Did MLB Make the Right Choice?
There are dozens of reasons Rob Manfred could be a great commissioner for Major League Baseball. He has more than 15 years of experience as an executive in the $8-billion business that is MLB. Formerly MLB's executive vice president of labor relations, he led key negotiations with the players union in 2002, 2006, and 2011. Manfred is a big reason the sport has enjoyed a 20-year period of labor peace.
Moreover, in a fiscal sense, baseball is an exceptionally healthy business. Why, then, would anyone question the choice of a high-ranking insider? After all, Manfred is the league's current chief operating officer and was handpicked as a successor by outgoing commissioner Bud Selig.
But there are skeptics. Some argue that, like many businesses looking for new leaders, the league could benefit from an outsider's perspective. Here are a few of the reasons for that view, as articulated by longtime baseball writers:
1. An outside leader could better ready the game for the next 20 years. "Many in baseball spoke of the need to appeal to the next generation through technology, a brisker pace of play, more diversity on the field," writes Tyler Kepner in the New York Times. Kepner was critical of Manfred's silence on these topics, in his first appearance following his election.
2. Some losing candidates could better rethink the game as entertainment content, rather than simply a sport. One of the losing candidates for the commissioner job was Tom Werner, the chairman of the Boston Red Sox. Why did some MLB owners consider Werner a good candidate? Well, if Werner's name sounds familiar to you, it should: He is a powerhouse TV producer, whose credits include "The Cosby Show," "Roseanne," and "That '70s Show."
Red Sox owner John Henry--who also owns the Boston Globe--was a big supporter of his colleague's candidacy. "MLB needs to confront the realities of 21st century media," Henry told the Boston Herald. "We need the game on phones and tablets. We need to reduce the amount of waiting between pitches. The NFL has done a tremendous job of adapting their games and schedules for television."
3. A newcomer could improve diversity and renovate the sport's talent pipeline. "Better inroads must be made with the African-American community and in poorer areas of this country," writes Joel Sherman in the New York Post. "Baseball used to be a sport anyone could play, and now it too often has a country club feel--moms and dads paying for travel teams and special tutors and the best equipment. The game has to be brought to all again."
The larger point is that not enough of America's best young athletes are making it to pro baseball, Sherman adds. The next commissioner "must find a way to end that ceaseless flow to other sports and-- in so doing--will probably help with the overall popularity as he builds not only his next generation of players, but fans, too."
While none of these issues has (so far, at least) prevented MLB from being a lucrative, growing business, all of them loom as challenges in Manfred's forthcoming tenure, slated to start January 25. The extent to which he addresses them may well determine his legacy, and will serve as the final answer to the question of whether MLB's owners made the right choice.