Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke to the media at the conclusion of the owners’ meetings on Thursday afternoon.
Manfred addressed a range of topics, including replay, performance enhancing drugs, replay, the players union and labor peace, the YES Network/Comcast battle, diversity in the managing ranks, pace of play, and even the Presidential election.
On the meetings: “We started late in the day on Tuesday with an MLB Advanced Media business and media board meeting. We had committee meeetings all day yesterday, and then the joint meeting and one-per-club meeting this morning. In terms of the big meeting, we had an extensive briefing from Dan Halem and Ron Fowler about the state of the labor discussions. It’s been 12 meetings so far and we gave the owners an update on what’s going on at the table. Beginning on Tuesday afternoon, there was an extended discussion with the business and media board about a potential transcaction involving BAM Tech (MLB’s voice technology business). That conversation continued through the Executive Council meeting late yesterday, and all 30 owners were briefed on the status.
“Today, in the joint meeting this morning, Tony Petitti and Chris Parker made an extended presentation with respect to our international play efforts. There was a long discussion of the WBC (World Baseball Classic) that’s going to be held in 2017. A ringing and unanimous endorsement from the clubs of our efforts with respect to the WBC. There was also a long discussion of planned international play over the next five-year period.
“Competition committee, (Chief Baseball Officer) Joe Torre, (Senior Vice President, League Economics and Strategy) Chris Marinak, and its new chairman, had a long presentation to the Joint Meeting. We covered how the game’s looking on the field right now, of particular interest, there was a long discussion of pace of game, and our ongoing efforts to make sure the game is played crisply. Also a report on the replay system, how it was operating, and then a review of the early returns on the new slide rule at second base.
“Finally, (Tampa Bay Rays owner) Stu Sternberg and (Chief Communications Officer) Pat Courtney made a presentation on our diversity efforts. A review of the very successful Diversity Business Summit that was held in Arizona during spring training and the hiring results that have taken place since then. Also, a discussion about various non-race aspects of diversity, including gender.”
On the 2016 Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations: “Everything’s going great. Hats off to Dan (Halem) and Ron (Fowler) on our side, and (MLBPA leader) Tony Clark and his team. I will say this, I know a little something about this area, unlike some other things that I’m apparently in charge of. I think they’ve gotten off to a great start. 12 meetings at this point in the calendar is a really, really good schedule. I think they not only have met, but have developed a plan for those meetings that allow them to get a lot of issues out on the table, and that’s how the beginning of the process works. You’ve got to get everything out there before you figure out how you put the pieces together, and I commend both sides for really getting at it.
“I am a labor optimist by nature. I’m hopeful that we will find a way to make an agreement on the calendar that we’ve used the last three times, and make an agreement in a way that is good for our fans.”
On the two recent high-profile domestic violence cases involving Aroldis Chapman of the Yankees and Jose Reyes of the Colorado Rockies: “I will say this, I think Mr. Halem and Mr. Clark and the two institutions (Major League Baseball and the Players Association) did a fine job negotiating a domestic violence policy. I think it has certain features, including the fact that it deals with training, education, counseling, victims’ support, as well as discipline, is a huge positive. I think because of the negotiation that went on with respect to that policy, we’ve been able to continue working closely with the MLBPA to arrive at disciplines that both parties agreed were appropriate…He (Chapman) has an ongoing obligation with respect to counseling and I know he’ll commit that, and you know what, I know we have the best counselors in the world. I’m confident they’ll make a positive impact on that situation.”
On Detroit pitcher Justin Verlander’s comments on drug testing that there should be more frequent testing and stiffer penalties for performance-enhancing drug use: “You have to remember we’re in a bargaining here. You know, obviously, players are able to voice whatever opinions they have. I think it’s important that they make sure that their certified bargaining representative in the Major League Baseball Players Association is aware of their opinions, and we will make proposals in the bargaining process that are designed to improve and strengthen what we regard to be the best performance-enhancing drug in professional sports.”
On speculation about certain players regarding PEDs: “I learned a lot about performance-enhancing drugs over a long period of time. It was not a voluntary undertaking, but it was one that was necessary. If I’ve learned anything over that period of time, it is you cannot, cannot, make a judgment as to whether somebody’s using performance-enhancing drugs based on changes in performance or physical appearance. It’s simply unfair speculation. People get better, and to speculate it’s because of performance-enhancing drugs is literally baseless speculation. There’s one way to know: did he test positive or did he not? That kind of speculation I’ve always found to be distasteful, I can’t think of a better word. It’s just inappropriate.
