On August 14th, 2014, Robert Manfred Jr. was elected to become the next Commissioner of Major League Baseball. Manfred would officially take office on January 25, 2015, succeeding previous Commissioner Bud Selig, who had held the position for the past 22 years.
Although he has only held the position for a little over half a decade, his unpopularity is without question the highest amongst players and fans out of the four major American sports leagues. The commissioner’s latest proposal for a new playoff format, new rule changes for the 2020 season, and tame punishment for the Houston Astros cheating scandal, have caused recent outrage across the sports world. Baseball traditionalists have been outraged with Manfred for a much longer period of time.
Changes that have been proposed under Manfred’s tenure include, adding a play clock, starting extra innings with a runner on second base, and having a three batter minimum for pitchers (now in effect).
If this latest proposed playoff format was to go into effect, playoff teams would rise from 10 to 14 total teams. Additionally, team representatives would participate in a reality TV-style selection show to determine who they play in a 3 Game Wild Card round, while the number one seed in both leagues will get a bye to the Division Series.
This idea has clearly taken inspiration from the NBA’s televised All Star Draft, where the best player each conference drafts a team to compete against each other during All-Star Weekend. While a concept like this is entertaining for a pickup/exhibition game, it frankly demonstrates how out of touch the Commissioner truly is. Having athletes like Lebron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo pick their dream lineup is fun, back and forth conversations ensue about strategy and certain picks are met with playful trash-talk. This narrative unfortunately does not work with the show that Manfred is projecting. The MLB Playoffs mark when baseball fanfare is at its highest. Every game has a feeling of urgency and players lock-in for the battles ahead. Their goal, to hoist a World Series Trophy for their ballclub. Starting off this crucial time for baseball and its ratings with a sleazy game show will be a futile effort for the MLB to garner additional viewers.
Other issues with this playoff format have been called into question by Cincinnati Reds Pitcher Trevor Bauer. Bauer, an outspoken individual during his big league tenure, recently called out Manfred for his new rule changes. In a Twitter tirade, Bauer called the Commissioner “a joke” among other complaints about his rule changes. Bauer would double down on his comments by releasing a video in which he broke down each of his grievances for all to know. According to Bauer, he believes the new playoff format would negatively impact the highest seeds the most.
Bauer states, “This isn’t football where you can heal up and that helps. Being on a routine is so important in baseball. We play for six months. And now you’re going to say at the most critical time of the year that we’re going to get 10 days off or six days in between games” Bauer is right.
Pitchers are not accustomed to waiting more than 5 6 days in between starts. Hitters don’t benefit when not seeing live arms for a week. Therefore performing the absolute best in the regular season would become a detriment to teams and its players.Another large issue for Bauer and other players alike is the inability for them to market themselves both locally and nationally. Baseball Advanced Media or B.A.M. signed an agreement with MLB in the early 2010s to handle all the licensing and marketing for baseball. In the short run, this seemed like an excellent business decision as B.A.M. currently generates around 620 million dollars in annual revenue. Unfortunately, because of a deal like this, the creativity of baseball marketing is stunted, players cannot effectively express themselves, and an entire generation of baseball youth is lost. That final detriment is without question the most concerning.
Baseball’s average age has only continued to rise and preventing kids from being able to access highlights from across the league will only continue that trend. If Manfred wants to right the course for baseball, I would advise that he terminates the B.A.M. deal as it currently exists right now. I would also recommend that he hires one of the better MLB’s social media consultants to take over all marketing decisions regarding the game. This is because the one area that MLB does thrive is social media. If you are not a baseball fan, I implore you to take a look at MLB’s various social media accounts. They are engaging, playful, and more personable than any of the other three major North American sports leagues’ social media presence. Whoever runs these accounts for MLB deserves immense praise and should begin heading all baseball marketing decisions ASAP. By bringing a youthful flair to baseball’s mainstream marketing, audiences of all ages may once again rediscover a love for America’s Pastime.
While a decision like this does appear beneficial to the sport, I would personally be shocked if Manfred were to entertain it. He is unfortunately content with the current earnings of his game and sees no reason to change his approach any time soon. And that is why MLB in its current state is slated for rough times ahead under a Manfred tenure. As a passionate fan, I can only hope that the tides will turn for the game that I and so many others adore so dearly.