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On Rob Manfred's extension as MLB's commissioner

Mr. Commish has been a polarizing figure for America's Pastime, to say the least. PIC: Steph Chambers, Getty Images

This tweet went out on ESPN's social channels on Wednesday afternoon at 3:20pm Eastern. And immediately, my mind jogged to what could possibly be in the replies.

Spoiler: it was not great.

Rob Manfred, who's had a rather uneven stint as the MLB Commissioner since he took over for Bud Selig in 2015, just inked another 5 years in his post. His new contract, which many estimate is valued around $25 million per year, will keep him at the helm of the league until at least 2029.

It's very easy to point fingers at Manfred and wonder what he's done to actually grow the game of baseball - or, to be candid, what he's done to deserve another potential $125 million. I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt and see if the good really does outweigh the bad.

Here's what I think Rob Manfred has actually done for baseball:

  • Increased focus on pace of play. Manfred has been a vocal proponent of speeding up the game, and he has implemented a number of rule changes to that end. These include limiting mound visits, enforcing pitch clocks, and banning defensive shifts. While some fans have criticized these changes, others have welcomed them as a way to make the game more exciting and less time-consuming, and it's undoubtedly reflected more at the gates.

  • Improved international outreach. Manfred has made a concerted effort to grow baseball's international footprint. He has expanded the World Baseball Classic, increased the number of international players in the major leagues, and opened new academies in Asia and Latin America. These efforts have helped to make baseball a more global game, and judging by 2023 viewership increasing by 69% and the final being the most-watched WBC game in history, you can measurably claim Manfred has helped grow exposure in 2023.

  • Expanded the use of technology. Manfred has been a proponent of using technology to improve the game. Many forget that Manfred implemented instant replay to the scale that it currently , Statcast, and other technologies to help umpires make better calls and to provide fans with more information.

Now, that being said, there are plenty of reasons why Manfred's critics are upset with him over the years. Of note, I've been pretty consistent with my thoughts that these outweigh the good things Manfred has done...and this is the impetus for plenty of Manfred's deserved criticism.

  • Handling of the Astros sign-stealing scandal. Manfred was widely criticized for his handling of the Astros sign-stealing scandal. He initially imposed light penalties on the Astros, which many fans and players felt were not enough. He also refused to release the full report on the scandal, which further angered fans. It doesn't appear we will ever know the full story on how & why the Houston Astros cheated to win the 2017 World Series; to say it irks a majority of the MLB's fans, in my opinion, would be drastically understating the situation.

  • Cutting minor league teams. In 2021, Manfred announced that MLB would be cutting 42 minor league teams. Among impacted programs were the Trenton Thunder (Yankees), the Fresno Grizzlies (moved from AAA to Class A), and many other popular teams. This decision was met with widespread criticism from fans, players, and minor league personnel. Many people felt that the cuts were unnecessary and would hurt the development of young players.

  • Playoff expansion. Manfred has proposed expanding the MLB playoffs from 10 teams (when he started), to 12 (which was passed in the most recent rendition of the CBA), to as many as 14 teams. This proposal has been met with mixed reactions from fans and players. Some people believe that it would make the playoffs more exciting, while most believe that it would dilute the importance of the regular season. I'm with the latter crowd.

Does Rob Manfred really deserve another extension? For the MLB owners, they're clearly making a bet that another five years will get them closer to retirement and fill their pockets with increased opportunities for media deals and butts in the seats. The players, on the other hand, might not be so cavalier about Manfred calling the shots until the 2030 season. Fans universally hate it.

It's not too late for Manfred to improve his reputation among the baseball community. He has not been awful from a business standpoint, but it certainly hasn't been all sunshine and rainbows. We'll see what scandal is next and how he reacts.


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