O'Donnell: Scandal -- what scandal? MLB dilemma is all about image, not integrity

  • Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred likely hasn't dealt with the last of the cheating scandal.

    Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred likely hasn't dealt with the last of the cheating scandal. Associated Press

 
Updated 1/18/2020 6:43 PM

THE FIRST STRATEGIC STEP in the management of any imaging crisis is quite simple:

Stop the bleeding.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Think Rob Manfred and the masters of Major League Baseball are anywhere close to shutting off the blood on the bat racks in their latest cheating scandal?

Hah.

Former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers opened up a rift that will just keep rifting.

That is, until the next engaging spectacle comes across to distract a mainstream America basted in media traditions of rabid engagement and rapid distraction.

Manfred's initial step -- the suspensions of Houston manager A.J. Hinch and GM Jeff Luhnow -- was laughably insipid in terms of "settling the dust."

In an age when the best investigative sports reporting can be more thorough and energized than ever, Manfred's brand of dog schooling was nothing more than inept executive decree that challenged the media to enter and expand.

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Grand-prize winners at this point are Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich, the two reporters who got Fiers to spill the betrayal.

Biggest loser may ultimately be Manfred himself, on whose watch all happened.

If Kenesaw Mountain Landis -- whose management of "The Black Sox Scandal" could only have been swallowed by a nation built on patriarchal arbitrariness and exception -- was calling the shots, his solution might be a very basic one:

Ban Rob Manfred for life.

And, play ball!

IF NOTHING ELSE, Sunday will be a grand day to be a fan of all things Eastern Illinois.

The placid state university -- a place where student rebellion never gets much farther than overdue library books -- will be A-No. 1 in its representation on both ends of the NFL's conference championships.

Tony Romo (Class of '03) may be calling his final game for CBS -- although, doubt it -- alongside Jim Nantz when the Chiefs-Titans kick off for the AFC crown (2:05 p.m.).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

And Jimmy Garoppolo (Class of '14) couldn't be more center stage as he attempts to game-manage the Forty-Niners past Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay and into Super Bowl 54 (Fox, 5:40 p.m.; Joe Buck, Troy Aikman).

Romo's initial contract with CBS expires after the KC-TENN game.

Rumors are rife that ESPN/ABC is set to dangle a four-year, $57 million deal -- the highest ever for an NFL analyst -- to lure the buen hijo ("good son") of Burlington, Wis.

But don't bet on Romo changing channels.

Three reasons:

• CBS will match the money;

• Romo is extraordinarily comfortable with the network culture he's in and so many things ESPN/ABC touches winds up trending toward swill;

• The Fisheye Network can up its bait by assuring Romo as much participation in its gold-standard golf coverage as he wishes, up to and including The Masters.

CBS Sports boss Sean McManus and staff would love to announce a new deal during Super Bowl week.

THE ILLINOIS RACING BOARD holds its January meeting Tuesday and once again, may have to shake its dilettante underpinnings to directly address the ongoing stalemate between Churchill Downs Inc. and the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association.

That standoff is over terms of a contract to race at Arlington Park this year.

CDI isn't budging on its offer of roughly $130,000 per-day in overnight purses.

The ITHA has no leverage in gaining the $200,000 it wants.

Man on a hot seat should be IRB chair Jeff Brincat -- the payday-loan empire heir.

But the Bruce Rauner appointee has shown a faculty for pinpricking any conflict that might require intrinsic knowledge of the game.

Odds are, the impasse will continue.

And CDI -- like Spanky, Alfalfa and Darla putting on a show to see if the whole gang comes -- may merely proceed with plans for a May 1 opening while waiting for ITHA president Mike Campbell and his backstretch mates to announce:

"We're here!"

STREET-BEATIN': Rough that the Ricketts clan curtailed their annual Q-and-A at this weekend's Cubs Convention. Maybe Shirley MacLaine could have guided the family through a session on "Past Life Recovery." ...

Swift move by Dave Leitao and DePaul in capitalizing NCAA rules and adding grad transfer D.J. Williams on Thursday with immediate eligibility. The 6-7 Simeon High swingman was considered a top-100 recruit before wafting through turns at Illinois (2015-17) and George Washington (2018-19). ...

Reports that Traug Keller is retiring as Sr. VP of ESPN Audio are being taken as more evidence that the monolith has been plagued by a whole lot of confusion in supplementing its visual products. Keller is the fellow responsible for the equally retired Jim Pastor flailing with the knobs at Chicago's ESPN AM 1000 for all those years. ...

The selection of Paul Sullivan as The National Media Association's Illinois Sportswriter of the Year was extremely well-deserved. In a past life, Sullivan served an apprenticeship with Mike Royko's late-night crew. (Tim Weigel was co-pilot; Rick Kogan was a tail gunner.) ...

Mike "Ajax" Korcek dug up data that showed the Bears closed both their 1963 and 1964 training camps with a week at Northern Illinois University. (Ed O'Bradovich was fined $50 by "Papa Bear" George Halas during the '64 session for still being four pounds overweight.) ...

And Bob Costas, searching for an analogy to explain the metrics-to-garbage sins of the Astros, told CNN: "You can do anything you want within reason before the SAT. But when you go in to take the SAT, none of the technology comes with you."

• Jim O'Donnell's Sports & Media column appears Thursday and Sunday. Reach him at jimodonnelldh@yahoo.com.

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