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Manfred says he is “really concerned” about Astros taunting incident

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said prior to World Series Game 2 in Houston, Texas, he was “really concerned” about the ongoing taunting controversy surrounding baseball’s championship event.

MLB has initiated a formal investigation into Astros assistant general manager Brandon Taubman’s expletive-filled tirade on October 19 toward several female reporters regarding the club’s embattled reliever Roberto Osuna. And Manfred, while insisting the league must still gather all the relevant facts, said the incident likely runs counter to MLB’s core values.

“I’m really concerned at this point about the underlying substance of the situation, and what the atmosphere was, how it came to be,” Manfred said. “That’s my focus right now. We pride ourselves on providing an inclusive, harrassment-free environment in all various aspects of the business. I think it’s a core value for baseball, and I think we have to be tremendously concerned when we have an incident that attracts this much attention.”

Manfred said there is a not defined timeline for the league’s investigation, but said work was happening on the probe prior to Game 2. To that end, it is not known if any Astros employees will be disciplined. But the league was not consulted when the Astros released a statement calling a Sports Illustrated story on the matter “misleading and completely irresponsible,” a comment that was later in essence denied when Taubman admitted to saying what was reported.

“There will be a conversation with the club at the end of the investigation,” Manfred said. “And as often the case, we’ll make a decision working with the club as to how, who should handle it. At the end of the day, he is an Astros employee.”

Manfred, meanwhile, again insisted there is no difference in the league baseballs used in the postseason. After ongoing suspicion of an overly lively baseball in the regular season, during which a record number of home runs were hit, the postseason has seen many balls traveling less as far than expected given their launch angle and exit velocity after being hit. 

But in each instance, the commissioner said insufficient sample sizes were driving much of the external commentary and that MLB plans to release a detailed scientific study on the baseball’s properties by the end of the year.

“We try to be really disciplined about this,” he said. “I think an analysis based on large sample sizes – meaning season-long samples – is really the most reliable research…When you have a larger sample, variables like weather and who’s pitching, that all washes out. When you start picking three days in the postseason when the weather’s different and you have the very best pitching in the game, it becomes less reliable.”

MLB also sought to downplay recent discussion about ongoing negotiations with Minor League Baseball, and the possibility of eliminating as many as 40 franchises. Manfred said much of the talks with the affiliated minors have been focused on upgrading outdated facilities at that level.

“There’s an economic system in minor league baseball where we heavily subsidize what goes on. We are more than prepared to continue to do that,” he said. “Against that backdrop, I don’t think it’s unreasonable of us to expect that we have facilities that are first class for some of the greatest athletes in the world, that we have league alignments that are reasonable, and not onerous for those same athletes.

“I think over the long haul, minor league baseball will be at the table and prepared to discuss those things,” Manfred said.

The league and MLB Players Association is also continuing to talk about including opioids in the sport’s joint drug agreement, particularly after the death in July of Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs due to an overdose of fentanyl and oxycodone. 

“The dialogue in this has been really positive with the players association, a lot of common ground on addressing the issue,” Manfred said. “We understand that our workforce is a microcosm of society. There’s a societal problem.”