on a few rulings, because we haven’t seen him in a True Crisis yet. When that day comes, we’ll probably see whether he was merely Selig’s pawn during those aforementioned incidents, or that he was merely working at the behest of Selig, no matter what he wanted.

But from the information we do have, the investigations he has performed as the sole commissioner, we can surmise that we’re entering a period of time of commissioner stability, something that was riddled by scandals from the 80’s right through Biogenesis. That doesn’t mean he’s perfect, of course, as I mentioned. I was troubled by CBA negotiations that valued the veneer of labor peace instead of looking out for younger and more vulnerable players; the international signing system is a crime, as well underpaid minor leaguers; the owners continue to eat up a larger percentage of revenue than ever before; I also think he has been fairly conservative in his battle with domestic violence in the league, but whose efforts still dwarf that of any other professional sport.

This Cardinals hacking scandal is yet another in a long line of cheating scandals throughout baseball history, even though it is quite unique given its technological implications. How the league responds, though, isn’t entirely unique. We’re in an antitrust world, and baseball rules itself by its own laws. Having a lawyer is well within the norm for someone like commissioner, and so far, the responses have been lawyer-like. For a sport going through immense and unprecedented growth, measured and even responses to scandals like this only do the sport more good.

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Matt Provenzano is a recent graduate of Cornell University, where he studied Information Science and Law and Society. He has been a Staff Writer at SB Nation's Pinstripe Alley since 2013, and a baseball fan since 2002.

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