MLB’s new commissioner, Rob Manfred, takes over for Bud Selig with a lot on his plate

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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.

Mike Leake loses perfect game bid on leadoff single in the ninth

Mike Leake
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Just one week after Taylor Cole and Felix Peña tossed a combined no-hitter against Seattle, Mariners right-hander Mike Leake worked on his own perfect game through eight innings against the Angels.

It was an ambitious form of revenge, and one that Leake served up perfectly as he held the Angels scoreless in frame after frame. He sprinkled a handful of strikeouts throughout the first eight innings, catching Matt Thaiss on a called strike three in the third and getting two whiffs — called strikeouts against both Brian Goodwin and Shohei Ohtani — in the fourth.

The Mariners, meanwhile, put up a good fight against the Angels, backing Leake’s attempt with 10 runs — their first double-digit total since a 13-3 rout of the Orioles on June 23. Daniel Vogelbach led things off in the fourth with a three-run homer off of reliever Jaime Barria, then repeated the feat with another three-run shot off Barria in the fifth. Tom Murphy and J.P. Crawford helped pad the lead as well with a two-RBI single and two-RBI double, respectively.

In the ninth, with just three outs remaining, the Angels finally managed to break through. Luis Rengifo worked a 1-1 count against Leake, then returned an 85.3-m.p.h. changeup to right field for a base hit, dismantling the perfecto and the no-hitter in one fell swoop. Leake lost control of the ball following the hit, issuing four straight balls to Kevan Smith in the next at-bat and giving the Angels their first runner in scoring position. Still at a pitch count of just 90, however, he induced the next two outs in quick fashion and polished off the win with a triumphant eight-pitch strikeout against Mike Trout for the first one-hitter (and Maddux) of his career.

Had Leake successfully closed out the perfecto, it would’ve been the first of his decade-long career in the majors and the first the Mariners had seen since Félix Hernández’s perfect game against the Rays in August 2012. For their part, the Angels have yet to be on the losing end of a perfecto. The last time they were shut out in a no-hitter was 1999, at the hands of then-Twins pitcher Eric Milton.