We’re a few short days away from 2016 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2015. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.
Bud Selig took over as Major League Baseball’s commissioner in the early 90s as the result of an owners’ coup. While he almost immediately drove the game over a cliff with by forcing the 1994-95 strike, he somehow survived, eventually learned from his mistakes and, over the next 20 years, consolidated his power. By the time he was ready to step down he had a case for being the most successful commissioner in the history of the game.
Selig announced that he was stepping down well before Rob Manfred took over in late January and he did so for the express purpose of making sure Rob Manfred became the next commissioner. There was some drama about all of that in August of 2014 when the owners vote was held — a small insurgency led by Jerry Reinsdorf of the White Sox sought an alternative candidate — but eventually Bud Selig’s heir apparent got the job.
But just because Manfred was Selig’s chosen successor does not mean that he is much if anything like Selig. Indeed, his history in the game before last January was as a complementary force to Bud, not a yes-man. He was the Consigliere to Selig’s Don, working behind the scenes opportunistically and, often, adversarially, while Selig was building consensus among the owners. Selig waited to act until the moment his will, due to consensus, seemed inevitable. Manfred was far less deliberate.
That being said, Manfred’s first year on the job hasn’t really put him to any serious tests and hasn’t required him to act, publicly anyway, any differently than Selig had. Revenues continue to grow and, for the most part, the owners who employ Manfred have been happy. Or at least quiet. Manfred’s most notable initiative has been to speed up the pace of play, instituting new rules about when batters can step out of the box and requiring pitchers to deliver the ball in a certain amount of time. That saw some success in 2015 and those efforts will likely continue. He likewise oversaw the implementation of baseball’s domestic violence policy. He’ll soon have to impose discipline under it and that will likely lead to some criticism no matter what penalties he hands down.
Manfred’s biggest test, however, will come in 2016. That’s when the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires and a new pact will have to be forged with the union. Manfred outmaneuvered Tony Clark and the union fairly easily with respect to performance enhancing drugs both as Selig’s assistant and as commissioner, extracting concessions from the union without giving up anything in return. Will that embolden Manfred to take a hardline stance with MLBPA regarding the CBA, or will he appreciate that the union is far more resistant to public pressure when pocketbook issues are on the table as opposed to drug issues?
Hard to say. All that can be said for certain is that Manfred has never been impulsive, reckless or unwise. And if he’s lost battles he’s waged in the past, they weren’t very big battles and his losses weren’t well known. He’s a formidable figure. Whether he’s formidable enough to get all 30 owners on the same page for labor negotiations and reach a new deal with the union without a work stoppage will go a long way toward establishing his legacy as commissioner.