Name: Rob Manfred
Position: Newly-elected MLB Commissioner
Duty: To ensure the game of baseball continues to run smoothly, effectively, and, where possible, better than it has before.
That’s no small task.
In January, Rob Manfred will assume the role as the tenth commissioner of Major League Baseball, a position held for the past 22 years by Bud Selig, whose tenure falls shorter only than that of first MLB Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Manfred assumed the role of MLB chief operating officer last September, at which time he began to be seen as Selig’s heir apparent. In the past year, Manfred has overseen all functions of the commissioner’s office, such as labor relations, baseball operations, finance, administration, and club governance.
His innate knowledge of the office and its operations make Manfred a strong future candidate for the job of commissioner. A Harvard-educated labor attorney, Manfred has the background and credentials to effectively work with the MLB Players Association to ensure smooth operations on the labor-side of baseball operations. Since Selig oversaw the baseball strike of 1994, there have been no baseball lockouts or major player labor issues, demonstrating the smooth path that Manfred should be able to continue.
Further, Manfred spearheaded the arbitration fight with Alex Rodriguez stemming from the Biogenesis investigation and subsequent suspension of 14 MLB players. His involvement in such action demonstrates his commitment to the stringent drug testing and maintaining a clean game of baseball, actions which are important to continue through the future.
Although there was initial drama surrounding the vote that resulted in Manfred’s election, the final verdict was a unanimous election of Manfred to be Selig’s successor. Jerry Reinsdorf, the owner of the Chicago White Sox who took a combative stance to Manfred’s candidacy, changed his tune last week to support Manfred at the final hour. On August 14, the New York Daily News reports that Reinsdorf’s initial stance was “part of the owners’ duty, as stewards of the game, to scrutinize candidates.”
Although the scrutiny from owners is far from over — they will watch and judge Manfred’s actions throughout his time in office, likely not always with favorable views — the real scrutiny will now come from the fans of baseball. Manfred is not only given the responsibility to keep the game playing smoothly from an operational and player standpoint, but he is charged with the loathsome task of making the game better for fans. And, as Cleveland fans know, there is no way to please every fan. Yet, it’s something Manfred still must try to achieve.
So what can Manfred do to keep the game of baseball positive, interesting, and to improve it? What can he do to make it more enticing and more desirable for the fans? It’s a cycle — when fans are happy with the game they are watching, players will be more happy to play for them, and fans will continue to be more happy while in the seats.
The proposed solutions seem to all run together. From a fan perspective, Manfred has the impossible challenge of making the game more exciting and increasing baseball’s audience. During the offseason, Did The Tribe Win Last Night wrote a series of articles discussing the Indians’ attendance woes and raising questions of what could be done to remedy those issues. One of the issues was the lack of interest from younger generations in the game, which is an issue not isolated to Cleveland, Ohio.
Manfred is tasked with developing this younger fan base. One of the first ways this can happen is to speed up the game. In the modern generation, people are obsessed with instant gratification. Baseball is not traditionally a fast game. Manfred should work to put measures in place that will increase the speed of play to hold attention. This could mean a few things. One, put a time limit on how long a pitcher can hang onto the ball on the mound. Stepping off as a pitcher and stepping out as a batter are little things that slow down the pace of the game and, frankly, don’t add a whole lot to the game. Decrease the length of time between pitching changes. Encourage all bullpen pitchers to race out to the mound. Wasn’t that every fan’s favorite part of a Vinnie Pestano outing?
A cap on extra-inning games is an issue that has also been discussed, although this may be a little harder to achieve. I know I’m not the biggest fan of staying awake until the wee hours of the morning to see who will emerge victorious in a 16-inning deadlocked game, but there is something to be said about the thrill of wondering if each pitch could be it. Playing up the drama involved in tie games could add to the game’s excitement. International leagues use a rule in which teams can put a runner of their choice on second base if games goes into extras. Could something like this work if games begin to get unnaturally long? It’s something Manfred could at least explore.
While speeding up the game and changing some of the aspects of play can upset baseball purists and diehard fans, the game does need to move into the modern century and adopt methods of play that reflect the era. Football and basketball are popular modern sports because of their quick pace and, additionally, the “star quality” that is involved with their players.
Baseball needs to play up its antics off the field. Previously, many of the game’s big-name stars were guys who smashed tons of home runs and made ridiculous plays. With more stringent drug testing came a decrease in those crazy power hitters and onslaughts of on-field injuries may make players more cautious before attempting to turn insane plays. The names of baseball’s stars are not as widespread and well-known as they once were. Manfred needs to work with the media-side of Major League Baseball to play up its stars and personalities. Yes, it’s great that Mike Trout has his line of Subway commercials, but does that really make him a household name?
The game needs more personalities like Brian Wilson, whom fans knew for his beard and his ability to play a goofball in fast food commercials. He extended that personality to other venues, though it’s a pattern otherwise not readily seen by players. Teams and their social media departments have adopted new methods of interacting with their fans, and that method of interaction could be amplified to make players and big-name personalities more available to fans. Further, things like rivalries need to be played up. Drama needs to be played up. Younger fans will more readily respond to a game that has something on the line that includes pride and bragging rights and a victory of good over bad, rather than just another check mark in the win column on a 162-game season.
And speaking of things on the line — the All-Star Game should not be tied to home-field advantage. While it has seemed to benefit the winning World Series team in the past, the All-Star Game should be just as its name suggests — a game of All-Stars. Instead of ASG managers working to make sure they put together the best squad to actually win, they should be focused on putting on a show for fans. The All-Star Game should be a time for players to relax and play for fun, to be reminded of why they got into the game in the first place — because they loved to play it and were good at it. There should be at least one game a season in which the players don’t have to worry about a win meaning anything more than just that — a win.
There’s a reason fans love baseball-related movies like The Sandlot and Major League. Major League gives fans the drama and the characters they want to see on the field, while The Sandlot offers them a glimpse of the joy that comes with playing the game because you love it. While Manfred can’t breathe that joy into each and every player, he can take steps to bring that joy back to the fans.
And, while he’s at it, he can ban smokeless tobacco. That’s just unhealthy and gross. Institute a policy of chewing more bubblegum and save our players’ teeth and their future health. Their dentists will thank Manfred later.
Photo: Steve Ruark/AP Photo