Commissioner Manfred talks pace, players, plans in new role

Rob Manfred became MLB's 10th commissioner Monday, and FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal interviewed him during his first official day on the job.

1-on-1 with Rob Manfred

 
JAN 29, 12:04 am
Now that he's completed his first few weeks on the job, commissioner Rob Manfred has begun to follow through with his early objectives for the future of baseball. Ken Rosenthal sat down with baseball's new man in charge.

Rob Manfred became MLB’s 10th commissioner Monday, and FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal interviewed him during his first official day on the job. The 1-on-1 aired Wednesday night on “Fox Sports Live.” The full transcript is below.

ROSENTHAL: You’re the commissioner now. Your signature is on the ball. What was your reaction when you first saw that?

MANFRED: You know, I never focused on the ball until they came to collect my signature. You first have to sign a bunch of cards to get a signature that’s legible. I can’t tell you how exciting it was to actually see your name. ... It’s like a tangible proof that you’re going to be the commissioner of baseball. It was very exciting for me.

ROSENTHAL: You’ve been preparing for this job for a while. Now that you finally have it, what do you think the biggest change will be just in your day-to-day functions?

MANFRED: I have always been a project-oriented person. Commissioner [Bud] Selig would have me on a particular issue or project. The biggest change is that I get to pick the projects, and I have people who are going to help me with those projects. So that’s a big change for me in terms of the way I function professionally.

ROSENTHAL: Commissioner Selig was an owner before he was commissioner. He spoke the owners’ language. You first became involved in baseball as a labor negotiator in 1987, came aboard full time in 1998. Now you obviously know the owners, but on the field when a coach is elevated to manager his relationships with the players change. How will you gain the respect of the owners as commissioner?

Rob Manfred (right) believes he can build unity among owners as effectively as recent Commissioner Bud Selig.

H. Darr Beiser / Getty Images North America

MANFRED: I’m fortunate. I have had longstanding relationships with ownership. As you know, there is no issue that attracts owner interest quite the way that labor does. So I’ve had an opportunity to interact with owners in that context. I’ve had owners who have worked with me in negotiating committees that I’ve gotten to know very well over time.

But you are correct that when you’re the commissioner a big part of your job is making sure that you have unity among the owners. As a result your relationships and interactions with them change and I can feel that happening already.

ROSENTHAL: Commissioner Selig was a master at building consensus. A great politician. How will your style differ from his?

MANFRED: I think that it’s the same in the sense that owner unity is a key to a commissioner being successful. I think that my ability to create unity will be more based on facts, persuasion, deep knowledge of issues that I can convince people that I have the right path. Commissioner Selig was more of a one-on-one politician.

ROSENTHAL: The sport passed $9 billion in revenues last season. A recent report in Sports Business Daily said the goal is $15 billion, or more than $15 billion, in the years ahead. So tell me, where are the untapped revenue sources?

MANFRED: Well, I think that particularly in the media area, and I mean media broadly defined, we have great opportunities to grow our revenue. People forget for example that MLB.com has a technology business that is only tangentially related to baseball. Like a lot of technology businesses, there’s great upside.

ROSENTHAL: Labor peace was a big achievement of Commissioner Selig’s. You were no small part in that. The current agreement expires in 2016. The union has a new chief in Tony Clark. I imagine you will hire a new lead negotiator. In what ways specifically can the next CBA be different in ways that improve the sport?

MANFRED: Well, Dan Halem is going to be the chief negotiator going forward. I think that there are a number of ways the new basic agreement could help the game, broadly defined. Those ways always emerge during a preparation process that we’re just beginning with the clubs.

I’ve always found that the best way to get good ideas on what needs to be done is to go to the clubs. I think the last time around they identified amateur talent acquisition as a key issue for us. And I think during the preparation process those issues will emerge.

ROSENTHAL: Internationally, the (different types of) acquisition of players from different countries seems to be a vexing problem. How do you fix it?

Our games have crept longer, and I think that it is important ... to shorten them because it’s more consonant with the way that people live. Everybody’s pressed for time, and I think that to the extent we could save 10 minutes, 15 minutes on the average game, that would be a huge change in terms of the length of the game.

