Major League Baseball Commissioner Robert D. Manfred, Jr. addressed the media on Monday afternoon ahead of the start of the World Series on Tuesday night in Kansas City as the Royals host the Mets. This is Manfred’s first World Series as Commissioner.
Q. We have two teams kind of in the middle of the rankings payroll-wise. Yankees and Dodgers have not been here for a while. Does that have any impact either in the public or among your owners in terms of how you get here?
ROBERT D. MANFRED, JR.: Well, I looked at the payroll rankings on the way out here, a couple of interesting things. I think in the LCS we didn’t have anybody in the top ten. I think that Kansas City, kind of middle of the pack. And actually, Kansas City higher than New York.
I think all those three facts are positives for the game. It shows that teams from all sorts of markets, if they have a strategy and stick to it can win. And I think that’s really, really important for the sport, for our fans to appreciate that fact.
Q. Very strong free agent market coming up. Do you think that will have a tangible impact, come wintertime teams will be aggressive in that market?
ROBERT D. MANFRED, JR.: I don’t like to speculate about markets. But I will say this, I think that our clubs in general are interested in finding talent wherever they can find talent, and they’re very aggressive, no matter whether it’s free agents, amateurs, whatever. I think that’s sort of a fact of baseball life.
Q. Is it troublesome at all that next year could be the first year in decades with no black managers? And are more initiatives needed to get more candidates in the pipeline or is this just cyclical right now?
ROBERT D. MANFRED, JR.: Well, first of all, I haven’t come to the conclusion that we’re going to get to next year with no black managers. It could happen.
I do think that there is a certain cyclical nature to this. Obviously field managers are high turnover jobs. And you’re going to have peaks and valleys in terms of representation within what’s a very small sample; there’s only 30 of them out there.
Having said that, we are focused on the need to promote diversity, not just African American, but Latino, as well, in the managerial ranks. I am committed to what I’ve started to refer to as the “Selig Rule,” the interview requirement that Commissioner Selig originally imposed. But we’re engaged in a number of new initiatives designed to try to make sure that we have more minority candidates that get interviews that actually get jobs.
We are particularly focused on minority hiring in entry-level jobs, so we have a nice, full pipeline of people coming up.
We also are putting together a program with Korn Ferry, the consultant group, to assist minority candidates who get interviews, in honing their skills, making sure their presentations in those interviews are as good as they possibly can be.
It’s a topic we’re committed to, we’re going to look at it as a long-term project. That’s why we’re focused on the beginning of the pipeline as well as the actual hirings at the manager level.
Q. Is there still an old boy (INAUDIBLE)?
ROBERT D. MANFRED, JR.: I don’t have that sense. There’s been so much change in the general manager rank. It’s hard to look at our group of general managers and talk about it as an old boy network, because they ain’t very old. So I don’t have that sense.
Q. I guess to follow up on that, sure, they’re not old, but they are white. And you’ve got one Latino manager, I think in a game that’s 40 percent Latino, and you’ve got blacks, as well. And it’s hard to see 1 out of 30-some as just a statistical background noise.
ROBERT D. MANFRED, JR.: We have 1 out of 30. It’s not 30-some.
Q. That’s hard to see that as statistical noise.
ROBERT D. MANFRED, JR.: Look, I believe that our clubs go out pursuant to the requirements that we’ve imposed. They make sure that there’s diversity in the candidates that they hire. And I really genuinely believe that they hire what they feel to be the most qualified person for the job. And that is the American way.
What we need to do is make sure that we work very hard to have diverse candidates who turn out to be the most qualified person for the job. And we are committed to that undertaking. We’ve expanded the program significantly and will be talking to the owners about that program again in November.
Q. You have a situation this year, again, I think it’s happened a couple of times before, where the series could extend into November. Would there be a problem if you wanted to start, in a year like this, where the calendar falls like it does, could you start the season early in warm weather cities or domes so it wouldn’t go into November?
