With the baseball world gathered for the All-Star Game, the Commissioner of Baseball, Rob Manfred, spoke to a number of media outlets represented by the BBWAA on number of topics at the forefront of the baseball world.
In addition, the head of the Players Association, Tony Clark, joined Manfred and responded to many of the Commissioner’s talking points, while bringing the perspective of the players into focus.
Below, you can read many of their thoughts and opinions – along with links or more reading, and also some comments of my own. With the CBA set to expire after 2016 and negotiations scheduled for the winter, their positions on these matters are as important as ever.
- After the “Save America’s Pastime Act” (a bill that would have exempting minor league players from minimum wage and overtime laws so that MLB could continue paying them exceedingly low salaries) was released to widespread criticism, co-sponsor and Illinois democrat Cheri Bustos withdrew her support. MLB, however, did not. Specifically, Commissioner Manfred claims that excessive regulation in this area could have a “dramatic impact on the size of minor league baseball.” At NBC sports, Bill Baer dismisses that statement’s authenticity, given the size, value and nature of MLB, including their responsibility to pay for their minor league affiliates.
- Taking it a step further, Manfred doesn’t believe that minor leaguers should be entitled to any form of overtime, as well, despite minor league minimum salaries that bottom out at 1,100 per month, for a five month season at Class A. According to Manfred, however, it’s not an issue of money. Instead, it’s the “irrationality of the application of traditional workplace overtime rules to minor league baseball players” (i.e., what counts as “work”, what counts as a “break”, etc.). To that I’d say, perhaps MLB espouses to be worried about the principle of the matter, but it sure as hell is about money to the players struggling to get by. Manfred questions whether or not a player should be paid extra if he wants to take extra batting practice, or for the time spent traveling, etc., and to an extent, I can understand his point – it wouldn’t be easy, and some compromises would have to be made. But when he adds that “the administrative burden associated with the application of these laws” is just too high to overcome, he loses me. That makes his comments sound like: “We can afford to pay you, and you may well deserve it sometimes, but all of that paperwork … yuck.” No one is suggesting that minor leaguers should make as much as their MLB counterparts, but asking for a living wage – or at least the U.S. minimum wage – doesn’t seem like an overzealous request.
- Switching gears completely, were you aware that home runs are way up in 2016? According to Larry Brown at Fox Sports, there was an average of 2.32 home runs per game in the first half of the 2016 season – that’s up from 1.90 in 2015 and is the highest first half mark since the year 2000. Steroids, however, are not a suspected culprit. “The increase in the number of home runs takes place against a very, very different backdrop,” Manfred said, before adding that there are now over 22,000 drug tests every single year. Instead the increase in long balls may be the result of home-run hitters being moved up in the order, and other modern developments. Read more about it at Fox Sports.
- Manfred did take a respectable middle-ground approach on the controversial lack of Latino managers in Major League Baseball. In my humble opinion, it’s okay to point out the (very clear) lack of Latino managers, despite the overwhelming number of Latino players, while still understanding that there are only 30 jobs available. To say it’s not a problem is wrong, but to say it’s an easily fixable one is, too. According to Manfred, the absence of Latino managers is glaring, but these are “30 high turnover jobs, and you’re going to have an ebb and flow in terms of diversity.” Note that this is the first time since 1991 (25 years!) that MLB has operated without a single Latino skipper in the Major Leagues. If you can’t recognize this as a clear “ebb,” (and more importantly, a problem) then you aren’t really being honest. I see nothing wrong with openly discussing, and making plans for addressing, inequity.
- At MLB.com, Rob Manfred did the Town Hall Chat thing, with far too many topics to cover in a single bullet. Some of the highlights include the Instant Replay Challenge System (which he calls an evolving practice), expansion involving Cuba (which he says would take some serious time and development), and the slide rule at second base (which he believes is crucial to player longevity). Plenty of good stuff in there.
- Two weeks ago, Manfred disciplined the Red Sox for violating the spirit of the International Free Agency rules with “package deals” for individual players. The punishment was considered to be rather strict – granting free agency to five minor leaguers and prohibition from the 2016-2017 signing period – but should not be used as a model for the Cardinals impending punishment (for the hacking scandal). “I do not see a great parallel between the Red Sox situation and the St. Louis situation,” Manfred said to the BBWAA. Adding that he commended the Red Sox for taking organizational responsibility for their actions, he did not see the Cardinals situation as an organizational problem. You could read his comments as suggesting whatever Cardinals punishment that comes will be less severe.
- On the issue of pace of play, Manfred suggests that MLB “slipped” at the beginning of the year, leading to much longer game times in 2016 (3 hours 1 minute) than 2015 (2 hours 53 minutes). He indicated a dedication to addressing the problem, but implied that it’s been extremely difficult. In his words, it’s like removing dandelions from your lawn.
- Manfred is a huge proponent of keeping the A’s in Oakland, adding that MLB would regret a relocation of the team sooner rather than later. “I think 10 years from now, we would be more likely than not looking backwards saying we made a mistake.” Manfred believes that there’s growth coming to the area and that Oakland’s market will be better five years from now than it is today.
- Tony Clark, the head of the Players Association, has opened the door for a reduction in the number of regular season games beginning as soon as 2017. Manfred, however, is skeptical of such a transition, citing the impact/loss of revenue from fewer games, while questioning if players would accept a reduction in salary, because of it. According to Clark, there should be no salary roll back because the value of every game would go up. Interestingly, Clark does not mean an increase in ticket price, but instead the actual value of going to a game. “I’m talking about the idea that as a fan, I’m coming to a ball park, I’m purchasing season tickets, and I know I’m going to see my guys as a result of X,Y,Z, being done to make improvements to their overall health and ability of being on the field.” I’m not entirely certain that is going to be as much of a 1:1 correlation as Clark suggests, but maybe there’s something there. Manfred, on the other hand, believes that there are other ways to produce more off-days (rest) in the schedule without reducing the number of games. Clark, Manfred, and the author (Evan Drellich) have plenty of thoughts on the matter here at the Boston Herald.
- Lastly, you can rest assured that Draft Pick Compensation for free agent signings will be heavily addressed in the upcoming CBA negotiations, but don’t expect an easy transition. Although the recent value depression of players like Ian Desmond, Dexter Fowler, and Howie Kendrick has shown us that something is off, the two sides do not seem to agree. Of course, Clark supports reform, while Manfred and MLB do not. “It would be a major, major concession,” Manfred said, “for us to make changes in that area.” Contentious negotiations on the way?