Transcript of Commissioner Manfred's Town Hall Chat

Transcript of Commissioner Manfred's Town Hall Chat

Moderator Jeremy Brisiel: Good morning and welcome to Fan Fest 2016 in San Diego, Calif. It is a beautiful week and a tremendous city and an exciting time for the Midsummer Classic, a great tradition in baseball as we get ready to undertake another tradition that we have established at MLB.com.

The Commissioner's Town Hall Chat, which began with several e-mails answered casually in an office, has grown into a world-wide phenomenon, and to help us do that is the play-by-play voice in San Diego and one of only two people in the baseball, basketball and football Hall of Fame -- most importantly in the baseball Hall of Fame for broadcasting, Dick Enberg will be here to have the conversation with a man who is overseeing an exciting time in baseball in his second All-Star Game appearance, Commissioner Robert D. Manfred, Jr. A big round of applause as they join us on stage.

Dick Enberg: Thank you for joining us this morning. Baseball fans here and everywhere, and to salute the Commissioner of Baseball, Robert Manfred. I guess I should start, Commissioner. It's my city. We think it's pretty nice. In fact, we call it the finest city in the United States. You've had a taste now of how we've been able to host the baseball world. What's your impression?

Commissioner Rob Manfred: Well, you know, San Diego has been a great venue for the All-Star Game. The ballpark showed so well last night, it's just a fantastic facility. The subsidiary venues, the concert venue, the Play Ball field, also the proximity to Petco. I think it makes for a great fan experience, and you can't beat the weather.

Enberg: And how about the FanFest? Isn't it good?

Commissioner Manfred: Really good. People work hard each and every year to make FanFest -- particularly for young people to come and engage in our game, and it has to be new and interesting every year, and I'm thrilled with this year's edition.

Enberg: We have a lot of questions. Can I ask the first?

Commissioner Manfred: You can.

Enberg: The Instant Replay Challenge System, in fact, in some of our telecasts, I will have to admit I've been critical about some of the delays, and maybe there is some tweaking that can be done. Do you see it evolving into a little different form than we're watching now?

Commissioner Manfred: You know, when all else fails in baseball, it's always good to quote one of the great men of the game, and John Schuerholz is one of those. John served on our Instant Replay Committee, and he said this is going to be a three- or four-year process. It is going to continue to evolve. Length of replays, the delay in the replay process is something we are particularly focused on this year, and I think you probably will see some tweaks next year to get at those issues.

Enberg: And how about one of the umpires wearing a microphone where they can explain to the stadium audience just what transpired?

Commissioner Manfred: I think transparency is an important part of the replay process. We've had some conversations with the umpires union about making some changes in that area, and I do think one way or another -- whether it's with an umpire microphone or on scoreboards -- we need to do a better job of explaining to fans what happened in the replay process.

Enberg: Ready for questions from our baseball audience? The first is from Evan H. He says, 'In light of the recent game against the Cuban National team, what about Havana if the MLB expands to 32 teams?"

Commissioner Manfred: I really enjoyed the trip to Cuba. It was a historic trip for baseball. We were thrilled to play a role in the that viewing of the relations between the two countries. I would say two things about the future of the team: No. 1, the regulatory reform of the relationship between Cuba and the United States is going to take some time. It is a very complicated relationship that has built up over a period of years. Secondly, I think in terms of economic development, some economic development has to happen in Havana before it's viable for us.

Enberg: And Major League Baseball may be a part of that development, because we know how the Cubans love baseball.

Commissioner Manfred: They do. We do well in markets where people love the game, and Cuba is one of those.

Enberg: We had a chance to visit Cuba, and my wife and I wanted to go to the baseball game, and the Industiales -- which is the Yankees of the game in Cuba -- were playing against the tobacco team out there, and there were another 5,000 or 6,000 beyond the outfield watching, and it cost us 12 cents a ticket, so the economy is a little different.

Commissioner Manfred: It is, in fact, a little different.

Enberg: Next question from Jose: "What are your expectations for the 2017 World Baseball Classic?"

