Over the weekend, the commissioner’s torch was officially passed from Bud Selig to Rob Manfred, starting the Manfred era in earnest. Manfred’s tenure as commissioner will depend largely on how he deals with specific business and big picture issues the sport needs to address. Selig handed Manfred a highly effective business model, surpassing $9 billion in revenue in 2014 along with the lengthiest uninterrupted labor peace of the four major pro sports. Certainly, Manfred could keep the ship pointed in the same direction while keeping the motor running, and there would be few complaints from the owners who elected him. But people don’t get commissioner’s jobs just to be caretakers; they’re expected to have their own agenda to push baseball beyond its current audience. That’s the part we the public don’t know much about yet.
In Manfred’s letter to fans, he mentioned that his top priority is to bring more people into the game, by greater youth outreach to foster the next generation of players and by streamlining the game to make it more palatable to casual fans, especially younger ones. The letter is quite high-minded, masking Manfred’s reputation as a tough yet also conciliatory negotiator. Manfred’s in his mid-50’s, which places him in the baby boomer era, seeing the worst of the 60’s and 70’s as a youth: concrete multipurpose donut stadia. His predecessor helped get rid of nearly all of the cookie cutters, though Manfred played the heavy in many stadium talks. League attendance has largely plateaued with only Oakland and Tampa Bay stuck with bad parks, so if he and the other owners want to see continued growth at the turnstiles, they’ll have to do something about those two teams.
CBA talks will begin before or during the 2016 season, and unless it goes badly there should be a deal struck by the World Series. That’s 20 months away. If talks are contentious, they could take out the 2017 World Baseball Classic or worse. We shouldn’t expect to see contraction on the table, as it won’t help extort new stadia out of those two markets, plus it will only anger the player’s union, who will see 50-80 jobs (not including hundreds of minor league jobs) disappear. And no, adding a player or two to every roster is not a good substitute. There will be some calls for greater revenue sharing, along with greater pushback against it by the big market teams. Players will want earlier free agency, tweaks to arbitration, and other perks. Talk of a soft or hard salary cap has largely died. Umpires signed a new CBA over the weekend, allowing their agreement to run concurrent with Manfred’s term, one less hassle for the new commish.
That doesn’t mean it’s all smooth sailing. There remain numerous legal disputes to work out, internal ones like the Nats-O’s-MASN deal, and external issues like the minor league antitrust and television blackout lawsuits. As a long time insider, Manfred is keenly aware of these battles, and of the future CBA negotiations.
That leaves little room for Manfred to take on the A’s and Rays’ respective plights. Manfred and Selig have remained committed to the Bay Area while rather noncommittal to Oakland. Quoth Selig from John Shea’s sendoff profile:
“I think two teams can exist in the Bay Area. Certainly, (A’s owners John Fisher and Lew Wolff) want to stay in the Bay Area. When I say Bay Area, you understand there are several alternatives.”
Manfred from two weeks ago, asked by Bill Shaikin about the A’s:
Manfred: “Hopefully, this will be the end of the San Jose litigation.” Says need is to focus on new #Athletics park. In Oak? No comment.
— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) January 15, 2015
Not much difference there. Manfred’s going to leave both Oakland and San Jose dangling, knowing he has a plan A in Oakland if public officials choose wisely, and a plan B in San Jose if not. Plan B is not considered an easy plan because of the Giants, yet if a solution can’t be found at the Coliseum, Manfred will have to come up with a solution that works for both the A’s and Giants.
This site is coming up on 10 years old. I never thought I’d be at it this long. As I’ve said on multiple occasions, I’ll keep following the story where it leads. That’s Oakland, San Jose, Fremont, Mesa (for spring training), wherever it may go. A’s fans deserve nothing less than as complete coverage as this site can provide. Thanks for hanging in there, friends.
P.S. – Manfred aroused discussion yesterday when he said that he’d like to forego defensive shifts. I don’t consider that much of an likelihood, since there really aren’t rules that dictate how to set up defenses right now, so creating new ones would be an inevitable mess that would be difficult to enforce – as if certain rules aren’t already improperly enforced. Instead, I look at Manfred’s statement as something that got baseball in the national discussion at the beginning of Super Bowl week, a difficult thing to do. It is Manfred’s job to help promote the sport, after all.
P.P.S. – More from Manfred in an AP interview:
“I don’t think of the Oakland issue as Oakland-San Francisco. Oakland needs a new stadium. There’s a new mayor in Oakland. We just prevailed in the San Jose litigation, so things are moving around a little bit out there, and I’m hopeful we can make progress on getting a new stadium in Oakland in the relatively short term.”