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Rob Manfred’s term as Commissioner extended for another five years

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Al Yellon

Major League Baseball today announced the extension of Commissioner Rob Manfred’s term, which will now run through January 25, 2029.

The vote was taken now, before Manfred’s deal expired, for this reason:

The vote ... comes right at the start of a window of 18 months before the expiration of the commissioner’s term where a majority vote of lead owners is sufficient to bring a commissioner back, compared to the three-quarters vote required for an extension at other times (or for the election of a new commissioner). That window runs until nine months remain on a commissioner’s contract.

So Manfred, assured of a majority vote, had the vote happen now, rather than after this 18-month period. This suggests that he might have been uncertain of the three-quarters majority 18 months from now.

Most baseball fans detest Manfred because of his tone-deaf public statements about the game, such as his “piece of metal” reference to the Astros’ 2017 World Series trophy when he was asked whether it should be vacated because of Houston’s cheating scandal. That’s just one of many speaking gaffes that make some wonder if Manfred cares about the game.

But Manfred’s position, unlike the job of Commissioner when it was created more than a century ago, is to make money for the owners, not necessarily to act “in the best interests of baseball.” On the money-making, he is seen by ownership as a tremendous success story. As noted in this article in The Athletic by Evan Drellich:

But fan complaints aren’t often enough to sway owners, whose interests typically differ from those of their average customers. For the owners, the bottom line is often most salient: MLB drew an estimated $10.8 billion in 2022, compared to $9.5 billion in 2015, Manfred’s first season. Presumably, those figures would have risen even higher had it not been for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Manfred should, however, be given credit for the rule changes approved for the 2023 season, which include the pitch timer, larger bases and restrictions on defensive shifting. These were intended to pick up the pace of play and create more action on the basepaths, and they have been an unqualified success. Games have been faster and there have been more balls in play and more stolen bases. Personally, I have enjoyed watching these faster-paced games. So, credit where it’s due.

Manfred also led the sport through a lockout a year and a half ago that got pretty ugly at times, as MLB goes through a transition period where RSN money is beginning to dry up with no ready replacement. From Drellich:

Sorting out the best way to keep making owners the most money possible, and the best way to deliver baseball games to fans, particularly in this television landscape, might be the most difficult task facing Manfred in the next five-plus years. The television and streaming model is in constant flux, and leagues and teams can no longer rely on the cable bundle alone to prop up the sports’ economics. The cable model, for decades, required subscribers to pay for sports telecasts whether they wanted to watch those games or not.

Manfred has expressed interest in creating an all-30 team streaming bundle for in-market customers. But large-market teams, whose television rights are the most valuable, likely wouldn’t be amenable — unless they were compensated in a way that made it, to them, worth their while. The most difficult issues for commissioners are often owner vs. owner.

This might well lead to another lockout after the 2026 season that could be worse than the last one. How Manfred handles that will define his tenure.

Manfred will be 71 years old when his new deal expires in 2029. If he chooses to retire at that time — and he might not — he’d match Ford Frick as the fourth-longest serving commissioner, at 14 years. Bowie Kuhn (15 years), Bud Selig (17 years) and K.M. Landis (23 years) served longer. The office of commissioner was vacant from 1992, when Fay Vincent was ousted, and 1998, when Selig was elected commissioner. From 1992-98 Selig led baseball with the title Chairman of the Executive Council.


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