Rob Manfred was at Harvard Law School last week where he discussed the future challenges for MLB. Manfred, a Harvard Law graduate, spent nearly an hour in a both moderated and free for all question and answer session.
Manfred acknowledged that MLB needs to improve it’s marketing efforts, to expand it’s reach outside the US, to make the sport a little easier to acquire, and to increase it’s interest among youths.
Similarly, the commissioner discussed the imperative felt by the league to attract young fans, primarily by providing alternate methods of engaging with baseball. He indicated the possibility that “television is not the predominant way people engage with baseball in the long haul” as one reason the league has sunk so much money and effort into MLB Advanced Media and is continuing to expand in other areas.
Of course, MLB’s current policy to black out online broadcasts in local areas seems to be in direct conflict with this agenda.
Manfred was also asked about the moral problems MLB is confronting and made a compelling case that acting in a principled way is not only the right thing to do but the strategy that best secures baseball’s long-term success. In responding to a question about the Jose Reyes and Aroldis Chapman domestic violence investigations, he noted that MLB very intentionally reserved the right to proceed in the absence of criminal charges for two intertwined reasons. First, he identified the moral imperative felt by the league to “make a statement about the topic” that would set an appropriate precedent. Under his tenure, MLB has developed a robust investigate arm, and Manfred said he planned to use the information they gather, which does not perfectly overlap with the information a prosecutor can use in a legal proceeding, to develop a fair response that appropriately reflects the moral culpability of the individuals being investigated.
Personally I find these statements very interesting, as Manfred seems to be talking a big game without actually doing anything. We are still awaiting the results of MLB’s investigation on Chapman, Reyes, and Puig. (Not that I think Puig needs any punishment, but if you make a show about how you are going to investigate, you should actually, you know fucking investigate. Manfred thus far has been all bark and zero bite.
On the topic of gender diversity in MLB, Manfred pointed to Justine Siegal and Mo’ne Davis, while failing to realize that MLB still has not done nearly enough to encourage a gender safe environment, especially in management positions.
He had a similar response when asked about diversity in MLB along gender and racial/ethnic lines, citing both its importance in a vacuum and the financial imperative felt by the league to appeal to diverse consumers. “Women drive entertainment decisions, especially for families,” said Manfred, which makes opportunities to involve women in the game crucial. He cited the A’s guest instructor Justine Siegal, the first female coach in MLB, and the league’s increased efforts to reach out to youth and amateur softball as positive steps to build on. He also mentioned that seeing Mo’ne Davis’s dominant performance in the 2014 Little League World Series made him think there would eventually be a female major leaguer, though he acknowledged it likely wouldn’t be in the near future.
On the topic of racial diversity, Manfred pointed to the product on the field, while ignoring that again, management is severely lacking in the department.
Regarding racial and ethnic diversity, baseball’s appeal “begins with the product on the field,” according to Manfred. He said MLB was similarly diverse to other leagues in its number of African-American and Latino players but did acknowledge the perception that baseball was falling behind and pointed to the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) initiative as one example of MLB’s desire to foster a diverse fanbase and increase opportunity for minority athletes in the long term. The commissioner did not address the dearth of coaches and general managers of color, however, despite the “Selig rule” ostensibly requiring teams to interview minority candidates for all openings.
Interestingly, Manfred did take a position in favor of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens entering the Hall of Fame, railing against writers who make unfair judgements of PED use, while simultaneously hedging his bets by bringing up the character clause of the Hall of Fame. Of course, if we were to put any weight in the character clause of the HoF, shouldn’t we then go through and remove oh, I don’t know, about half the damn hall?
Finally, are some topics that may very well come up and be a big part of the upcoming labor negotiations, which feels as if Manfred is already publicly positioning for.
Manfred described competitive balance as “crucial” and said that baseball’s decentralized structure as compared to other major sports leagues means it cannot lean as heavily on revenue sharing, forcing the league to find other avenues to parity. In his opinion, the biggest driver of baseball’s current parity is the amateur talent system, including the draft and international signings, and he said the system of varied bonus pools among teams “has produced a really good result for us.” Despite the Brady Aiken disaster of the 2014 draft, it would seem the current system is not one MLB is looking to change.
No matter what you think about Manfred, he has been a breath of fresh air as opposed to Bud Selig’s position of saying absolutely nothing about anything, ever. Maybe it’s all that time Manfred is saving using email.