Bud Selig officially steps down as MLB commissioner today after 22 years. What kind of league does he leave for his successor, Rob Manfred?
New MLB commissioner Rob Manfred takes over today, replacing Bud Selig, who’s tenure officially began all the way back in 1998. Manfred will become Major League Baseball’s tenth commissioner. While Selig leaves behind quite a legacy, with both productive highs and embarrassing lows, he leaves behind a league in far better shape now than when he took it over. That said, there’s still quite a bit of work for Manfred to do.
Before getting in to what Manfred needs to do as commissioner of baseball, let’s get to the bottom of something. Who is Rob Manfred? Chances are, most casual fans had never heard of him before it was announced he’d be taking over for Selig. Now, he’s the most important man in baseball. How’d that happen?
Originally from New York, Manfred – a Harvard Law graduate – began his work with Major League Baseball in 1987, as counsel during collective bargaining. Manfred worked on collective bargaining issues with Major League Baseball for years, including playing a role as counsel to the owners during the 1994 players’ strike. In 1998 – the year Selig was officially voted in as commissioner – Manfred was hired full time by MLB as Executive Vice President of Economics and League Affairs.
Manfred worked with Major League Baseball throughout the 2000s, becoming close with Selig. In 2013, Selig promoted Manfred to Chief Operating Officer, a position which had been vacant since the 2010 firing of DuPuy. When Selig announced he would be stepping down this year, Manfred became a finalist to take over the position his longtime friend had held. On August 14, 2014, Manfred beat out Red Sox chairman Tom Werner and MLB Executive Vice President Tim Brosnan in a vote by MLB owners. Manfred officially becomes baseball’s tenth commissioner today.
Manfred inherits Major League Baseball at perhaps the best possible time. Attendance is up throughout the league. New television rights deals went into affect last season, with Major League Baseball earning a cool $12.4 billion from FOX, ESPN, and TBS between now and 2021 – nearly double the revenue from the previous deal. With attendance up and television revenue increasing, baseball is as popular as it ever has been.
Just as importantly, baseball has more parity right now that it ever has. Yes, the San Francisco Giants have won three of the last five World Series, but the days of only a handful of big-market teams competing are over. The Pirates and Royals have each ended decades-long playoff droughts. Perennial losers like the Cubs and Astros are on the rise, while perennial powerhouses like the Yankees are no longer dominating the sport.
The game is also at an all-time talent boom, with young, marketable stars throughout the sport. On the West Coast, Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw are some of the best young athletes in sports. Guys like Bryce Harper, Matt Harvey, Yasiel Puig, Andrew McCutchen, and Giancarlo Stanton are keeping people interested in the game from coast to coast. Baseball has never had this many young, marketable stars spread out across the league.
Clearly, Rob Manfred takes over a league doing well for itself. That said, there are, naturally, some issues Manfred needs to address.
Major League Baseball’s pace-of-play issues are well-documented by now, and for good reason. To keep the game as popular and as profitable as it’s become, Manfred will need to address these issues. Whether the answer is a pitch clock, shortened breaks between innings, or some other idea we haven’t even thought of yet, the new commissioner will need to do something to get games back under the three-hour mark. Three hours, six times per week, is simply asking too much.
On the same note, I’d personally love to see Manfred shorten the season, but I know it’ll never happen. A 162-game schedule simply creates too many games where fans think to themselves “this doesn’t matter.” No matter how much you shorten a season, Wednesday night games in July are never going to feel the same as those in April or September, but even a 140-game schedule could be a good change. Even as baseball treks further and further into sabermetrics and away from “milestone” statistics, baseball is far too entrenched in their record book to make such a drastic switch. Moving on.
The All-Star Game, one of Bud Selig’s pride and joys, also needs to be fixed. If Manfred has the stones to undo his predecessor’s baby, he should immediately take away the World Series homefield angle, and return it to either the better of the two teams, or on a rotating schedule. If he won’t, he should at least change the format, so the best players – presumably those voted as starters – play the end of the game, when the outcome may be in the balance. If it were up to me, and the homefield aspect had to remain, I would make the game free-substitution, allowing the best players to return to finish off close games. While certainly a minor tweak, it would make a huge difference. That said, eliminating the homefield aspect completely would be the best solution, by far.
As we saw earlier this month, Hall of Fame voting needs to be tweaked as well. As far as I see it, only two changes need to be made. First, make all ballots public. If a voter wants to keep Pedro Martinez or Randy Johnson off his ballot, or use one of his votes on Aaron Boone, fine. Let him. Just make sure he has to answer for it. Second, eliminate the maximum-vote rule. Currently, voters can choose only ten men from their ballot to vote for. They’ve recently requested an increase to 12. Why have any maximum? If there are 15 players on the ballot who deserve it, vote for all of them. Most years, there won’t be. If we’re going to continue to treat the Hall of Fame as Major League Baseball’s highest honor, transparency in the voting process is a must.
There are other, far less pressing things I would like to see Manfred change as well. I’d like to see the World Series switched from a 2-3-2 format to a 2-2-1-1-1 format. If that means throwing in some extra travel days, so be it. They should have the time once they shorten the schedule anyway. Manfred should also leave the current playoff format as is. I can almost guarantee the current one-game Wild Card playoff becomes a best-of-three soon enough. It shouldn’t. Don’t add any more teams, don’t change the format, leave everything (except the homefield format in the World Series, of course) as is. Finally, just reinstate Pete Rose already. The man’s been punished for 25 years. Let him in the Hall, please.
Bud Selig leaves behind a legacy of more than two decades. Much of his work has been in the interest of baseball, and he leaves behind a league at the height of it’s marketability and fan interest. Rob Manfred should consider himself lucky to inherit a league in the state Major League Baseball is in right now. There are, however, problem areas Manfred must focus on, and changes that must be made. Manfred has been on deck for five months. Batter up.