Manfred talks variety of topics on Kalb Report

Manfred talks variety of topics on Kalb Report

WASHINGTON -- Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred spent an hour fielding questions, which ranged from philosophical to pointed, from award-winning journalist Marvin Kalb on the season-opening edition of The Kalb Report on Monday night at the National Press Club.

Afterward, Manfred took more than a dozen questions from the studio audience. In both sessions, the responses drew occasional laughter and applause.

Kalb opened the proceedings with a question about Pete Rose, who recently met the Commissioner in New York to make his case for reinstatement after spending more than a quarter of a century on baseball's permanently ineligible list for betting on baseball.

Manfred reiterated that he promised the all-time hit king a decision by the end of the year, but went on to shed a little more light on their conversation and what he was hoping to learn.

"Given the length of time that's gone by ... it's important to understand what he's trying to achieve. Why he wants to be reinstated in baseball. Does he want to work in the game? Does he want to be eligible for the Hall of Fame?" Manfred said, without elaborating further.

That was followed by a broad discussion of why baseball makes such a connection with the country.

Manfred repeated a story he has told many times about seeing his first baseball game, at Yankee Stadium, in August 1968. He noted, as he does, that his favorite player, Mickey Mantle, hit two home runs that day and that it turned out to be the last multi-homer game of Mantle's career.

Then he added that baseball is a team game. "And I think those values are consistent with the values that are really important to our country."

Kalb, like a crafty pitcher, mixed in fastballs and changeups. In answer to a question about his biggest challenge, Manfred returned to one of his favorite themes: Keeping the younger generation involved in baseball. And he added a startling statistic. While acknowledging that the sport's broadcast audience "skews old", he pointed out that the average age of MLB.com's At Bat app user is 33.

"What that tells me is, if you give young people the right technology to enjoy a great game, you can get them as hooked on baseball as the original television broadcasts did with our generation," he said.

Manfred said the issue of performance-enhancing drugs is the most difficult he faces and that he would never say the problem has been solved, even though baseball is generally conceded to have the best testing program among the major professional sports.

"The difficulty with performance-enhancing drugs is they work," Manfred said. "Performance-enhancing drugs are a constant temptation to athletes. The reward, if you can get away with it, is tremendous. The financial rewards and the performance on the field. And as a result we need to be constantly vigilant. Not just for baseball, but for all sports, it's an ongoing battle."

Kalb asked Manfred directly who he believes the "true" home run champion is, Hank Aaron or Barry Bonds, who many believed eclipsed Aaron's career numbers by using steroids.

Responded the Commissioner: "I think it's important to show a lot of respect for record books as they have been written. I think that when you breach the area of adjusting records or putting asterisks on that, you start down a road that you don't want to start down.

"There have been different eras in the game where there were different things that affected the numbers. The dead-ball era. And a period of time where people assume or know that people were using steroids. And you can make judgments on how those numbers have been affected in any quantitative way."

Kalb: "But if somebody asked you who is the home run champion?"

Manfred: "I know that the individual who has hit the most home runs in the history of baseball is Barry Bonds. That's my answer to that question."

Kalb also probed MLB's attitude toward fantasy leagues such as DraftKings, asking how it's different from illegal wagering.

"I think what people fail to appreciate about fantasy baseball in particular, you're not betting on the outcome of a game. What you're doing is picking players from multiple teams within a certain defined set of rules and limits, and trying to figure out if you have enough skill to put together a team that's better than the other people who are still in the same contest," Manfred said. "It has nothing to do with whether the Nationals beat the Yankees or the Orioles on a particular night."

The conversation went on to touch on a wide variety of subjects. Manfred said that he believes Mexico provides a "tremendous opportunity" for a future franchise, that Cuba could figure in the mix someday but that the logistics of having a team in Japan would be difficult to overcome for a sport that plays almost every day.

He said he's not inclined to have the designated hitter in both leagues or to eliminate it entirely. He remains enthusiastic about expanded replay, but would like to see the decision-making process be accelerated. There have been indications that will happen, he said, as in-stadium technology continues to improve.

Manfred said he's personally in favor of adding a clock that would encourage pitchers to deliver the ball within 20 seconds, but conceded that's an issue that will have to be bargained with the Major League Baseball Players Association.

And he reaffirmed baseball's commitment to diversity which, he predicted, could someday yield a female general manager, manager, player or even Commissioner.

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.