On Wednesday, ESPN’s Dan Le Batard had MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred on his radio show to talk about the Marlins. It went slightly off the rails, but in a manner where Le Batard was simply trying to get straight answers about a team and a community he cares a lot about and those answers weren’t coming easily.
However, Manfred wasn’t used to being interviewed in such a combative manner and pushed back against any idea that he was lying in an equally combative manner. Eventually, things settled in enough that Manfred was able to insist he knew nothing about new Marlins ownership’s plans to cut millions of dollars of salary right away, which the Miami Herald exposed as if not an outright lie than at least a falsehood later that day.
Now, The Big Lead is reporting that ESPN heard directly from MLB officials about that interview. ESPN’s Executive Vice President of Programming and Scheduling Burke Magnus released a statement about the report saying,
“We have a terrific relationship with Major League Baseball and we’re in constant communication at all levels, so it’s not uncommon that we would discuss both issues and opportunities in the course of that communication.”
Which, in layman’s terms, basically means that ESPN is aware MLB is pissed about this particular interview and will make sure something like it doesn’t happen to any high-level MLB officials again any time soon. Especially not to Manfred.
ESPN has had to balance its business interests with what its personalities do for years now (hello Keith Olbermann, Bill Simmons, Jemele Hill, etc. etc.), and as far as incidents between league officials that ESPN finds important to its bottom line and its on-air talent, this is one of the more subdued examples of fallout from such a run-in.
However, behind the scenes it seems that Le Batard was given a talking to, which he defended himself against during his radio show on Thursday. His Thursday statement’s included a comment that the entire thing had been “unpleasant” and defended his tone by saying,
“We’re trying to do journalism but [there’s a] conflict of interest that ESPN has between business and journalism and entertainment all the time.”
“I was not looking to get the commissioner to embarrass himself. And I certainly wasn’t looking to embarrass myself or this network. I simply wanted answers to difficult questions. And so the beginning part of that interview was not me grandstanding. It was me emotional and bothered, and then the first question I asked him, he won’t answer it. He won’t give me a yes or no answer. And then when he does answer it, the thing that he says I know to not be true. And that’s where it escalated. He thought I was just a radio gasbag. He did not think that I actually knew and had facts.”
Whether he was intending to embarrass Manfred or not (which I truly don’t believe that was his intent and that he was simply pushing back on a purposely opaque interview subject) it’s all how MLB perceives it and what pressure they put on ESPN to handle it in a public way in the aftermath.
It looks like for now, these followup comments by Le Batard look like he’s in the clear. But without some care, he could be the next ESPN personality suspended for comments they make while they are doing their job. Especially if MLB keeps making phone calls to the higher ups at the network.