Commissioner Manfred: I'm tremendously excited about the WBC next year. I think it's our showcase international event. It combines the greatest players in the world with nationalism, which usually makes for great sport. And, you know, we know the U.S. Team is going to be very well-managed this time around. Our friend Jim Leyland has agreed to do that, and we're looking forward to this spring.

Enberg: Have you selected a site yet?

Commissioner Manfred: The sites will be announced shortly this summer, both the early rounds and the finals location.

Enberg: Our next question is from Evan B: "How would you like to see Vin Scully's final half season play out with a surprise call of an inning tonight or at the World Series game?"

Commissioner Manfred: You know, it's interesting. Vin is such a great gentleman. He's also unbelievably humble, given all of the accomplishments in his great career. We've talked to him about a number of things. The only thing I know for sure, I'm going to be in Dodger Stadium for Vin Scully this year.

Enberg: He's the Poet Laureate of our profession. Vin Scully and I happened to be at Dodger Stadium last year, and I said, "Vin, I know everyone is asking you the same question, what are you going to do after you retire?" And he said, "I'm going to live!" Simple enough!

 This is from Josh M.: "Citizens Bank Park opened in 2004. When will the Phillies get another All-Star Game?"

Commissioner Manfred: It's been a long time since we've been in Philadelphia. I would like to think in the next decade we will be back in Philadelphia for an All-Star Game game.

Enberg: From Jason T.: "For Opening Day, is there a chance in the future we will see all 30 teams open on the same day?"

Commissioner Manfred: We spent a lot of time thinking about Opening Day. We actually changed the Opening Day format this year. If you recall, we had a fuller slate of games on Sunday, so that we tried to take command of the entire day, not just the 8 o'clock game at night. I think that you will see more teams playing on Sunday going forward than you have historically.

Enberg: This isn't a question, but I was thinking about last night's Home Run Derby, adding the clock intensified the event. That was brilliant.

Commissioner Manfred: It's always great to have a great TV guy on your side, and Tony Petitti is one of those guys, and Tony focused on the Home Run Derby, wanted to make the event a better event, and I think that the clock and the changes that Tony has made in the format made it really exciting. I thought last night in the ballpark was unbelievable.

Enberg: Didn't you think that was great at the Derby? Fabulous. This is from Matthew S.: "With baseball and softball becoming more likely to return to the Olympics in 2020, let's hope so. Is there any chance that Major League Baseball would be willing to consider letting its players compete in the Olympics?"

Commissioner Manfred: Let me say, we think baseball and softball in the Olympics is a great thing for our sport. It promotes the game, and that's really important. We're going to meet with International Baseball and Softball Federation later this summer, get a full understanding of the program and what they would like us to do to make a decision.

Enberg: That would be difficult. August is right in the heat of a baseball race, and then to take a key player or two away from a team.

Commissioner Manfred: Look, the calendar presents a huge challenge for us. Dick, you make a great point. We feel we owe it to the sport and to the Olympic movement to hear them out as to what their plan is before we make a decision.

Enberg: The next is from Jack M.: "What can the league do to bring individuals from diverse backgrounds into the broadcasting booth?"

Commissioner Manfred: We work hard on the issue of diversity in all of the significant -- all the positions, not just the significant ones in baseball. In fact, if you look across the broadcast booths, we have great diversity, a lot of Spanish-speaking broadcasters, former players of color that are involved in the game. But the trick with these jobs, just like any high-profile job in baseball, is we work hard to develop a pipeline of qualified individuals that are available to the clubs when they go to fill these high-profile positions.

Enberg: Commissioner, I was privileged for a couple of years to have as my partner in the Fox broadcast booth Tony Gwynn, and just rubbing shoulders with Tony was fabulous.

Commissioner Manfred: One of the greats!

Enberg: Really was. This is from Matt W.: "What is the biggest rule change that you've made that has massively affected the way the game is played today?"

Commissioner Manfred: I think probably the biggest rule change is the collision rule at home plate. It really has changed the play around the plate -- I think in a positive way. You know, player safety is a crucial issue for our sport and for all sports. The best thing I can say about the collision rule -- and I can't say that it can't be difficult in its application -- but we haven't had a major injury of anybody at home plate since it went in, and that's a positive for our game.

Enberg: How about the slide rule at second base?

