In an inevitable collision between ESPN’s business and journalistic goals, there’s a report that top MLB executives complained to ESPN management about the recent Dan Lebatard interview with MLB commissioner Rob Manfred.

Here’s the interview, if you missed it:

The Big Lead is reporting MLB went to ESPN to complain about the treatment Manfred received from Le Batard, which included Le Batard immediately asserting Manfred was lying about the league’s knowledge of the payroll-slashing plans being enacted by Miami’s new ownership.

After the Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz had a contentious interview with MLB commissioner Rob Manfred on Wednesday, MLB officials complained about the spot to the highest levels of ESPN management, The Big Lead has learned.

In confirming that these discussions took place, ESPN spokesperson Ben Cafardo passed along the following statement from Burke Magnus, ESPN Executive Vice President, Programming and Scheduling: “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.”

This episode underscores the delicate balance ESPN must strike between its journalism and its broadcast rights partners, and the extent to which the former can make the latter uncomfortable.

As TBL notes, there’s an inherent conflict within ESPN as it strives to both keep its content partners happy on the television side while also providing newsbreaking and other journalism. Le Batard exists in a sort of nexus of entertainment and journalism, the nexus in which ESPN built its brand. As Le Batard himself notes, he understands the problem:

Le Batard, who was scheduled for time off today and all of next week, opened his radio show Thursday by saying, “It might be the last show of the year, or it might just be the last show forever, because this has been unpleasant.”

He admitted that his tone was bad and that he was too emotional — he has had an emotional week since his friend and boss John Skipper resigned abruptly Monday, citing substance addiction– and that he should have just stuck to facts as opposed to pounding the table: “ESPN has a partnership with baseball and when you do something like that in public it doesn’t feel like being a very good partner. Rob Manfred is pretty used to safe spaces with his interviews. He’s probably never done an interview quite like that.”

Of course, there’s also the matter that Le Batard was essentially right; the Miami Herald had reported on the Jeter-led ownership’s plan to cut payroll at least as far back as September, and in the immediate aftermath of the interview, Herald reporter Barry Jackson pointed out the league’s ownership all knew of the Marlins general payroll plans.

So what’s ESPN supposed to do in this kind of situation? The answer is likely found in their past treatment of talent that went after their broadcast partners. Bill Simmons was infamously suspended after calling Roger Goodell a liar. Simmons’s final straw at ESPN was when he went after Goodell again, and after the fact Simmons claimed ESPN told him to go easy on the NFL because Bob Iger someday wanted to own a franchise.

Of course, Bill Simmons isn’t the perfect analogue to Dan Le Batard, who has generally not gone after his own employer with the same willingness as Simmons. And in this case, Le Batard’s actions weren’t as reckless as Simmons, and are much easier to defend, given all of the facts on the table. It’s a fine line, but it seems like it should fall on the acceptable side of ESPN’s judgment. Plus ESPN is paying MLB, which is not an arrangement that should result in a broadcast partner’s unceasing loyalty.

Whether ESPN management takes the same view remains to be seen.

[The Big Lead]

About Jay Rigdon

Jay is a writer and editor for The Comeback, and a contributor at Awful Announcing. He is not a strong swimmer.

  • 66pugs99

    Again the BS Simmons example is a total fallacy. Go and listen to the podcast. Simmons got suspended because he kept giving management the middle finger in the middle of the broadcast let alone shouting at the end “Go ahead, suspend me”. And it was a podcast, so they had many opportunities to edit it before it went all over the internet. And Simmons had just been warned a few weeks before, which is why his producer said he couldn’t say anything like that. Calling Goodell a liar wasn’t even in the top 5 most egregious things in that podcast to get suspended for.

    Lebatard asked a question, Manfred shouted back with some BS, and it’s been shown in the media that Manfred was indeed lying and Lebatard straight out called him out, and gave him time to respond. In which Manfred chose to give more BS in an aggressive tone.

    This not even close to the same situation. Though a suspension would actually help Lebatard a lot and make him even more popular than he is now. And quite honestly, Dan would like it, and kinda needs it.

  • Raymond Chuang

    The question now is that will we have a situation where LeBatard is suspended by ESPN for a week because of this interview?

  • eireanch33

    Im’ma going to push back on the idea that the issue here is the “inherent conflict within ESPN as it strives to both keep its content partners happy on the television side while also providing newsbreaking and other journalism”. ESPN may very well have that problem, just not in this case.

    The issue here is that people in power do NOT like being challenged. MLB put out a line of bullshit, the Herald reported that it was bullshit as far back as September, the Marlins actions have proven it was bullshit, LeBatard called out the bullshit. THAT’s what MLB’s problem is … that LeBatard didn’t eat up the bullshit and ask for seconds.

