While it isn’t fair to judge a man on his new job before he walks through his office door for the first time, don’t expect new baseball commissioner Rob Manfred to be much different than the man he will succeed in January.
For the past 15 years Manfred and outgoing commissioner Bud Selig have been joined at the hip and it is fair to say Manfred is Selig’s consigliore. He was Selig’s hand-picked choice, but it took six ballots to get Manfred the three-fourths majority from the 30 owners.
With a few tweaks and tinkers, what Selig did is what the owners want and Manfred is the best choice to continue down baseball’s prosperous highway.
Manfred was Selig’s right-hand man as baseball’s chief operating officer after serving 15 years as executive vice president for labor relations. And in recent years Manfred performed the tough tasks.
Manfred was the chief labor negotiator with the players union and a major reason there has not been a work stoppage since the strike that ended the 1994 season in August and wiped out the postseason.
Before then, there had been a series of strikes and work stoppages and relations between the owners and the players were contentious. Under Manfred, there was baseball peace in our time.
Manfred was the man in negotiating new basic agreements with the players in 2002, 2006 and 2011. The current agreement expires in December 2016.
Manfred was also instrumental in putting together and enforcing a significant drug-testing policy after steroids and human growth hormones nearly wrecked the game and did wreck the record books in the 1990s.
Manfred’s recent appearance on 60 Minutes about the Alex Rodriguez and Balco issues displayed his toughness and his willingness to go to whatever methods necessary to punish those caught in baseball’s illegal substance web.
Under Manfred, expect more of the same. He said it himself at his press conference to announce his appointment. He said he wouldn’t be where he is today without Selig.
It will be Manfred’s mandate to keep the status quo — labor peace, a heavy thumb on drug testing and revenue stream, something at which Selig was a master — making money for Major League Baseball and the teams.
With television contracts, even the worst-managed franchise is making money and it is estimated that the average worth of a baseball franchise is more than $800 million.
Don’t expect any visible changes. Manfred won’t get rid of the designated hitter, won’t get rid of interleague play, won’t get rid of review/replay.
Instead of eliminating the designated hitter, it is most likely fans will see the DH invoked in the National League, a move to make the game the same in both leagues and eliminate the silliness of having location of the game determine whether the DH is used.
That probably will be part of the negotiations for the new basic agreement for 2016. The Players Association would never agree to do away with the DH altogether and would be more than happy to accept the DH for the National League.
That would mean more jobs for aging players who still hit but have slowed afoot and can’t bend down to field ground balls.
And for those who have waited and waited and waited for Selig to leave office so that maybe the next commissioner might re-instate Pete Rose, well, that probably won’t happen.
Manfred is likely to carry on Selig’s legacy in many ways and holding Rose to the lifetime ban to which Rose agreed is probably one of them.
What the owners want from Manfred, in addition to the revenue flow that has reached nearly $9 billion during Selig’s reign, is an emphasis on luring younger fans, which baseball has lost to the NFL and the NBA. And they want to reduce the average time of games, which has stretched to an average of more than three hours.
Manfred, 55, grew up in Rome, N.Y., not far from Cooperstown, and was an attorney before baseball lured him into its inner sanctum.
As is apparent, the owners don’t want much from their new leader — keep finding revenue, speed up the game, draw in America’s youth and, pretty much, continue the Selig Era.