- Rob Manfred

MANFRED: I think over the long haul my goal in that area would be to get to an international draft. I think that would be best for the sport. There are reasons why we’ve taken steps in that direction but not got all the way there. I don’t want to get deep on bargaining priorities, but I think the international draft will be another topic of discussion.

ROSENTHAL: Pace of game. There is a lot of talk about this. It seems like it’s one of your primary early objectives. What is it about this that makes you so concerned and why are you convinced that it’s actually a problem?

MANFRED: I think there is substance and symbolism to this issue. On the substance, there’s no doubt that our games have crept longer, and I think that it is important on the substance to shorten them because it’s more consonant with the way that people live. Everybody’s pressed for time, and I think that to the extent we could save 10 minutes, 15 minutes on the average game, that would be a huge change in terms of the length of the game.

Symbolically, because there’s so much talk about it and it is reflective of the way people live and of our society, I think it’s important to say to our fans, yes, we hear you and we’re taking steps to do something about this.

ROSENTHAL: Do you have data that shows if you cut 10 to 15 minutes off, people are going to be happier? Fans are going to be happier?

MANFRED: No. No, we really don’t. It’s a very difficult thing to prove. We do have sort of anecdotal evidence about the way that a lot of baseball people, a lot of veteran baseball people, reacted to the games that were played in the Arizona Fall League (under different rules).

Everyone — even those who were not initially inclined to embrace some of the things we experimented with — felt very positive about the way the game flowed and the pace of the game with all those changes out there. So while it is anecdotal, we feel experimenting in the way we did helps you understand whether you really have a problem and whether you have the right kind of solutions to address the problem.

ROSENTHAL: What is realistic as far as this season about the amount of time you can trim from a game?

MANFRED: First of all, I think pace of game is one of those issues where you’re going to see us work on it over a period of years. If we could cut seven to 10 minutes off that would be a huge, a huge improvement I think this year.

ROSENTHAL: The pitch clock is coming to Double-A and Triple-A this year. How long do you think until we see a pitch clock in the major leagues?

MANFRED: Well, that’s going to be a product of negotiations with the MLBPA. And, you know, one thing I don’t do is make predictions about negotiations. So we’re going to continue to work on that one.

ROSENTHAL: You were asked recently in an interview about any radical changes that you would make to help the sport. You mentioned the elimination of shifts as one possibility. How concerned are you about the lack of offense and how far can you go to help fix that?

MANFRED: Let me go back and put the comment I made in context. I was asked about long term, radical thoughts and what I said was that I was I prepared to have a conversation about shifts. Look, we have a lot of conversations in this building about a lot of things, so I don’t think it would be a good idea to read too much into that comment.

Having said that, we watch what goes on in the game very, very carefully. On the field, what the trends are, we’re always doing that. There was a lot of talk about the lack of offense, particularly late last year and coming into the offseason. We’re watching those trends. But one of the reasons we don’t act too quickly is you never know when people are going to adjust.

Maybe a lot of hitters went home this winter and they figured out how to go the other way against the shift and it will self-correct and we’re not going to need to make a change. We look at these things, we think it’s smart to pay attention, we think it’s important to think about possible solutions even if it turns out that we don’t have a problem.

ROSENTHAL: There also has been talk about the lack of action out there. The amount of balls in play. What can you do to address that, if anything?

MANFRED: There are a package of things that you might want to look at to address this action issue. But given the reaction I got on shifts I think I’m going to stop right there (laughs).

ROSENTHAL: Shortly after you were elected commissioner, Larry Baer, the Giants president and CEO, made an interesting comment. He said we have to make the game relevant again to 12-year-olds. I know you’ve spoken passionately about bringing kids back to the sport. How do you do that?

MANFRED: I think that it is really important to understand where you are with 12-year-olds. We’ve done a lot of work in the youth market and youth trends. Interestingly, the fastest-growing category among young people when you talk about sports, people say I guess it’s soccer or whatever ... the fastest growing category is nothing. Nothing.

We need to participate — forget baseball for just a second — in a broader effort to make sure that kids are getting engaged with athletics. I think it’s important from a health perspective. I think it’s important in developing teamwork and characteristics that are important to your personality. So that’s kind of Step 1.

