MLB commissioner Rob Manfred dropped by CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney on Thursday for a comprehensive, 22-minute discussion regarding the current and future state of baseball.
Manfred, 58, became commissioner in 2015 and has been praised for his progressive, listen-to-the-fans approach.
“It’s important in a job like this to never lose sight of the fact that we put a product on the field in order to keep our fans and grow new fans, and you have to be willing to listen to people in order to achieve that really fundamental goal for Major League Baseball,” Manfred said. “If you try to listen to your fans, you usually are able to find the sweet spot between history and tradition on the one hand and the need for the game to evolve on the other.”
Instant replay is one such example.
“It was new to the game. It changed the game,” Manfred said. “But our fans clearly wanted us to use available technology to get the calls correct, particularly important calls. I think when people talk about changing the game, sometimes they lose sight of the fact that the game is changing. It has changed dramatically in the last 10 or 15 years, the number of strikeouts, the number of home runs, the shifts, how often balls are put in play, the way we use relief pitchers.
“So when I talk about it, I try to make people understand we’re not talking about changing the game so much as we are about managing the change that is otherwise taking place in the game,” Manfred continued. “You point to other sports. The NFL and the NBA have been much more aggressive about managing their sports to make sure the product they put on the field or on the court is the product that they think is best for our fans.”
The World Baseball Classic, meanwhile, is a wonderful opportunity to showcase and grow the game of baseball. In that regard, as well as many others, it has been an unbridled success.
“I think the WBC is a great example of how you can create a new event that is actually different,” Manfred said. “If you looked at the way the games were played, the emotion that was generated by the combination of sport and nationalism, and if you look at our audiences – which were dramatically different than our regular-season and postseason audiences – you can’t help but come to the conclusion that if you find the right new product, you can grow the game without hurting your traditional base.”
The WBC provided a level of excitement rarely seen in regular-season games. Players seemed less concerned about following the unwritten rules of baseball and more concerned about having fun and putting on a show for the fans.
Manfred hopes that carries over into the 2017 MLB season.
“I think what you’re going to see in baseball in our regular-season games is that the unwritten rules of the game are going to evolve in response to the fact that we have a great new generation of stars out there,” he said. “This generation of players (is) much more diverse. Huge Latin American population, we’ve kind of reversed the trend on African Americans, and I think that that diversity will produce an evolution in the unwritten rules of baseball. You may not see quite what you saw in the WBC, but I think you’re going to see more of that on the field, and I think it’s good for the sport.”
Manfred also weighed in on Jeurys Familia, who received a 15-game suspension for violating the league’s domestic-violence policy. The 27-year-old Mets closer was arrested last October on a misdemeanor domestic-violence charge that was later dismissed.
Familia became the fourth player suspended under the league’s domestic-violence policy, joining Aroldis Chapman (30 games), Jose Reyes (51 games) and Hector Olivera (82 games).
Manfred declined to disclose the rationale behind the 15-game suspension.
“I think it’s probably unfair to the player to work through the nits and nats of that decision-making process,” he said. “I think the best I can do for you on that one is that these situations are extraordinarily challenging. What we have tried to do is involve the MLBPA in a negotiation of a policy that stated some shared principles so we could avoid, to the extent possible, being at (an impasse) with the Players’ Union over what the discipline should be, and the policy has been very effective in that regard. I think the investigations were nearly identical (to those of Reyes and Chapman). We tried to get all the facts and circumstances. We always try to do that. We try to understand the dynamics of what happened the night of the incident, the dynamics more broadly in the relationship. The best I can tell you on Familia is the facts and circumstances were just really different than either of the cases (involving Reyes or Chapman).”
Manfred also discussed the possibility of having a major league team in Las Vegas or Montreal – or both.
“I have had regular contact with people who are interested in bringing baseball to Vegas,” he said. “I do see it as a viable site in the event that we decide we need to relocate or we decide to expand. I think the NHL and the NFL decided to go there because it is a quote-unquote major league market, and in the event that we get into one of those processes – either relocation or expansion – I think Vegas will be on our list.”
The same can be said for Montreal.
“We’ve thought about Montreal a lot,” Manfred said. “We’ve had conversations with potential owners. The mayor of Montreal (Denis Coderre), I think, could be fairly characterized as a rabid baseball fan. I’m not closed to the idea that we could return to Montreal – again, in the event that we get to relocation or expansion. I’m certainly open to that idea. But obviously the issues, largely facility issues, that led to the Expos leaving would have to be addressed before we’d be comfortable returning.”
In other news, Manfred was asked about President Donald Trump’s decision not to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Nationals/Marlins season-opener Monday.
“I think it’s important that Major League Baseball respect the office of the Presidency and always, always welcome the President continuing the tradition of throwing out the first pitch,” Manfred said. “On the other hand, I also understand that the President of the United States has very large responsibilities that makes giving up a day at the ball park difficult.”
Tiki Barber and Brandon Tierney wondered if President Trump declined the invitation because he is worried about making a poor throw. Manfred, however, does not believe that is the case.
“I can say two things with absolute certainty,” he said. “I did have a chance to spend a little time with the then-President-Elect. I can say with absolute certainty that he is a huge baseball fan, which is a good thing for our sport. And secondly, I think he is very, very confident about his ability to deliver a first pitch.”
Manfred was also asked about disgraced former big-leaguers, such as Alex Rodriguez and Pete Rose, having active and prominent roles in baseball. Rodriguez and Rose, for example, are analysts for FOX Sports and have developed quite a following.
“I think Alex has done a phenomenal job both in terms of his reentry into the game as a player and what he has done since he’s retired in terms of his broadcasting career,” Manfred said. “I know that the FOX people think he does a really good job. I’m a believer in redemption, that people can change and that people are entitled to recover from mistakes, and I think Alex has done a really good job of that.”