“In terms of the program, look, we constantly improve that program. One of the things you can improve is the science gets better and it is true that the windows of detection have been lengthened, meaning the period of time in which you can detect a substance in somebody’s body, have been improved. It’s just science getting better. That may be one explanation for what we’re seeing (more positive tests for PEDs). There’s nothing, there’s not some big additional group of positives sitting out there, I can tell you that, and we’re still running at a positive rate on the tests of less than one-half of one percent, so it’s not really out of line with where we have been over time.
“Positive drug tests, good news, bad news, you never want a player to test positive, right, on the one hand, but on the other hand, we do know that performance-enhancing drugs are a constant temptation, and when you catch somebody, I think it’s validation of the fact that we have an effective program.”
On the uptick in ‘pace of game’ this season, basically that games are going longer than last year: “Pace of game is an issue that requires constant vigilance and focus. I think we did a really nice job the first half of last year when it was focused on. Hats off to our players, they were 100 percent cooperative, but like is often the case, as you get deeper into the season, you lose focus a little bit and we’re not happy with the early returns this year and we’ve made some ongoing efforts to regain that focus. I would point out on the ‘good news’ front that we had our best two days in a row of the season, Tuesday and Wednesday I guess it was, where we had I think a 2:47 the first day and a 2:51 the second, so I’m hoping that we’re seeing maybe a little reversal of some of the early trends as a result of some of our efforts in conjunction with the MLBPA.”
On the efforts to shorten games: “We’ve been literally communicating with players via letter, phone call, club communications in order to re-emphasize the significance of the pace of play initiative.”
On the replay system and being committed to the way it is or envisioning making changes to the way it works: “I think John Schuerholz said at the outset that replay would evolve, and I think it will continue to evolve. We’re looking really hard at the number of replays we have. We pay very close attention to it. We’re also looking very, very hard at how long the replays are taking. Why? It’s not that we don’t want to get it right; we do want to get it right. It is that those issues have a significant impact on the issue of pace of game, and I do think it’s possible, and it’s possible, I’m just saying we’re watching right now, that we’ll make adjustments to the system in order to make sure that we’re getting the calls that matter right and that we’re not overdoing it in terms of the replay we’re subjecting fans to.”
On how concerning it is to him that there are no Latino managers and only two African-American managers and if there are concrete steps he can take to address it: “We strive to have diversity in all of our various employment groups – front office, on field, Commissioner’s office. Managers are a really difficult issue for us. There’s only 30 of them, they turn over frequently, that’s the nature of the game. It’s always going to be the nature of the game, so you’re going to have periods of time where these numbers ebb and flow. And, remember, if you lose two diverse managers, you go from being four out of 30 to two out of 30, that’s a big change, but two guys getting fired is not that big a deal in baseball.
“It’s a tough area for us. We have a series of programs in place, the most important of which is the new Pipeline program that we instituted here at the Commissioner’s office. The purpose of the program is to help minority candidates A) get hired at clubs, and B) have career paths at clubs that make them qualified to either be General Managers, field manages, whatever they aspire to be. We think we found a really qualified baseball operations professional in Tyrone Brooks to head the program. He’s met with all 30 clubs, and the clubs have an obligation to provide him with written plans as to what their individual efforts are going to be and we will continue to support the clubs in their efforts to find qualified diverse candidates.”
The YES Network and Comcast are still in a battle over the fees Comcast would charge customers to carry YES, with negotiations at a total stalemate. Manfred said of this being a situation he could intervene in: “Let me start with the most important thing – we want our games fully distributed. Unfortunately, when an RSN (regional sports network) and a company have a dispute about distribution, we don’t have a seat at the table. I am always reluctant to get involved in situations where I don’t have an actual interest in the negotiations. It’s very, very difficult to be effective in a situation like that. I think that Comcast customers want to have access to Yankees games, and unlike Mr. (Brian) Roberts (Comcast Chairman and CEO), I am optimistic that YES and Comcast will find a way to get those things completed.”