Meet the New Commish

by Jason Epstein

So who is this Rob Manfred dude, tasked with leading the National Pastime for the next three years starting in January:

Matt Bonesteel of the Washington Post offers up some professional background on the 55-year-old, Major League Baseball’s chief operating officer since last September:

Manfred has worked for MLB in an official capacity since 1998 after previously serving as an outside counsel to the league during the players’ strike of 1994–95, which led to the cancellation of the 1994 World Series. Supporters of his candidacy for commissioner (led by the New York Yankees) said his experience in shepherding the league through its labor issues – he helped forge new labor deals in 2002, 2006 and 2011, each time without a work stoppage — would be an asset when the MLB owners and players return to the bargaining table to negotiate a new deal after the league’s current collective bargaining agreement ends following the 2016 season.

Bonesteel notes that not every owner was enthusiastic about Manfred:

MLB is the only professional sports league without a salary cap, instead relying on a luxury tax in an attempt to keep teams from stockpiling talent. MLB is also the only league in which the balance of power rests with the players during labor negotiations. Manfred will need to rally the support of skeptical owners [led by Jerry Reinsdorf of the White Sox] who see their compatriots in the NFL, NBA and NHL as having the upper hand over the players.

NBC Sports Hardball Talk’s Craig Calcaterra sees his election as one final victory for the outgoing head honcho:

Say what you will about Bud Selig, but after driving baseball into the ditch by helping foment the 1994 strike, he learned that he couldn’t simply impose his will on the game of baseball. He needed to deal. He needed to compromise. Both with the players and the other owners. And occasionally politicians and media executives. No one thinks of Bud Selig as a charismatic leader. Many like to talk about him as if he is a failure. But can you name a thing that he has wanted and not gotten in the past 15 years or so? Or, at the very least, a thing he hasn’t wanted that he has, nevertheless, been able to spin as his own personal victory? I can’t. 

He got what he wanted by abandoning the aggressive and confrontational approach which catapulted him into office in the first place. He led a coup against his predecessor, Fay Vincent, and declared war on the MLBPA. When he lost, he changed. Not many people with his power survive such losses. Even fewer manage to change and find success. Bud did. And he dragged 30 team owners along with him, despite the fact that team owners tend to be a non-learning, non-compromising lot by nature. He got them to play by his rules and as a result baseball has flourished and has been free of labor difficulties for the better part of two decades.

There is no shortage of advice pouring in to the Ccmmissioner-elect on how to improve the game. Ted Berg of USA Today’s For the Win offers up his fair share, including one that’s perfectly sensible:

OK, this one’s for real, and real simple: Enforce the rule that says pitchers can only hold onto the ball for 12 seconds between pitches when no one’s on base. Long baseball games are fine if they’re filled with actual baseball action, but there’s just not a lot of upside to letting pitchers futz around on the mound like goons when they should be pitching. Same for batters needlessly stepping out of the box. Seriously, just… move it along already.

And on the other end of the spectrum there’s this:

You want to make the sport appeal to kids? Try a swift rebranding. Instead of the boring batter logo that’s now 45 years old, freshen things up with the enduring face of baseball, Bartolo Colon. This is going to sell some T-shirts, I promise:


Best of luck, Mr. Manfred.

More here, here, and here.

Right Field

Brief chronicles of our sporting times.