Rob Manfred Faces Difficult Challenges As New MLB Commissioner

By Matt Johnson
Rob Manfred
Getty Images

The way some owners make it sound, you would think outgoing MLB Commissioner Bud Selig had cured the common cold, solved world hunger and brought us a baseball utopia all in one masterful stroke.

Naturally, their argument centers on the booming revenue stream baseball is currently enjoying. Annual profits for MLB are now around $9 billion with both owners and players getting richer and richer each passing year.

Whether Selig deserves full credit for it remains debatable considering revenue streams are up across the board for most American sports leagues. Baseball also gets the opportunity to showcase its product 162 times a year in 30 markets around the country, almost twice the exposure of either the NBA or NHL. In that regard, it only makes sense that baseball is making money at a ridiculous clip.

One of Selig’s greatest accomplishments was overseeing the construction of 20 new stadiums in 19 MLB cities, further enhancing the money stream for both ownership and the players.  Add in the establishment of the Wild Card system and Selig has gained a hardened group of supporters that believe him to be one of the great leaders in baseball’s history.

Of course, that’s overlooking the nasty strike of 1994, his botched and almost criminal attempts to contract the Minnesota Twins and Montreal Expos and the ever-looming shadow of rampant PED use for more than a decade of his tenure.

It’s under this climate of booming revenue and stained player reputations that new Commissioner-elect Rob Manfred finds himself.  One would hope that Manfred, an insider with direct knowledge of labor relations between MLB and the MLBPA, would at least be able to successfully navigate any future work stoppages with greater efficiency than Selig.

The true test of Manfred will likely come from trying to lure a disenfranchised group of baseball purists back into the fold.

Selig had already crossed the line with many baseball fans when he canceled the 1994 World Series and his dealings regarding the Twins and Expos became public. As the PED scandal broke, Selig responded by engaging in the sort of double-talk one might expect of a typical Washington politician. After several inquisitions and much goading from the players and even Congress, Selig finally started putting the hammer down on cheaters in his sport.

The PED scandal is still fresh, however. One need only look to the suspensions of Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun and Nelson Cruz in the past year to realize the issue is far from finished. Add in news of Tony Bosch’s surrender to federal law enforcement officials and one can only wonder how much more dirt will be revealed about former and current players.

In other words, while baseball’s revenues may be up, a valuable segment of the sports-loving public has plugged their respective noses in regards to America’s “national pastime.” Selig made inroads in curbing the perception of cheaters-run-amok in baseball over the past few years. With that said, PEDs remains a prominent theme in the sport these days.

A keen legal mind with the education and experience to back it up, Manfred will need to continue MLB’s recent trend of clamping down. As of now, Manfred inherits a profitable business with a dubious perception amongst the American public.

Can he rebuild the goodwill that baseball has experienced over the previous generations? One would hope so, especially if Bosch spills the beans regarding more former and current players. The road back to love and admiration is a long, arduous one. Manfred likely understands this from his days as baseball’s Chief Operating Officer. Here’s hoping he’ll take the necessary steps in rebuilding baseball’s overall legacy.

Matt Johnson is a Big Ten Conference basketball writer for  Follow him on Twitter at mattytheole or “like” him on Facebook.

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