Rob Manfred

If Rob Manfred is Bud Selig’s heir apparent, why are there three finalists?

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We learned last night that there are three finalists to succeed Bud Selig as the Commissioner of Major League Baseball. They are Rob Manfred, MLB’s chief operating officer; Tim Brosnan, MLB’s executive vice president of business; and Boston Red Sox chairman Tom Werner.

However, most people playing close attention to all of this say that (a) Rob Manfred is Selig’s hand-picked successor; and (b) he is the favorite to get the job, by far. If so, why are the other two candidates hanging around?

One possible answer is that the owners really haven’t decided on Manfred yet. I sort of doubt that. The people reporting that Manfred is the guy tend to know what they’re talking about. Another answer is that the owners want to make it look like they are considering a lot of options if, for no other reason, than for the optics of it all. I doubt that too. For one thing the owners have never really cared about optics. For another, they also don’t want to waste unnecessary time on this, and putting up p.r.-driven candidates is a waste of time. Plus, there are better p.r. candidates than Brosnan and Werner if that’s what they were thinking. That’s not it.

What I think is really going on here is that a message is being sent to Manfred. A preemptive one and possibly even a friendly one, but a message all the same. And that message is this: you work for us. You are not a king and you will not be crowned. You will be selected.

This is sort of important to the owners, I’d assume. While Bud Selig started out on shaky ground as commissioner, he has grown into a pretty powerful force in the game. That, combined with the (mistaken) public impression that the Commissioner is baseball’s leader  and/or dictator, likely gives the owners pause. They know what the commissioner’s job really is: to work for them and to make them money and not to do things they don’t want. Maybe they worry that a guy who is not from their ranks — like Manfred — may forget that at some point. Maybe they want him to be grateful that he was chosen as opposed to feeling as if he assumed the job by divine right and Bud Selig’s grace.

And, while this three-man finalist thing may have an element of hazing to it, it may be useful all the same. Bud Selig was successful as Commissioner — with success being defined as getting done what he wanted to get done — because he never forgot who he worked for. He rarely if ever launched an initiative that he did not feel had the support of the owners and he never aired disputes publicly. To the extent commissioners have run into trouble — Fay Vincent comes to mind, but many others do too — it’s because they think they’re organizing the entire trip when they are really merely driving the bus.

I predict that Rob Manfred gets the job next week. And I think, when he accepts it, it will be with the acknowledgement that a message has been sent by the guys who really run baseball.

Rob Manfred on robot umps: “In general, I would be a keep-the-human-element-in-the-game guy.”

KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 5:  Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred talks with media prior to a game between the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on April 5, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
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Craig covered the bulk of Rob Manfred’s quotes from earlier. The commissioner was asked about robot umpires and he’s not a fan. Via Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:

Manfred was wrong to blame the player’s union’s “lack of cooperation” on proposed rule changes, but he’s right about robot umps and the strike zone. The obvious point is that robot umps cannot yet call balls and strikes with greater accuracy than umpires. Those strike zone Twitter accounts, such as this, are sometimes hilariously wrong. Even the strike zone graphics used on television are incorrect and unfortunate percentage of the time.

The first issue to consider about robot umps is taking jobs away from people. There are 99 umps and more in the minors. If robot umpiring was adopted in collegiate baseball, as well as the independent leagues, that’s even more umpires out of work. Is it worth it for an extra one or two percent improvement in accuracy?

Personally, the fallibility of the umpires adds more intrigue to baseball games. There’s strategy involved, as each umpire has tendencies which teams can strategize against. For instance, an umpire with a more generous-than-average strike zone on the outer portion of the plate might entice a pitcher to pepper that area with more sliders than he would otherwise throw. Hitters, knowing an umpire with a smaller strike zone is behind the dish, may take more pitches in an attempt to draw a walk. Or, knowing that information, a hitter may swing for the fences on a 3-0 pitch knowing the pitcher has to throw in a very specific area to guarantee a strike call or else give up a walk.

The umpires make their mistakes in random fashion, so it adds a chaotic, unpredictable element to the game as well. It feels bad when one of those calls goes against your team, but fans often forget the myriad calls that previously went in their teams’ favor. The mistakes will mostly even out in the end.

I haven’t had the opportunity to say this often, but Rob Manfred is right in this instance.

Report: MLB approves new rule allowing a dugout signal for an intentional walk

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 29:  MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred laughs during a ceremony naming the 2016 winners of the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award and the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award before Game Four of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 29, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images
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ESPN’s Howard Bryant is reporting that Major League Baseball has approved a rule allowing for a dugout signal for an intentional walk. In other words, baseball is allowing automatic intentional walks. Bryant adds that this rule will be effective for the 2017 season.

MLB has been trying, particularly this month, to improve the pace of play. Getting rid of the formality of throwing four pitches wide of the strike zone will save a minute or two for each intentional walk. There were 932 of them across 2,428 games last season, an average of one intentional walk every 2.6 games. It’s not the biggest improvement, but it’s something at least.

Earlier, Commissioner Rob Manfred was upset with the players’ union’s “lack of cooperation.” Perhaps his public criticism was the catalyst for getting this rule passed.

Unfortunately, getting rid of the intentional walk formality will eradicate the chance of seeing any more moments like this: