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Know Your Enemy: Rob Manfred

Welcome back to baseball season! Wait, no, I lied. 

MLB Owners Meetings
Look at this dweeb.
Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

It’s time to dust off the cobwebs of the offseason. Supposedly, there is going to be baseball in 2022, despite Rob Manfred locking the players out in December in a bid to hold them over a barrel and secure a CBA that greatly benefits the owners.

Because we don’t have actual baseball to talk about at the moment, let’s kick things off by covering everyone’s favorite commissioner since Bud Selig: Robert D. Manfred Jr.

Rob Manfred? Rob Manfred!

Prior to being promoted to commissioner of Major League Baseball in 2015, Manfred was the COO of the league. He also holds a JD from Harvard, and worked in the labor and employment law corner of the legal world for his pre-baseball career. Lucky for baseball fans, Manfred began to work with MLB on collective bargaining in 1987 and was outside counsel for the owners during the 1994-95 strike.

A true opposite-of-a-lover-but-not-quite-a-hater of the sport, Manfred started working for MLB full time in 1998 as the EVP of Economics and League Affairs. Manfred has had a hand or two in baseball’s war on drugs: First by negotiating the shoddy drug testing agreement with MLBPA, and then by leading the investigation during that whole pesky Biogenesis thing. Oh, and he represented MLB during some other CBA negotiations with the MLBPA. Those poor owners finally got someone on their side, and not the players’, because we all know we’re really there to see ownership and not, you know, a Cy Young winner.

Anyway, Manfred was elected to succeed Selig, beating out undoubtedly better people, and over the wishes of our very own owner, Jerry Reinsdorf. Manfred declared that his primary goals as commissioner were youth outreach, embracing technology, pace of play, player relations, and creating a more unified business operation. It’s up to you the reader to decide how well he’s done any of these things, but I give him a solid C-. He reminds me of those glossy white kitchens that are all trendy now: bland and sterile.

A fan of clocks and time, Manfred has brought about clocks to limit the time spent around commercial breaks, reducing the time in commercial breaks, and introducing MVR (a drunk guy behind me at a White Sox game the season these were introduced insisted to his equally drunk buddy that it stood for Most Valuable Runner, which would honestly be better). Manfred is such a fan of clocks and timers that I’m starting to suspect he’s working with the Time Variance Authority, and we really should call someone about that.

Miss Minutes is here to monitor your pitch clock.
Marvel Cinematic Universe Fandom

Manfred has also attempted to prove to us that no, he really does like baseball, by advocating for expansion franchises in Las Vegas, Nashville, Portland, Charlotte, Vancouver, and Montreal. At least one of those places had an MLB team before, but what do I know. The owners were fans of all of his C- assets, because they extended his contract through 2024.

Uniting fans against the Astros since 2020

Everyone’s favorite commissioner-cop led the investigation against the Astros over sign-stealing in the 2017 season. In the nine-page investigative report, we learned a whole bunch of b.s., my favorites of which include declarations that Jim Crane and his baseball operations didn’t know (sure, Jan), players were not disciplined for the cheating despite the cheating being player-driven, wearable and handheld technology was used, and despite being wholeheartedly (though ineffectively) against the scheme, A.J. Hinch was the only one to really be disciplined by being suspended for a year and then fired. C’mon, $5 million is pocket change for Jim Crane, and Jeff Luhnow being suspended then fired can only help the game.

Division Series - Houston Astros v Chicago White Sox - Game Four Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The lack of punishment against the players for a player-driven scheme has resulted in constant rains of boos at the players who doubled down the hardest (Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve) without apologizing for the whole thing. The White Sox were punished as well by having 2021 Dallas Keuchel instead of 2017 Dallas Keuchel.

The one possibly decent thing he did

Manfred moved the All-Star game to Denver from Atlanta because of Georgia’s super-racist and draconian voting reform law, a move that was supported by the MLBPA and criticized by Georgia lawmakers, the Braves, and a former President. Turns out, only a few people actually care about the All-Star Game, and Manfred later complained about players opting out of playing in it.

You get locked out! And you get locked out! Everybody gets locked out!

All of this brings us to where we are today: the great 2021-22 lockout. The league’s CBA expired in December and for reasons passing understanding, owners unanimously voted to lock out the players on December 2 until a new CBA is signed. Manfred formally announced the start of the circus via “A letter to baseball fans,” probably with the expectation that baseball fans would be on his side (reader, they were not on his side). Manfred further cemented his place in history by turning this lockout (the first since 1990) into the first work stoppage, with lost games, since the strike in 1994-95.

Manfred has continued to negotiate in bad faith, as well as through the press, by whining to anyone who would listen (ESPN) that the players aren’t being nice by refusing to accept proposals including but not limited to narrow ranges for each team’s combined salary, incremental luxury tax, eliminating the requirement for teams to lose a draft pick when signing a free agent who rejected a qualifying offer, a draft lottery modeled after the NBA, universal DH, expanded postseason to allow 14 of the 30 teams to reach playoffs (instead of the current 10), increases to player minimum salary, and the competitive balance tax threshold.

The MLBPA, meanwhile, has been looking for expanded control over the terms of its contracts (especially for young players) as well as expressing concern over the trend of teams tanking by not signing talented players, in pursuit of a losing season (which reduces competitive integrity and incentivizes teams to not win games). The union also disapproved of a salary cap (the owners should really check with the NHL to see how well those things work).

How do you solve a problem like Rob Manfred?

Our friends over at Pinstripe Alley asked this exact question. Manfred is essentially acting as the owners’ PR spokesman, parroting things that have probably already been said in the meetings for the listening (and generally owner-skewed) media. That’s part of Manfred’s job: Stand there and take the heat while the owners (attempt to) walk away clean. We can all agree that being the commissioner is a thankless job, but one thing that has always been discussed about Manfred is the fact that no one thinks he likes baseball very much. Frankly, there hasn’t been any evidence that he likes the sport, or the fans.

For all of Selig’s faults (of which there were many), he obviously enjoyed baseball. Ford Frick was accused of favoring the National League in his rules (for instance, how the expansion teams of the early 1960s would be stocked). If you really want a deep cut, Judge Landis was a huge baseball fan who refused to accept the appointment unless he was a sole commissioner with (near) unlimited authority to act in the best interests of baseball. Landis is most well-known to White Sox fans for the lifetime ban of the eight players in the Black Sox scandal, and also known for trying to limit the growth of the minor leagues as well as stonewalling racial integration (the result of which got his name taken off of the MVP Award). Happy Chandler was considered “the players’ commissioner.” We have Bowie Kuhn to thank for the first World Series night game (he thought it would attract a larger audience when more people were home) and being the original war on drugs commissioner (while also getting sued by a few players). Bart Giamatti was actor Paul Giamatti’s father, a Yale professor with a lifelong interest in baseball who got Pete Rose to agree to permanent ineligibility from baseball and who impressed owners by being tough in his dealings with Yale’s union. The last owner before Selig was Fay Vincent, who had a relationship with owners that could best be described as “rocky” (he was later ousted by Selig, Reinsdorf, Stanton Cook, Carl Pohlad, and Peter O’Malley).

Through that whole long list of commissioners, you can easily pull out any of those names and say, “Yes, this man clearly enjoyed the sport he was in charge of.” Approval of how well they did as commissioner is subject to debate, but they loved the sport. Manfred doesn’t even seem to like it. As someone who studied at the Bud Selig School of Baseball Commissioning, you’d think that Manfred would have at least some level of respect for the game. You could pick him up, plop him in any job where he was responsible for labor relations and he would be just fine. Manfred frequently boasts of his success in labor negotiations, but there’s no proof of that in this go-around, when all he does is submit deals he knows will fail.

Fans aren’t asking a lot of the commissioner. They just want someone who at least enjoys the sport they’re in charge of and provides some level of understanding to said fans. Manfred not only dislikes the sport, but seems to dislike everyone except the owners. Sure, you have to play nice with your bosses (case in point, the owners’ coup and ousting of Vincent) but how that translates into sheer disdain for players and fans I’ll never understand.

Fake it ’til you make it, Manfred. That’s what we’re all doing with you.


Who would be a better commissioner of baseball?

This poll is closed

  • 21%
    Colleen’s cat Archie
    (6 votes)
  • 0%
    A wet bag of Doritos
    (0 votes)
  • 25%
    Lucas Giolito’s dog
    (7 votes)
  • 17%
    A corked bat
    (5 votes)
  • 28%
    No one: Abolish the monarchy
    (8 votes)
  • 7%
    Ted Bundy’s reanimated corpse
    (2 votes)
28 votes total Vote Now