Commissioner Manfred: I see the slide rule as a derivative. It's the next step on top of the catcher rule. Player safety is a big deal for us. You know, players have the opportunity to earn, you know, huge sums of money over the course of careers, and you hate to see somebody's career cut short over a play that, in a lot of ways, is extraneous to the game.

Enberg: Our next is from Ernest M.: "Would baseball ever consider the trading of Draft picks -- of course with limits on the number of picks, either total or per round for competitive balance?"

Commissioner Manfred: We put our toe in the water on this topic in the last Collective Bargaining Agreement. This is a special set of picks called competitive balance picks in between the first and second and second and third rounds, and those picks are tradeable. They actually can be assigned. It is an interesting economic discussion about whether trading actually helps competitive balance or not, but I think it will be a topic that we will discuss extensively with the Players Association this time around.

Enberg: Do you have a sense that the Major League clubs themselves would like that?

Commissioner Manfred: I think that the clubs are split on this issue. I think that the aggressive clubs think of Draft picks as another asset. It's like money or assigned players, and you ought to be able to move 'em around to make your team better. I think more of our traditional clubs are concerned that there is a temptation to mortgage the future.

Enberg: Next from Thomas D.: "Do you support a new baseball rule either limiting or banning the use of tobacco throughout Major League Baseball?"

Commissioner Manfred: Smokeless tobacco is a dangerous stance. It's not good for the health of our players. We've long had a rule in the Minor Leagues that prohibits the use of smokeless tobacco on the field, and we are in conversations with the Players Association about extending that ban to the Major League level.

Enberg: What is their argument against banning?

Commissioner Manfred: It's an individual freedom argument. The fact of the matter is smokeless tobacco is a legal substance. Your normal citizen can go into a store and buy smokeless and the argument is, why should the rules be different for a Major League player?

Enberg: We were hit by it with Tony Gwynn, and a lot of folks are sensitive to it here. This is from Vince.: "Does MLB have plans to change the plans for deciding home-field advantage? It's a big bargaining tool. Winner gets for the whole league the advantage of the World Series."

Commissioner Manfred: One of the great things that baseball has going for it is that our All-Star Game -- really beyond debate -- is the best in professional sports. One of the reasons for that is our players play this game for something. They know it's meaningful. It makes the product on the field the best possible product for our fans. So I personally like the current rule.

Enberg: Our final question, and then we will let our audience ask some. This is from Evan H. We've already gone back to Cuba, how about that? We went around the baseball world and we're back to Cuba, and now to San Diego. Here is one from Max F.: "How do we make sure that the next generation of TV-watching and ticket-buying love baseball as much as the current older generation of MLB fans?"

Commissioner Manfred: This is the biggest single issue for any Commissioner. Baseball has always been a generational game, and you have to work to make sure that it gets passed on to the next generation. We have two very significant initiatives -- one national, one local -- that are relevant to this. On the national level, we have the Play Ball initiative, and it's all about getting kids playing the game of baseball. Sometimes it's baseball, sometimes it's just catch, Wiffle Ball. And the reason that initiative is significant is it's the single biggest determination of whether somebody is a fan as an adult is whether they played as a kid. The second one takes place at the local level, and our 30 clubs have been phenomenal on this. It's important to get the current generation of fans to take kids to the ballpark at an early age. The earlier kids get into the ballpark, the more likely it is that they're going to be great fans going forward.

Enberg: I can relate to that. My grandfather taking me to my first Major League game and I was only 10 years old, but I decided that day I was going to be a Major League player some day. My friends said, "Well, you always thought you could play. You only talked a good game, so it worked out OK."

Commissioner Manfred: I think the strength of that argument is demonstrated. I certainly remember everything about the first day I went. I, like you, was 10 years old, and I think most people do. It's a significant, formative, American experience.

Enberg: Take your kids to the ball yard and make them fans for life. We are ready for questions.

Brisiel: We have play Pall Reporter Sutton with us. What's your question?

Fan question: What Major League Baseball city do you most enjoy visiting and why?

Enberg: Loaded!

