Hank Azaria is not the commissioner of baseball, but he plays one on TV, spending the fourth and final season of “Brockmire,” his IFC series that returns on Wednesday, in charge of the national pastime.
What he did not anticipate when the story line — set in a sort-of-dystopian early 2030s — was being formulated was that no matter how difficult the job would be then, it could not match Rob Manfred’s job now.
“It was probably more fun than being the actual commissioner,” Azaria told Newsday. “We thought we had created a situation where the problems for a commissioner couldn’t be worse, but we were wrong.”
He even did some “playful teasing” of Manfred at a recent board meeting of DREAM — the organization formerly known as Harlem RBI — at MLB’s Manhattan offices.
“I said, ‘Hey, Rob, if you need a hand from Jim Brockmire, he is comfortable amid scandal, so let me know if he can handle anything for you,’ ” Azaria said.
That probably would be a bad idea from the fictional character, an alcohol-and-drug-abusing play-by-play announcer who eventually cleans up his act as family and romantic complications ensue around him.
But even if Azaria’s commissioner does not deal with cheating World Series champions or a coronavirus pandemic, some of his challenges, namely tweaking baseball to connect with young fans, are true-to-life.
“We put a lot of thought into how would you fix baseball, and it’s not so easy,” he said. “There is only so much you can do. And we were a little bit predictive with the idea of mic-ing the players and bodycams.
“I was amazed they were doing that this spring and to such good effect . . . I think it’s a great idea, actually.”
Azaria, 55, who grew up in Queens, comes by his passion for baseball as a lifelong Mets fan.
Did he worry that the show’s treatment of the sport was too harsh, given his feelings for the game?
“No, because honesty is always the best policy and baseball is a little behind in its attempts to adjust,” he said. “When the series began four years ago, I really had no idea baseball was seen that way, because I love baseball and have since 1970.
“So all these jokes about how young people don’t like it and it’s out of touch, I had to ask [writer] Joel Church-Cooper, ‘What’s with all this? Why do you hate baseball?’ It’s really how baseball is seen now. I was shocked. Nobody had told me.”
Azaria said he came to realize that changing baseball is more difficult than other sports because “it’s, like, hallowed. You can’t do anything with it, whereas basketball and football can be a lot more pliable.”
With “Brockmire” behind him, he still will have a hand in baseball as a board member of DREAM, which reaches children through not only sports but a variety of mentoring and educational programs.
“As Brockmire, I couldn’t believe that this organization existed that did such good work and that was so baseball-oriented,” he said. “It was — if you’ll pardon the pun — such a home run.”
Former Yankee Mark Teixeira long has been involved with DREAM, and he and Azaria will co-host a fundraising auction in June.
Exposing young people to baseball is a bonus. “I think that’s why MLB is so enthusiastically behind these guys,” Azaria said.
His own commitment to the game in general and his Mets in particular remains as strong as ever. He even slipped a reference to a potential sale of the team into a late-season episode.
Speaking of which, he still has hopes that billionaire Steve Cohen can resurrect a deal to buy the Mets.
“I think he would do a great job and treat it like a big-market team,” Azaria said. “I just hope whoever comes in will do that. I think the Wilpons, it seems like they maneuvered this to get a lesser price, which is very Mets-like. It’s very on-brand for them.”
Azaria saw a victory projection of 88 for the Mets — assuming a full season is played — and expects better than that.
“It would not surprise me if they won 95, but it also wouldn’t surprise me if they won 75,” he said. “I have to say, I’d be more surprised by 75 than 95. I’m oddly more optimistic than not. Somewhere around 90 feels right.”
He said he is looking forward to seeing how Luis Rojas does as manager and was pleased to see him replace Carlos Beltran.
“I’m not glad about the Beltran [sign-stealing] scandal, but I was not a fan of that hiring,” he said. “Not based on his baseball knowledge. I’m enough of a bitter Mets fan that I can’t get that bat on his shoulder [in Game 7 of the NLCS] in ’06 out of my mind . . . To me, he’s like a Met bad guy. I didn’t like that.”
Is it better for people in creative professions to suffer rooting for franchises such as the Mets and Jets than for consistent winners? Said Azaria, “That’s what I tell myself.”