Step 2, I think that each individual sport needs to accept the fact that when kids are doing nothing it’s usually because they’re engaged with electronics and technology. So we need to take that interest, marry it with our game, and get kids engaging in both. Not just with the game, not just with technology, but with the two. We have a huge advantage in this regard. MLB.com is a world-class technology company, and we really do have a huge advantage.

ROSENTHAL: With kids, could you go so far as to say look at Giancarlo Stanton’s contract. Look at Max Scherzer’s contract. In baseball we have guaranteed contracts, we have no salary cap, we have a lower risk of injury, we have longer careers — play our sport.

MANFRED: I do think that a very compelling case can be made for the idea that from an economic perspective being a professional baseball player is the best option. There are a lot of intermediate steps between a 7-year-old and Giancarlo Stanton. I think we need to work on some of those intermediary steps.

ROSENTHAL: Alex Rodriguez. It’s been reported that you met with him last week and late last summer. What was the nature of those conversations?

MANFRED: I think you know as a result of where I started with the business, I’ve had relationships with players for a long time. It’s not uncommon for players to want to see me about something if they have an issue. I think of the conversations with Alex as part of that ongoing activity and I’ve made it a practice not to get into the substance of those conversations. I don’t think Alex would, and I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to.

The new commissioner is willing to give Alex Rodriguez a fresh start.

Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images North America

ROSENTHAL: He served his time. He served the suspension. And yet he lied to you, he obstructed your investigation. He did a number of things that upset baseball. He also cursed at you and stormed out of an arbitration hearing. And he also antagonized one of your professional adversaries, but a guy I know you had a lot of respect for, the late union leader Michael Weiner. How do you go forward, how do you forgive, how do you forget?

MANFRED: First of all, he actually didn’t swear. ... He used a swear word in speaking to me; it really wasn’t directed at me. But, look, I come from a part of the business where you have back-and-forth exchanges that can become heated. People talk about the relationship that I had with Michael. Michael and I had some pretty good goes over time. So when you come out of that environment you learn to put harsh words to one side and go forward with the relationship that you’re still going to have.

That’s how I think about this issue. I think that when you have penalties that are like the penalties we have now negotiated, and the player does something wrong and serves out his penalty, the other side of that coin is baseball has to be willing to accept the player back and give him a chance to finish his career. I don’t think I’m doing anything more than that.

ROSENTHAL: So he’s a member in good standing. Is that how you would describe him right now?

MANFRED: Well yeah. He’s a player entitled to attempt to resume his career. That’s how I would describe it.

ROSENTHAL: Commissioner Selig talked hopefully about eradicating the use of PEDs in the sport. Where are you in that quest and is it even possible?

MANFRED: I think I would describe our current situation as cautiously positive. I think we have a drug program that’s not only a very good drug program for professional sports — the best if you really analyze it — but it’s a good drug program for any kind of sport. A lot of people talk about our program now and say good things about it. That’s very different from where we were 15 years ago.

Commissioner Selig deserves great credit. We’ve made great progress on this issue. I understand and always have, as does Commissioner Selig, that you’re never going to win this fight. It’s never going to be over.

So even though I feel good about where the program is, I think one of the most important things that we’ve done is develop this annual review process so we’re constantly looking at the program. We’re constantly talking to the USADAs (United States Anti-Doping Agency) and WADAs (World Anti-Doping Agency) so that we know the latest trends, and we’re adjusting.

With the players association’s help we’re adjusting to make sure that we’re addressing the most current trends in that area. No, you are right, unfortunately this will never be over. It will never be over.

Pete Rose's standing with baseball isn't yet near the top of the list of problems Rob Manfred intends to address.

Christopher Pasatieri / Getty Images North America

ROSENTHAL: Pete Rose. Commissioner Selig chose not to lift his lifetime ban. I know you’ve said you have not looked at this yet. In a general sense, how open would you be to his reinstatement?

MANFRED: Look, I think on Pete Rose — until I have a specific request given, where I’m going to have to make a decision on Pete — I just think it’s inappropriate for me to talk about it. I just can’t go there right now.

