Rob Manfred

From BR Bullpen

Robert D. Manfred Jr.

Biographical Information[edit]

Rob Manfred became Commissioner of baseball on January 25, 2015. Before that, he had served as Executive Vice President of Major League Baseball, responsible for Labor Relations and Human Resources, starting in 1998. He is credited with helping to usher two decades of labor peace following the devastating 1994 strike, first as assistant to Bob DuPuy and later as chief negotiator beginning in 2011, and for implementing the toughest drug prevention program in North American professional sports. He was a major figure in dealing with the Biogenesis Laboratories scandal and the suspension of superstar Alex Rodriguez which ensued. In particular, he is the one who took the decision on behalf of MLB to spend $125,000 to buy incriminating documents from the sports clinic in order to further its investigation of players suspected of PED use. In 2013, he was promoted to Chief Operating Officer - in effect Commissioner Bud Selig's deputy.

In early August 2014, Manfred was identified as one of the three finalists to succeed Selig, along with Tim Brosnan and Tom Werner, at the end of a search process led by St. Louis Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr.. He was considered the early favorite among the three. On August 14th he was elected as the 10th Commissioner of Major League Baseball, with a five-year contract. A number of rounds of voting were required to come to the decision, with Brosnan dropping out early in the process, and owners who were seeking change giving their support to Werner. Two-thirds of the votes were required for election, and in the end, Manfred was elected unanimously, 30 votes to none. The choice was seen as one in favor of continuity, given how closely Manfred had worked with Selig over the years. MLBPA head Tony Clark also expressed support with Manfred's choice, adding that players had 15 years of positive experience in working with him.

One of the first issues on which Manfred established his own policy was that of domestic violence. In the wake of several cases in the NFL and NBA in which players guilty of violent attacks on their spouses and girlfriends were allowed to continue playing with no consequences, Manfred worked with the MLBPA to ensure there would be no such laxness in baseball. A policy on domestic violence was adopted at the end of 2015, and on March 1, 2016, New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman was the first player suspended because of such an incident. He received a thirty-game suspension for an incident the previous October 30th in which he fired a gun repeatedly after a dispute with his girlfriend; while police declined to file charges, Manfred found the incident sufficiently serious to warrant a suspension, which was worked out in cooperation with the Players' Association. A number of other high-profile cases soon followed, with Manfred always holding a firm line. Another issue on which he tried to achieve movement was that of the pace of play. He introduced a pitch clock in the minor leagues, and in mid-2016 expressed his intention to have the move extend to the majors, along with other radical rule changes such as banning or severely limiting defensive shifts and putting restraints on pitching changes and mound visits.

In 2017 he introduced one of those changes, the pitchless intentional walk, flexing his muscles to impose it over reticence by the players' union who felt there was little to be gained by tinkering with a well-established practice and thus raising grumbles. It was the first sign of disharmony in what had until then been a flawless performance by the commissioner. In 2018, he pushed to have two other pace of play measures adopted in spite of resistance from the Players' Union, namely the introduction of a pitch clock and a change to the definition of mound visits. Only the latter was implemented immediately. It was followed in 2020 with setting a three-batter minimum for relief pitchers, as a measure to reduce interruptions caused by too numerous pitching changes. In 2020 he also had to deal with a major scandal around the practice of sign-stealing. He had already issued a directive in 2017 saying that any use of technology to do this was illegal and would be punished severely, and when an investigation revealed that the 2017 Houston Astros had brazenly ignored the rule, on January 13th he issued some of the harshest penalties ever taken by a commissioner: a $5 million fine (the maximum allowed); forfeiting of the Astros' top two picks in the next two amateur drafts; and one-year suspensions to both GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch (both were immediately fired by owner Jim Crane). Yet, even this strong action led to criticism, in particular because he decided to let players off the hook, then in an interview before the start of spring training, insinuated that the Astros' World Series win was not important (the Commissioner's Trophy is simply a "piece of metal"), something that did not go down well with players from other teams. The fact that this came at the same time as a controversial plan for a reform of the postseason was also floated did not help him either, and for the first time since his nomination, his leadership was openly questioned in the media and in other influential quarters.

But things got a lot more complicated a few weeks later as Major League Baseball was sideswept by the Coronavirus pandemic and he had to make a number of difficult decisions in order to save the 2020 season. If that wasn't complicated enough, a second wave hit professional sports that summer following the killing of African-American George Floyd by a Minneapolis, MN police officer, an incident that sparked protests across the country and throughout the sporting world. There was some hesitation, but he did ensure that MLB ended up on the side of defending civil rights and equality, in conformity with its history since the days of integration, by condoning instances in which players elected not to play in order to raise issues larger than the sport. He was faced with another similarly difficult decision in the first days of the 2021 season, after the State of Georgia adopted new legislation on voting that was clearly aimed at reducing African-American participation in future elections. The 2021 All-Star Game was slated to be played in Atlanta, GA, but he quickly took the decision to move the game to another location, reaffirming that MLB was supportive of social progress, equality and voting rights. The decision received the expected backlash from arch-conservative elements, but was widely supported in baseball circles.

Among his other initiatives was the introduction of the Little League Classic, first played in 2017 to coincide with the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA. In recognition of this initiative, he was honored with Little League Baseball's highest honor by being enshrined in its Hall of Excellence in January 2018. He was also the first alumnus of the program to serve as commissioner.

Manfred grew up in Rome, NY. Before joining MLB, Manfred was a partner in a large Washington, DC law firm, specializing in labor and employment law. The firm was hired by the major league owners to provide legal counsel starting with the 1990 strike.

Further Reading[edit]

  • Mark Feinsand: "Hinch, Luhnow are suspended for ‘20, then let go: Sign-stealing penalties include loss of top Draft picks, $5 million fine", mlb.com, January 13, 2020. [1]
  • Paul Hagen: "Manfred to succeed Selig as next Commissioner", mlb.com, August 14, 2014. [2]
  • Paul Hagen: "Opening Day: Manfred takes over as Commissioner", mlb.com, January 25, 2015. [3]
  • Paul Hagen: "15 for '15: Manfred puts stamp on office: New Commissioner's first year highlighted by youth initiatives", mlb.com, January 1, 2016. [4]
  • Richard Justice: "One year in, Manfred loves being Commissioner", mlb.com, January 25, 2016. [5]
  • Mark Newman: "Manfred chosen for Little League's highest honor: Commissioner will be enshrined in Hall of Excellence in January", mlb.com, December 6, 2017. [6]
  • Bob Nightengale: "Manfred ready for the undertaking as the next MLB commissioner", USA Today Sports, August 14, 2014. [7]
  • Bob Nightengale: "A quarter into season, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred shows own style", USA Today Sports, May 20, 2015. [8]
  • Bob Nightengale: "Rob Manfred, MLB considering radical changes to game", USA Today Sports, August 18, 2016. [9]
  • Bob Nightengale: "MLB veterans chafe at Rob Manfred's vision: Always 'some stupid new rule'", USA Today Sorts, February 22, 2017. [10]
  • Bob Nightengale: "Rob Manfred offers MLB players another option: Play faster, and no pitch clock", USA Today Sports, February 1, 2018. [11]
  • Jorge L. Ortiz: "MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred apologizes for 'disrespectful' comment about World Series trophy", USA Today, February 18, 2020. [12]
  • Bill Shaikin: "Rob Manfred stood by players, managers and owners by rightfully moving All-Star game", Los Angeles Times, April 3, 2021. [13]
  • Paul White: "Commissioner Rob Manfred's top priorities entering office", USA Today Sports, August 14, 2014. [14]

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