Bud Selig’s longtime right-hand man, Rob Manfred, will step into his large shoes as MLB commissioner Sunday, becoming the 10th person to fill that role.
Selig campaigned hard for Manfred to get the job and eventually got his way with a unanimous final vote from baseball’s 30 owners, but not before several rounds of voting due to Red Sox chief executive officer Tom Werner garnering initial support from at least one-third of ownership.
According to various reports many owners–chief among them Jerry Reinsdorf of the White Sox–worried that Manfred was too soft on the players’ union after serving as the owners’ chief labor negotiator during three collective bargaining agreements that avoided any work stoppages. Many owners wanted a commissioner more willing to take a hardline stance in the next CBA negotiations, following the 2016 season.
Manfred has largely worked behind the scenes, but he played a huge part in getting MLB to where it stands today, both good and bad. The sport if flush with cash after generating a record $9 billion in revenue for 2014 and internet and local television money has skyrocketed, but attendance and national television ratings have been underwhelming of late and performance-enhancing drugs remain a major talking point among fans and media.
In ridding the executive committee of owners who share Reinsdorf’s hardline stance on labor talks Manfred seemingly cleared the path for his way of thinking to gain further steam, but it’s worth noting that he’ll be negotiating with another first-time boss in new MLBPA president Tony Clark. Avoiding a work stoppage may not be so easy if Clark decides to dig his heels in right away.
And even if the next round of CBA negotiations goes smoothly, Selig left unsolved for Manfred the same ballpark-related problems he had with the A’s and Rays. Brushing that issue under the rug was often Selig’s approach, but fans in Oakland and Tampa Bay will no doubt be judging Manfred’s tenure on how things shake out for their favorite teams.
Speeding up the pace of the game and finding a way to make watching baseball at the ballpark and on television more appealing to young fans is another prominent issue facing Manfred. And in general, innovation will be crucial if MLB wants to continue raking it record revenues while also setting themselves up for a thriving future. Baseball isn’t dying and claims otherwise have gotten absurd, but MLB needs to find a way to reach a younger demographic on a more consistent, habit-forming basis.
Can he be forward-thinking and take full advantage of technology, both on and off the field, while avoiding a labor stoppage that would halt the current momentum? Can he help change the perception of steroids in baseball versus, say, football, where similar usage by big-name players is relatively minor news? Will he continue to tinker with the number of playoff teams and playoff format like Selig did or leave well enough alone for a while?
Manfred is about to be thrust front and center after years in Selig’s shadow and there’s already an awful lot of questions waiting for him. Welcome to the spotlight, commish.