  • JonFrum

    There’s a difference between asking a question, and letting a person make a liar out of himself, and shouting ‘that’s a lie!’ Le Batard chose to do the latter. Shouting ‘liar liar’ is not journalism – it’s show business. Le Batard is a cross between Howard Stern – with his whipping boy Baba booey/Stugotz – and Rush Limbaugh (but from the Left). If you can listen to it, good luck to you.

    • Jon

      Even Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman sided with Manfred over the tone of the interview, in that LeBetard went into it already have found the commissioner guilty of lying. And both of them have had their past run-ins with the suits at ESPN.

      The show’s problem is everyone has to be funny when the host wants to be funny, and everyone has to be deadly serious when the host wants to be, and the only consistency in his choices is usually whether or not it affects his home Miami market (LeBatard did get himself suspended by ESPN over the Cleveland billboard stunt 3 1/2 years ago, when he went into full Glenn Close “Fatal Attraction” bunny boiler mode over LeBron going back to the Cavs. His passion for players jumping teams or owners selling off stars is in direct proportion to how close the team involved is to the ESPN-Miami studios and the Miami Herald’s office).

      • sowhat2015Brian O’Neill

        ESPN giving Lebatard(the first two syllables in that name are unnecessary) a radio show is about as big a mistake as the existence of the Marlins franchise. Just two more things to hate about Miami.

        • Destro

          ESPN didn’t give him a radio show, it was a local show in Miami for over a decade that ESPN decided to go national with.

        • 66pugs99

          It’s the number one show on ESPN, and is now one of the most listened to shows in the world when you include his incredible boom in podcast and internet downloads. Sorry, but it turns out it was a very good idea.

        • RP

          The numbers couldn’t disagree with your more. Luckily your remote presumably still works, so you’re not forced to consume.

  • sportsfan365

    MLB (and the NFL) has a lot of disreputable owners – as the universe of people having hundreds of millions to invest in a sports franchise is both small and unseemly. You simply don’t make that kind of money without being morally bankrupt.

    • Mike

      In many cases, you’re right. However, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Sam Walton and Gordon Gund show(ed) you can get rich and still have good core principles.

      LeBatard was spot on. Manfred has no argument here. Jeff Loria could have done another fire sale just as easily as the new ownership group. The latter seems to be off to a scorched earth start.

      • RP

        Warren Buffett – All but killed solar in Nevada with his lobbyists. Look it up.

        Walton – holy crap do you honestly think the Waltons are good people? They pay people nothing, milk the social safety net, and donate next to nothing to charity. They are greed personified:

        https://www.forbes.com/sites/clareoconnor/2014/06/03/report-walmarts-billionaire-waltons-give-almost-none-of-own-cash-to-family-foundation/#2a9f3b6e7d52

        Gates – empire is built on theft and colluding to destroy competition.

        Gund is just an investor (a.k.a. speculator).

        All are members of the Oligarchy and do not make your life better, but in many cases, make it actively worse. Stop worshipping greedy people who don’t deserve it, and consider how you got to the point where you look up to people who so publicly suffer from the disease of avarice.

  • Lorenzo St. Dubois

    LeBatard embarrassed himself with this interview. He looked like he was ready to cry — again.

  • DrewShervin

    HQ is the best 30 minutes on ESPN. Dan always speaks the truth. But most people in world of sports can’t handle the truth. But you need Dan on that line.

    • 66pugs99

      You want Dan on that line.

    • RP

      Dan, did you call the code red on Manfred? “YOU’RE DAMN RIGHT I DID”

  • BobLee Says

    Manfred and/or his media relations staff should have expected such a confrontation. Once he agreed to be on the show… this result was inevitable.

  • RP

    I realize journalism is dead so when someone asks a person of power and influence anything but a softball question written by a PR person, the ruling class gets all verklempt, but this is pathetic. Le Batard did his job as a journalist, Manfred is a thin-skinned ninny who should be smart enough to know to not go on radio shows expecting a tongue bath when the host is ESPN’s top Florida guy and your 2 Florida franchises SUCK and one is actively being dismantled.

    What a poncy poof you are, Manfred.

  • sarah413

    A more pertinent question should have been to ask the commissioner why a lower bid was accepted for the Marlins. The Jeter group really didn’t have the necessary funds to allow them to inherit the debt that this team is in, so they had no choice but to get rid of Stanton. What they got back was completely and totally laughable. Mid to low level prospects? Really, MLB? Manfred should have immediately stepped in and given the old Lee Corso, “Not so fast my friends” line.
    The bottom line in all of this is that the Marlins need to be moved, the sooner the better. Send them back to Montreal. It’s only fair and just since their former owner is the one who pulled to wool over MLB’s collective eyes twice. He was the owner when the Expos relocated to Washington, the was allowed to take over another team in Miami. That man had no business even being near a MLB franchise. Ask the taxpayers in Miami as to their feelings about that individual.