The owners of the Chicago Cubs and 29 other teams extended Commissioner Rob Manfred’s contract for another five years. What will that mean for the game?
I wrote earlier this year about the reign of Rob Manfred as MLB Commissioner and how the league was on course to engineer a train wreck after many years of labor peace. Well, that train looks to be continuing down that track. On Thursday, owners of the Chicago Cubs and the other 29 MLB teams signaled full speed ahead as they agreed to give Manfred a five-year extension.
A review of the issues
Major League Baseball and the club owners continue to impose a blackout regime on fans that absolutely defies credulity. The blackout map makes the worst examples of political gerrymandering look like good governance. In this age of streaming services and multiple devices on which to view games, blackout restrictions are so 20th Century.
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Further, we’ve been subjected to an array of pace-of-play ideas, some worthy, others seemingly out of left field, pardon the pun.
Limit visits to the mound? Great idea. Starting a runner on second in extra-innings? Seriously? Many experts point to overall declining attendance as Exhibit One to advance pace-of-play rules. I’d suggest that declining attendance has more to do with ticket and concession prices and, in too many cases, a lousy product on the field.
But perhaps the most divisive issue has been the 2017-2021 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Baseball is making more money now than ever before in its history thanks in large part to television deals. Yet, the current CBA imposed the closest thing to a salary cap since the reserve clause was struck down.
It includes annual salary thresholds with multiple levels of escalating financial and draft-pick penalties, increased draft penalties for teams that sign free agents that rejected their team’s qualifying offer and puny increases in the annual salary thresholds. As a result, last year was the most bizarre free agent offseason since the collusion scandal of the 1980s.
Which brings us to Manfred
In past CBA negotiations, Bud Selig played the role of broker between the owners and the MLBPA, the league players’ union. It is to Selig’s great credit that he kept the peace for over 20 years in said role. In the negotiations for the current CBA, the MLBPA assumed, incorrectly as it turns out, that Manfred would continue in the Selig vein of a broker. He did not. Manfred was clearly in the owners’ pockets.
Now with the unanimous five-year extension, which extends past the end of the current CBA, the owners have made it clear that they will not back down on the current salary threshold scheme. In fact, I believe they will reach for a hard salary cap in a new CBA. This will lead to a strike. And before you comment about players being overpaid, here is a great piece that reveals what we know, and don’t know, about baseball’s finances.
Manfred could, now secure after his extension, decide to reprise the role that Seig played for over twenty years. Wisdom would guide him in that direction.
But I’m not hopeful. Given the nonsense we’ve seen from Major League Baseball, from the continuing blackout rules to the ridiculous pace-of-play ideas to obsessing over the color of a player’s shoes, it seems we’re headed for that massive derailment under Commissioner Manfred.