Almost 100 days ago, Commissioner Rob Manfred shut down Major League Baseball for no rational reason.
Rather than immediately starting negotiations with the Major League Players Association, he waited 43 days before making a proposal. Since then, the two sides have met only sporadically, despite the fact that regular-season games have already been canceled. Manfred’s blasé attitude toward the lockout alone should be grounds for losing his job.
As a representative of the owners, Manfred obviously knows that the value of each franchise has increased exponentially. In the year 2000, the average value of a major league team was $300 million. This year the number approaches $2 billion (yep, that’s billion with a B). Every team except the Miami Marlins ($990 million) has a net worth of at least a billion dollars, with the New York Yankees leading the pack at $5.25 billion.
Manfred should also focus on the fact that the pandemic forced the league to reduce the number of games in 2020 drastically. Even worse, he cannot ignore the fact that the sport is losing fans. Surely Manfred knows that it took more than ten years for the league to recover the fans lost thanks to the cancellation of the 1994 World Series and delay of the start of the 1995 season.
Manfred can’t deny that in 2007 MLB recorded 79.6 million in attendance. By 2019 the numbers had dropped to 68.48 million. Worse, the 2021 World Series had the second-lowest television rating in the history of the sport, and Game 1 of the 2020 World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers/Tampa Bay Rays had the lowest rating.
Of course, fans don’t have to be tethered to their TV sets these days, but attitudes toward baseball have also suffered. According to a recent Los Angeles Times/SurveyMonkey poll, only four of ten Americans said they considered themselves baseball fans. Worse, six in ten fans admitted the lockout had turned them off to the sport.
During his tenure as commissioner and before that as assistant to Bud Selig, Manfred has presided over the Steroid Era. He also minimized the penalties for the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scheme that helped the team win a World Series trophy and become obsessed with issues like pace-of-play, the shift, and the size of the base.
Manfred’s predecessor, Bud Selig (who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2017), obviously made mistakes, especially regarding steroids, but his love of the game of baseball could never be doubted. His daughter Wendy Selig-Prieb told MLB Network, “there is no question that my father eats, loves, sleeps baseball.”
The current commissioner and the owners seem oblivious to the fact that during the 2020 mini-season, players received just 37 percent of their pay. That may not impact the budget of a Manny Machado or Mike Trout, but it can definitely affect younger players, especially those whose service time may be affected. And what about the hotels and restaurants and bars and their employees in Arizona and Florida who will again lose money, this time at the hands of MLB after two years of Covid-19 restrictions. The Florida Sports Foundation estimates that spring training in that state brought in $687 million in 2018.
Despite those losses, despite the toll COVID-19 has had on so many ordinary Americans–from lost jobs to the deaths of over 987,000 people—Manfred and his band of billionaires continue to bicker with the players. Instead of celebrating the exciting young players like Fernando Tatis Jr., Juan Soto, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Manfred has chosen to keep them off the field of play.
It’s past time for the owners to take stock, change leadership, and recognize that the national pastime is in grave danger. As a graduate of Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations and Harvard Law School, Rob Manfred can certainly find another job. But Major League Baseball cannot afford to keep him on and needs to seek out a new commissioner, one who actually cares about the game.