ROSENTHAL: Commissioner Selig told the AP recently that he could foresee international expansion. What would that look like and how plausible is it?

MANFRED: Well, I think it depends on where you’re talking about internationally. A team in Australia would be pretty hard for us. I did it last year (went to Australia), and it’s a long way. But I think there are parts of North America and Western Hemisphere where the travel would be possible.

I think it would be a great thing for the game to go from visiting places, playing one or two games, playing a few series someplace, to actually having a team outside the US and Canada. We do, in fact, have one international location already (Toronto).

ROSENTHAL: Could you see this happening within 10 years?

MANFRED: I don’t think it’s impossible. I don’t think it’s impossible.

ROSENTHAL: Now back home here in the US you’ve got two issues that you’ve inherited that are particularly problematic. One is in Tampa and their ballpark, one is in Oakland and their ballpark. What plans do you have to help resolve those situations?

MANFRED: Well, I have been meeting with the Oakland ownership on an ongoing basis in an effort to get to a strategy that we can agree on to try and get a ballpark built for the Oakland A’s in Oakland. That’s what my primary goal is there. With respect to both Oakland and Tampa Bay, these are both local issues at the end of the day. But I’m going to be available to both franchises to try and help them get to a local solution to their stadium problem. They both need new facilities.

ROSENTHAL: Another issue — and I know this one is sensitive. The Mets play in one of the biggest markets in the game. I know Commissioner Selig was close with (Mets owner) Fred Wilpon and that you just appointed Mr. Wilpon head of your finance committee. Yet this team’s payroll is lower than some lower-revenue teams, certainly projects to be that way again in 2015. How do you justify to their fans the Mets’ inability or reluctance to spend more on players?

MANFRED: I’m a huge fan of Sandy Alderson. I think Sandy Alderson is as good a general manager today as there is in the game. You could go back 20 years and argue that he’s one of the best.

I think they have developed a strategy with respect to the Mets they’re going to try to grow from within so that they have a team that can be competitive and sustainable, and I have no doubt that as that process continues and it requires the owners of the Mets to invest additional dollars in payroll that they are going to be willing and able to do that.

ROSENTHAL: Some people have said, and I think you agree with this, that the sport hasn’t done quite enough to market its biggest stars. You’ve mentioned this, you’ve mentioned (Andrew) McCutchen and (Clayton) Kershaw and some of the bright lights in our sport. What more can be done to make these guys fixtures in our national consciousness?

MANFRED: I do think our players are really appealing as a group. If you listen to Clayton Kershaw and the speech he gave at the (New York baseball) writers’ dinner the other night, it was really impressive for a very young person to stand up there and be that thoughtful, that organized. ... And just the content ... outstanding.

I think that we need to do two things. We need to work better with our broadcast partners to make sure that we help them see the stories we see every day and get those stories out on a national basis. And the other key is we have to work with the players and the players association so that the individual players engage in a way that gets them the coverage that we think that they deserve. I think baseball has a unique challenge in that regard.

If baseball players worked one day a week it, would be a lot easier to market them. One of our difficulties is that our guys work every day. It’s just a little trickier. But I really am committed to the idea that with a better partnership with the players and the broadcasters we can make people see what a great lot our players are.

ROSENTHAL: When there were labor work stoppages every four years, it was different. I don’t know if the game wanted to market the players as aggressively. But it seems like it has changed. How much has the players association said to you, “Let’s go, we’d like to do more?”

MANFRED: I think that the players association has been receptive to the kinds of access that we think we need to our players in order to market them better.

ROSENTHAL: Finally, last question, what do you think Commissioner Selig’s legacy will be and how do you plan to build on it?

MANFRED: I think that Commissioner Selig’s greatest accomplishment was his ability to unify the owners in a way that allowed us to have a sustained period of labor peace that really allowed our game to flourish from an economic perspective. I’m going to work really hard to maintain that unity, to maintain that relationship we have built with the MLBPA and keep the game moving forward. Not revert to the habit of taking little breaks every four or five years.

ROSENTHAL: Great goal.

MANFRED: It is a good one.

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