ROBERT D. MANFRED, JR.: I think this calendar — Ms. Feeney is here, so she can help me if I get this wrong — is the worst calendar for us in having to make a decision between starting quite early in March or rolling into November, like we decided to do.
Starting early in March is no picnic, either. And I know people always talk about warm weather schedules. Making those warm weather schedules work is more difficult as a political matter than you might imagine. The warm weather cities don’t want all those early dates when kids aren’t out of school. And it has economic ramifications among the franchises.
I don’t like the idea of playing in November, but knock on wood, I hope we get some good weather and get through it.
Q. Do you have any regrets about MLB’s partnership with Daily Fantasy, and do you feel it was thoroughly explored, the potential land mines?
ROBERT D. MANFRED, JR.: I really don’t have regrets about our involvement with fantasy. I think that fantasy is an important source of fan engagement, it has been for a long time.
We did thoroughly investigate the games that were available on the site, that was a major factor in terms of selecting a partner in the fantasy space. And we were completely comfortable with the idea that those games were consistent with the existing federal law.
Q. Do you think it’s gambling?
ROBERT D. MANFRED, JR.: I do not. I do not. I’m quite convinced it is a game of skill, as defined by the federal statute. And I’m comfortable with the idea that it’s not gaming.
I think the thing that’s important to remember, there’s a huge difference from my perspective, put the law to one side, and I know I’m right about the law. There’s a huge difference between Rob Manfred, citizen, betting on whether Kansas City beats Toronto or whomever on the one hand, and Rob Manfred picking nine guys off 18 teams to try to see if he can accumulate more points within a given set of guidelines than a hundred guys trying to do the same thing.
I see those differently. Forget the law for a minute. I see those as very different dynamics.
Q. Do you play?
ROBERT D. MANFRED, JR.: No, I don’t play. I’ve never played, actually. In any sport, actually.
Q. What’s your most pleasant surprise and your greatest challenge in your first year as Commissioner?
ROBERT D. MANFRED, JR.: Well, I think one of the most pleasant surprises has been how fantastic the Postseason has turned out to be for us. Our Postseason ratings are up 18 percent. Both of our partners, TBS and FS1, enjoyed record ratings. We had really competitive series that generated a tremendous amount of interest, and I think we’re going to have a great World Series. You can’t count on that every year, and it really has been fantastic this year.
Q. The challenge?
ROBERT D. MANFRED, JR.: Challenges, I think probably the issue that Mr. Blum so kindly raised earlier, I do think that we have had a year where our numbers are down in terms of the diversity that we have in some of our key positions. And I think it’s incumbent upon us to come up with additional programs and ways to make sure that our numbers look better over the long haul.
Q. What is your understanding of the weather forecast in the next 24 to 30 hours or so?
ROBERT D. MANFRED, JR.: Well, my understanding of the forecast is that we have a challenge early in the day. We’re hopeful that by game time that we’ll be able to play tomorrow. That’s our current view.
Q. Would it be, for Game 1 especially, starting a series, when everybody is fresh and on the same page, would it be paramount to not begin a game that may have to be stopped?
ROBERT D. MANFRED, JR.: Well, let me say this, I think that I would be reluctant to begin a game or — even more reluctant to begin the warmup process if I didn’t think we could play a substantial portion of that game.
I am not a believer, and I think you saw it with the forecast in Chicago in the game we played here on Friday night, if you get to 8:00 and it’s time for everybody to get ready to go at 8:00 and you don’t have rain, I think you have to play. I am a believer in that.
By the same token, I think we know enough about the forecast that we’re not going to get in a situation that we start at 8:07 and get rained out at 8:12 and burn two starting pitchers.
Q. I’m not so sure there’s a perfect solution, other than allowing replay in this situation. But are you comfortable with the pop-up slide things we’ve had in replay, where the batter maybe disengages the base for a fraction of a second and how that works?
