HOUSTON — Acknowledging that baseball is not immune to the opioid epidemic in the United States, Commissioner Rob Manfred said on Wednesday that he hoped to soon reach an agreement with the players’ association that would allow testing for drugs like fentanyl and oxycodone.
“We understand that our work force is a microcosm of society,” Manfred said during a news conference before Game 2 of the World Series on Wednesday. “There’s a societal problem. It’s not a good bet that we don’t have some level of issue, and we’re working hard with them to find some way to address it in a positive way through an agreement with the players’ association. The dialogue with this has been very positive.”
Tyler Skaggs, a pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels, was found to have had fentanyl and oxycodone in his system when he died in his room at the team hotel in Texas on July 1. Major leaguers are not tested for such drugs without cause, because those substances are classified as “drugs of abuse” and not performance-enhancers.
Tony Clark, the executive director of the union, said “nothing is off the table,” including the idea of reclassifying opioids to allow for testing.
Manfred also defended baseball’s recent proposal to radically restructure the lower minor leagues, which could eliminate or change the nature and affiliation of as many as 40 teams.
“If you really look at the discussions that we had, many of those franchises average less than 2,000 people a game,” Manfred said. “I mean, they’re really not major drivers of the attendance in the minor leagues. Our preference was never to reduce numbers; it was to get the first-rate facilities.”
Those are among several off-field issues that have come into the spotlight during baseball’s showcase event. The league is also investigating an incident on Saturday in which Brandon Taubman, the Astros’ assistant general manager, apparently tried to intimidate female reporters in the clubhouse by profanely crowing about the team’s acquisition of closer Roberto Osuna, who served a 75-game suspension for domestic violence last season.
“We pride ourselves on providing an inclusive, harassment-free environment in all of the various aspects of our business,” Manfred said. “I think it’s a core value for baseball, and we have to be tremendously concerned whenever we have an incident that attracts this much attention.”
Even umpires have made headlines this week. Joe West, the league’s longest-serving umpire, has sued the former catcher Paul Lo Duca for saying publicly that years ago West gave a favorable strike zone to the pitcher Billy Wagner in exchange for use of Wagner’s car.
And on Wednesday ESPN reported that another major league umpire, Rob Drake, had tweeted that he planned to purchase an assault rifle “because if you impeach MY PRESIDENT this way, YOU WILL HAVE ANOTHER CIVAL WAR!!! #MAGA2020.” A spokesman for Manfred confirmed that the league was also looking into Drake’s tweet, which has since been deleted.
Nationals’ Pitching Shuffle
After using the two-time All-Star starter Patrick Corbin in relief in Game 1, Nationals Manager Dave Martinez said on Wednesday that the veteran Anibal Sanchez would start Game 3 against Houston’s Zack Greinke on Friday, with Game 4’s starter still to be determined.
Sanchez has been terrific in two starts this postseason, allowing one run and five hits in 12 2/3 innings, with 14 strikeouts. He carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning of the National League Championship Series opener, bewildering St. Louis hitters with an array of offerings including an extra-slow changeup he calls The Butterfly.
“He probably has 27 different pitches,” Martinez said. “He’s going to probably use them all.”
Sanchez, 35, is one of three starters in this series — along with Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander — who also started for the Detroit Tigers when they were swept by the San Francisco Giants in the 2012 World Series.
Better Than the ‘Best Seat in the House’
Joe Smith worked a 1-2-3 ninth inning for the Astros on Tuesday in the first World Series appearance of his career. Smith’s 782 regular-season games had been the most among active pitchers who had never worked in the World Series. He was with the Chicago Cubs in 2016 but was not on the active roster.
“I had the best seat in the house,” Smith said. “I just didn’t play.”
Smith, 35, will be a free agent after the season and said he would like to reach 1,000 career games, a total only 16 pitchers have amassed. The new active leader with the most games pitched without appearing in the World Series is Oakland’s Joakim Soria, at 710.
All Right, for the First Time Since 1903
The Astros are known for the unconventional, and their roster reflects that. Unlike every other team in the previous 113 World Series, the Astros are carrying no left-handed pitchers on their roster. The only other teams without a lefty were the first two World Series participants, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Boston Red Sox, in 1903.
The Astros rarely used left-handed relievers in the regular season, and their top left-handed starter, Wade Miley, has a 14.79 earned run average since the start of September. Miley was dropped from the playoff roster after the division series.