The Horrible Truth

A short story as an embattled sport prepares for a new season.

[SCENE: a baseball spring training facility in Florida]

Image result for spring training

[a man watches from beyond the outfield fence as a Major League Baseball team goes through a half-hearted practice. He looks weary and stressed]

MLB COMMISSIONER ROB MANFRED: [muttering to self] What an offseason. Baseball’s biggest scandal in a generation or more. A full ten percent of the managers in the league fired in connection with cheating. A World Series championship tarnished. The public’s trust in the very sanctity of our sport eroded. Heck, we’ve got Little League teams banning the use of one team’s name and logo

[he sighs deeply, staring off into the middle distance]

MANFRED: At least the public doesn’t know about all the other stuff.

[a man approaches]

RAWLINGS, THE LOYAL AIDE-DE-CAMP TO EVERY MLB COMMISSIONER SINCE FORD FRICK: Mr. Manfred, the motorcade is waiting to take you to Port St. Lucie. 

MANFRED: Of course, of course. [sigh] The Mets, right. [he sighs again] Rawlings, does it ever concern you what would happen if our secrets got out? If the American public truly knew what happened behind the scenes in baseball?

RAWLINGS: Surely I do not know what you mean, sir. The integrity of baseball is unquestioned. One of America’s most respected institutions.

MANFRED: Come on now, don’t be coy, Rawlings. You’ve been around this game longer than I have. I’ve seen the secret files and I’m sure you have too.

RAWLINGS: Sir, if this is about Pete Rose, we—

MANFRED: No, that’s not what I—

RAWLINGS: — he’s just a dick, sir. We don’t like him and that’s why he’s still banned.

MANFRED: I mean the bigger scandals! The ones that haven’t gotten out!

RAWLINGS: There were a few blips at the beginning of this century. Congress stuck their noses in our business over what turned out to be a few isolated cases of steroid usage, but our response has been more than sufficient. Our anti-doping procedures are second to none in the sports world.

MANFRED: You know what I mean, Rawlings.

RAWLINGS: Sir, the Mets are waiting.

MANFRED: Surely you know that the Astros were not the only team that cheated during the 2017 season. 

RAWLINGS: I do not acknowledge the premise of this question, as I do not believe that the World Champion Houston Astros are guilty of the things the media has accused them o—

MANFRED: The Milwaukee Brewers started a bear in 52 games. A live bear.

RAWLINGS: There is no rule against that.

MANFRED: He tried to eat Anthony Rizzo. 

RAWLINGS: Rizzo is extremely popular with fans and players alike, and—

MANFRED: The New York Yankees hacked into our standings computer and just added wins. It said they won 103 games, but they only won 76. No one checked, but it’s true, go back and look!

RAWLINGS: Wins and losses are very complex, sir. It’s a long season.

MANFRED: [rubbing temples] It just goes back so far. The 1989 World Series—

RAWLINGS: A terrible tragedy, that earthquake interrupting the series like that.

MANFRED: You know damn well that we caused that earthquake! We needed the delay. Jose Canseco had gone missing, and we couldn’t bear the ratings hit of our most marketable star at the time not appearing in the World Series. We needed to find him, and we set off a series of nuclear devices deep underground to buy us time. We caused billions of dollars in property damage and dozens of deaths!

RAWLINGS: No one is quite sure what causes earthquakes, sir.

MANFRED: It turned out he had accidentally locked himself in a utility closet in the stadium. And then going back further, to the 1970s—

RAWLINGS: Amphetamine use was much more socially acceptable back then, sir, I myself spent much of 1974 on a greenie-fueled rampage.

MANFRED: I’m talking about the Cincinnati Reds. We act like “The Big Red Machine” nickname was simply because of their on-field success, but you and I both know that it referred to their illicit use of Soviet military technology. 

RAWLINGS: The things we learned from that experience helped our allies across the pond win the Falklands War, sir. Regardless, you’re dwelling on a few stray negative moments. This sport has inspired generations of Americans with timeless moments. Cal Ripken’s “Ironman” streak, for instance.

MANFRED: A complete sham.

RAWLINGS: I won’t hear of it.

MANFRED: A series of stand-ins and lookalikes. Several of them threatened to go public. It would’ve destroyed us coming off the 1994 strike. We were just building trust back. If people had found out that Ripken took a three-week trip to Ibiza every June—

RAWLINGS: He was one of the most European popular club DJs of the 1990s. And as I recall, sir, those troublemakers withdrew their claims and disappeared from public view shortly thereafter.

MANFRED: [suspicious look] Yes, they did, didn’t they.

RAWLINGS: I’m sure they just came to their senses. Or perhaps they had a boating accident. Who’s to say? The point is, baseball has had no more scandal than any other sport. Take professional football. Not only do they have the growing concern over long-term brain injuries, but their most prolific quarterback has been associated with a number of controversies. We’ve had nothing of the sort. Many people don’t even know who our best player is.

MANFRED: I wish we could publicize him more. But those murders—

RAWLINGS: Whispers and allegations. What he does in his own time is none of our business, sir. Now, I understand that you’re troubled. Many of the previous commissioners have been. It nearly drove Bud Selig mad finding out the truth. He was a simple man when he arrived. He thought that running baseball was as simple as running his car dealerships. Of course, he would learn in time. They all have learned. So, fine, you want to know the truth? Yes. We’ve run a shadow government for generations. The moon landing was filmed on an MLB Advanced Media soundstage to distract viewers from a gambling scandal. Babe Ruth was killed during a game in 1928, and then again in 1931. The 1986 Mets shot down two passengers jet landing at LaGuardia Airport during their title celebration. We have covered up things that would shake not only our sport’s foundations, but the underpinnings of American society itself. This sign-stealing story? It will pass. The public will forget. But what can’t happen is a commissioner being seized by some sort of moral crisis. You have one job, and that’s to tell the public that everything is just fine in the sport of baseball. 

MANFRED: [stunned, silent]

RAWLINGS: Now, respectfully, sir. The motorcade awaits. 

MANFRED: Of course. Of course. You’re right, Rawlings. I don’t know what I was thinking. Let’s get to Port St. Lucie. Let’s go watch [sighs] the Mets.

[a limo pulls up, and they both enter]

[three bright flashes can be seen inside the car]

[Rawlings exits the cart, dusting his suit off. He places a phone call]

RAWLINGS: Yes, it’s done. Find a lookalike until a formal transition can be made. And patch me through the Jeter. I understand he’s misplaced the Marlins again.

Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)