June 13, 2024

In an unanimous vote for the status quo, the 30 owners of Major League Baseball (MLB) franchises tabbed Rob Manfred as the next Commissioner of Baseball. Manfred has long served as outgoing commissioner Bud Selig’s Chief Labor Negotiator. Manfred will now serve as the Executive Director of the league, and be the highest ranking official in all of baseball. Manfred, the baseball business insider, was chosen over several rumored celebrity candidates, including former Cardinal and Yankee Manager Joe Torre and former President George W. Bush.
The owners’ selection of Manfred indicates a desire for contiguity and labor peace, as the game looks move forward. MLB has avoided a work stoppage since 1994, when the players went on strike after failing to accept the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). However, since then, the owners and players have negotiated three CBAs — the last two of which have been overseen by Manfred. The owners’ primary objective remains avoiding another repeated work stoppage that crippled the game (in terms of attendance and television ratings) twenty years ago.
While Manfred ultimately received unanimous consent from the owners, during the selection process, long-time Chicago White Sox owner, Jerry Reinsdrof, mounted a substantial opposition to Manfred’s candidacy. For Reinsdrof, the chief complaint was that Manfred had sacrificed too much to the players union in his construction of the CBA. Reinsdrof and his cohorts pointed to MLB’s lack of a salary cap (the only major professional sport without one). While MLB does not have a salary cap, Reinsdrof’s argument that baseball’s labor market is tilted towards the player ultimately did not sway his fellow owners. Less than 50% of revenue from baseball goes to players’ salaries, a number lower than any of the other major professional sports leagues. Furthermore, Manfred’s latest CBA included a provision which required teams to forfeit amateur draft picks upon signing top tier free agents. Free agents have argued that this further skews the labor market against players and diminishes player salaries. Manfred’s CBA also continues to allow teams to set players’ salaries unilaterally for the first 172 days of Major League service time. Ultimately, it was the construction of this skewed labor that helped Manfred win the owners’ vote.
Manfred takes over the game at an interesting time. While attendance and revenue are at an all-time high, the national pastime’s grip on the country’s attention has loosened of late. Baseball games are often the highest rated program on summer nights, but television ratings for marquee events have diminished considerably in recent years. Most strikingly, a Harris poll shows baseball trailing professional football as Americans’ favorite sports by more than 30 percentage points
Some outsiders criticize Manfred’s selection, suggesting his ill-equipped combat in this growing cultural irrelevance. The labor negotiator is far from the dynamic leader some hoped would restore the game’s national prominence.
Suggested remedies to baseball’s diminishing popularity include speeding up game play by introducing a “pitch clock.” Others suggest rule adjustments that would bring higher level offense back into the game (such as lowering the pitcher’s mound or adding the designated hitter to the National League). Manfred will have to toe a fine line in his desire to regain baseball’s popularity, as most of these suggestions offend the very core of baseball. Manfred has made no indication as to his stance on any of these issues, but nevertheless, speculation abounds about what will be the first steps of baseball’s new top dog.

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