Commissioner Manfred: That's a tough one! Look, we have 30 great cities where our franchises are located. I think one of the best things about my job is you get to visit 'em all. I think if I had to pick one, I would pick Pittsburgh, because the President of the Pittsburgh Pirates is probably one of my best friends for life, so I get a chance to see him in addition to seeing the Pirates.

Brisiel: Another Play Ball reporter with us, Vincent.

Fan question: How did your love of baseball start as a kid, and do you ever get the chance to get out and play ball?

Commissioner Manfred: My love for baseball started with me playing in Little League. I really loved the game. I think my romance with the game was cemented because in 1968, my parents drove my two siblings and I down from upstate New York to Yankee Stadium. I was a huge Mickey Mantle fan, and I actually in my first game got to see Mickey Mantle hit two home runs, and it was the last time in his career that he ever did it. I do like to get out and play catch every now and then. As a matter of fact, a few weeks ago, a group of us from Major League Baseball went to Iowa to the Field of Dreams, and we had a nice catch at Field of Dreams.

Fan question: With the vote coming up in August for the 2020 Olympics, what are your final thoughts on baseball and softball getting back?

Commissioner Manfred: Let me say thank you to you and the other USA Softball players and the National Fast Pitch players that have been around this week. For us, the unification of baseball and softball is really crucial to the growth of the game, so thank you for being here. Look, we want baseball and softball in the Olympics. We think it's crucial to the global growth of the game. People don't understand that in terms of development money, and a lot of countries being an Olympic sport unlocks the safe, and it's a very big deal for the growth of the game internationally in a lot of countries.

Fan question: What is MLB working on right now to improve the pace of play?

Commissioner Manfred: We're experimenting with a number of things. Probably the most significant is what we refer to as the pitch clock. In the Minor Leagues, we've experimented with both a 20-second pitch clock and a 15-second pitch clock, so that the pitcher would have to deliver within that period of time.

The experiments have been pretty successful in terms of shortening our game, and we're going to continue to look at changes like this in order to make Major League Baseball as short and exact of a game as we possibly can.

Brisiel: This is Julian, a recent graduate of San Diego State.

Enberg: Go Aztecs!

Fan question: As a Commissioner, do you think anything should be done to level the competitive edge between small markets and big markets and the media recognition?

Commissioner Manfred: I think that the principal challenge of the Collective Bargaining process is always to construct our overall economic system in a way that produces competitive balance. We've been fortunate over the last few years. We've had great competitive balance with small market teams like Kansas City, Pittsburgh enjoying great success.

In this next round, we are very interested in equalizing the access to amateur talent. We've done a pretty good job on the domestic side. We're really focused on the international side, so we don't have a situation where money dictates who gets the best players.

Fan question: To balance the leagues, are you planning to add the DH to the National League or take it away from the American League pretty soon?

Commissioner Manfred: You know, there are not a lot of issues often where I admit I'm a status-quo person, but I'm a status-quo person on this. If you think about it, the leagues are really significant competitive devices for us, right? You play up through your league to get to the World Series. Now that Major League Baseball has unified itself from a business perspective -- there are not separate league offices anymore, we've done away with all that -- the principal defining characteristic of the two leagues is DH/no DH, and I think that's an important thing that we maintain. Second reason is people love to talk about the DH, and when people are talking about baseball -- whether it's the DH or any other topic -- it's a good thing.

Fan question: Can you speak to the success of the RBI program, and also how does a city actually get an RBI program going?

Commissioner Manfred: Look, the RBI program is kinda the bedrock of our overall diversity efforts. We've seen the combination of RBI, our Urban Youth Academies, the Breakthrough Series, the Elite Development Invitational, has put us in a position that in the last four years, the top rank of our Draft has been at least 20 percent African-American, which is a huge improvement for us. If you want to get an RBI program going, Major League Baseball has a Community Relations department that can give you information. Often those programs spring up in conjunction with the local Boys & Girls Club. The Boys & Girls Club is the official charity of the Major League Baseball and has a great partner in the RBI space.

Enberg: We've run out of time, JB. Thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming. You've had firsthand a chance to experience why this baseball program and all the Major Leagues and our love for this terrific game is in such wonderful hands. We have a passionate Commissioner, and he deserves your full applause -- Robert D. Manfred, Jr., Commissioner of Baseball.