In his first full season on the job, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred is visiting every stadium and meeting with players. Kauffman Stadium on Thursday was the 22nd of 30 stops for Manfred, who spoke to reporters about a variety of topics.
▪ “Let me just at the outset say I’m really excited to be back here in Kansas City. I was here for the Wild Card Game and obviously for the World Series last year; I was heartened by the fact that this morning in Starbucks there were as many people wearing Royals gear as there were last fall. The excitement in this city is great, and I really am glad to be back here.”
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▪ On what the Royals’ payroll (approximately $115 million) in one of the smallest markets in baseball says about the state of the game and the franchise itself:
“Let’s start with the game. I remember the night I was driving home from Baltimore after the election, and I couldn’t help but think I kind of hit the daily double: I got elected commissioner of baseball — in my little world the best job you could possibly have — and then I got thinking about the game. And I thought not only did I get elected but I inherited a game that’s really in great shape.
“And whenever I think about the condition of the game I begin with competitive balance. That’s (what) we sell, we sell competition. And I think that the success that Kansas City had last year, the great start that they’re off to this year and the fact that they have a strategy that is sustainable within our system says a lot about the health of the industry.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that it takes foresight and diligence to accomplish what David Glass, Dan Glass and Dayton (Moore) have accomplished here. Because while I do believe we have a system within which you can draft, acquire young talent and build a winner, it’s still a tall order to actually accomplish that in the way they have here.”
▪ On the meaning of the Royals averaging 30,000-plus fans per game at Kauffman:
“Let me do you one up on 30,000-plus: I think the 30,000 plus, plus the television ratings in this market, sets the kind of example that in every small market the teams can look at it, take it as concrete evidence of their ability to compete and, quite frankly, they can aspire to it.”
▪ On movements to legalize sports betting, including from the NBA, partnerships with fantasy sports sites:
“Let me start by drawing what I think is a really important decision and drives our current decision making on this topic: There’s a federal law that defines the difference between gambling and fantasy. We made an agreement with DraftKings after a really thorough review of the games and after we satisfied ourselves that they fell on the fantasy side of the line. I think that that fantasy space, the DraftKings, FanDuel kind of space, is really important to the engagement of young people. … I think it’s important for us to be competitive in that space.
“With respect to the broader issue of legalized gambling, I have great respect for (NBA Commissioner Adam) Silver. He is a really intelligent and clear-thinking gentleman. I do agree with at least one thing he said, which is whatever the law’s going to be on gambling, there ought to be a uniform federal law … State-by-state regulation of gambling I think is not ideal.
“In terms of a broader shift on baseball’s stance with respect to legalized gambling, we’re a little different. The history of my office is founded on the issue of making sure that the integrity of the game was protected from gambling. I recognize the world is changing, but I think before you see any real shift from us there’s going to have to be a really in-depth conversation with ownership. Because it’s pretty fundamental to what baseball’s been all about.”
▪ On pace-of-play initiatives to shorten game times:
“This is one of those rare questions when I can say I’ve liked almost everything about it so far … Most important, let me start with the people who play the game. The players have been unbelievably cooperative on this topic. I think they understand that we undertook this effort in response to what we were hearing from our fans, and I think our players understand the need to be responsive to our fans.
“Secondly, let me not forget about the umpires. I think our umpires have shown that difficult and sound judgment by drawing the line between encouraging people to change their behavior by doing the right thing but avoiding situations that can be confrontational, I take that as a huge positive.
“As long as I feel like I’ve got those two groups working together, I feel like we’re going to continue to move forward on this topic. In terms of the actual results … it’s early still, I’m not taking any victory laps, but we are down a significant number of minutes and I hope we can hold that. But maybe more important, we have a great body of observers (saying games are crisper, moving better and have) no complaints about unintended consequences. …
“We have put ourselves in a position to consider other moves by experimenting in Double A and Triple A, for example, with the 20-second clock, and we feel it’s important to gather that information so that if and when we’re at a point in time that we think we need to do something more we have that information in hand.”
▪ On the unwritten rules of baseball in terms of self-policing:
“I think that the idea that you’re going to take the old school ‘I hit yours, you hit mine’ out of the game would be, even if you wanted to do it, would be an unrealistic aspiration. I think where we get concerned are two issues.
“One, where you hit somebody in the lower part of the body, that’s one thing. (But) pitches that are up and in concern us, and we look at them differently, obviously, because of the safety issue. …
“The second piece of it that we are focused on is ‘I hit mine, you hit yours, we move on,’ that’s one thing. (But) ‘I hit mine, you hit yours’ and it escalates, either to a brawl or verbal confrontation, whatever, that concerns us. Joe Torre (in charge of discipline for MLB) is actively talking with managers about it, making sure that in each clubhouse we try to avoid these latter two issues to the extent possible, and it actually will be a topic that we’ll talk about at the owner’s meetings in May.”
▪ On implications of enhanced relations with Cuba, where Manfred last month said MLB will be seeking to hold exhibition games as soon as next spring.
“From our perspective, we’re interested in Cuba for a couple of reasons. Obviously, a source of talent. In addition, Cuba is a market where baseball is embedded in the culture, and we actually do pretty well in markets like that. And so we do see a business opportunity as well.
“With respect to the player issue, obviously to the extent that there is a regularization of relations between the United States and Cuba and it’s easier for players to come here as an immigration matter to play and return to Cuba, we would see that as a positive in terms of our business.
▪ On Pete Rose:
“We are in active conversations with Bob Castellini, the owner of the Reds, about exactly what they have in mind for Pete’s participation (in the All-Star Game). He will be involved in the All-Star Game activities. We hope in the next few days to have a more concrete understanding of (how). But he certainly will be there as a participant. He can do that if he wants to do it.
“With respect to the application for reinstatement, I’m just not in a position where I can comment on the merits of that. I will say this about the process: I intend to go back, I’ve already pulled all the files, they’re being reviewed and organized for me. I want to understand everything that is involved in the original investigation, I want to make sure I understand everything good and bad that’s happened since the time the agreement was reached with Mr. Rose, and I want to consider everything that Pete wants me to know.
“He’s going to have the opportunity to come in with his representatives and make sure I hear whatever it is that he has to say. The commitment that I’ve made to him is that he’s applied for reinstatement, we’re going to agree on a process, we’re going to go through the process and he’s going to get a decision at the end of the process.”
▪ On uniformity of MLB rules, particularly the designated hitter:
“Of all the things that I’m focused on and thinking about in terms of continuing to move the game forward, this one does not catch my attention, to tell you the truth. I like both brands of baseball, I think that the teams have gotten used to adjusting to interleague play and the adjustments that need to be made …
“In the biggest picture, I think people debate DH, no DH, and I think when people are talking about baseball it usually starts a good day from my perspective. So I’m sort of a status quo guy on this one.”