ROBERT D. MANFRED, JR.: Well, this is testimony to how good the people who put the replay system together really were, the Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, Chris Marinak, Peter Woodfork, that group. They actually warned us that when you go to replay you’re going to have calls that are going to get made that never used to get made. And this was an example.
And we made a conscious decision to go ahead, point one, with the replay. And point two, even if it was not a call that had traditionally been made, we had to accept that if the replay officials see it, they’ve got to call it. You can’t tell them not to call what they see.
This one has not gnawed at me recently, even though there’s been some of it in the Postseason, because we foresaw the problem and we made a conscious decision about how we thought it had to be handled.
Q. Circling back quickly on the minority issue and leadership positions, do you have numbers on Minor League managers, pitching coaches, head coaches, and do you have a sense is there a trend there, and is that a place where maybe you can train, et cetera, the next generation?
ROBERT D. MANFRED, JR.: We do, we have those numbers, I can’t give you great numbers off the top of my head. We can provide them to you.
I will tell you this, as part of this pipeline process that I alluded to earlier, we went out and tried to put a comprehensive list, not just people who had been managers before at the Big League level, but we tried to go down into organizations to identify high potential individuals so that we knew where they were in the pipeline, and we then went even further and started to have conversations with clubs about how important it was to fill the pipeline from the beginning.
I think you make a great point. I kind of skipped from manager, which is the top of the heap at Major League level, to the beginning of the pipeline, but we also have focused on who do we have in the system and what can we do to round out their skills.
I don’t like to talk about individuals that have been in the interview process, but we had one individual, Major League organization, went through an interview process and we actually got feedback out of the interview process that was extraordinarily positive. But we also got very useful feedback in terms of rounding out a skill set. We’ve gone to the organization where he’s currently employed, had a conversation with them about rounding that skill set out. And in fact, they have made changes in their organizations in an effort to do that.
And that’s the kind of pipeline work that needs to be done in order to make sure that we get at these numbers.
Q. Having had a few months to study the fan safety issue, can you now say there will be additional netting at parks next year, and if not, why not?
ROBERT D. MANFRED, JR.: We are prepared to have a very detailed presentation and conversation with the owners at the November meeting. I’m not prepared prior to that meeting to make a pronouncement as to what the new rule is going to be, if any. I think that it’s important that we have input and a full discussion among the clubs before we do that.
Q. Back to the pop-up slide replay question. Based on your answer, then, do you not anticipate that to change, will there be any tweaks, or is that going to be the way that it is?
ROBERT D. MANFRED, JR.: I think that that call is going to stay the way it is. And I think the fundamentals of that call are that you cannot ask a replay official to ignore what he sees on the replay. He has to call what he sees. If you want it called the same old way, you probably shouldn’t have had replay.
Q. With technology, what is Major League Baseball’s issue with fans posting gifs and vines of plays that just happened, when that seems that logically is just providing more exposure to your product?
ROBERT D. MANFRED, JR.: There is a lot in that question that I agree with. I do think that it’s important for baseball to be available on as many platforms as possible. And I think what we try to do is strike a realistic balance between protecting what we regard to be very valuable intellectual property rights on the one hand with allowing fans to use as many platforms as possible.
Do we always get that right? No. Are we still feeling our way through that process? Yes.
Q. Has there been any more discussion about the Chase Utley slide into second base, and maybe changing the rules to protect middle infielders, and where do you see that headed?
ROBERT D. MANFRED, JR.: Those discussions haven’t really moved forward. We’ve been playing those games out there, sort of a very occupying activity for us. I suspect that will be an issue where the conversations will resume.
And I want to be clear about this, this isn’t about Chase Utley. This conversation about player safety at second base began in our office months before that particular play. It progressed to the point that we had some preliminary conversations with the MLB-PA about it. And I fully expect that we will continue those conversations with the MLB-PA in the offseason.