Oct. 4 Commissioner Rob Manfred pregame interview

Oct. 4 Commissioner Rob Manfred pregame interview

COMMISSIONER MANFRED: Good afternoon, everybody. I'm pleased to be back in Canada for a Wild Card game. I like Canada so much I even went on vacation in Canada this year. But I like it better because of the support that the Blue Jays have had up here, in Toronto especially, but all across Canada. So I think it's great. We're going to do a little playoff baseball up here for the second year in a row.

With that, I will take questions.

Q. Commissioner, you mentioned the other day that there was some hope that a new CBA might get done in the next little while, but as teams start the process of their off-season planning, would things like qualifying offers for free agency, will this season operate under the current agreement's rules, or will there be different rules for them to use?

COMMISSIONER MANFRED: The truth of the matter is I don't know the answer to that. My hope would be that we would resolve the new agreement before the free agent market starts. There have been years -- not this past agreement, but the one before -- where we actually finished the deal during the World Series. I only remember that because it's the only World Series I've missed in the last 25 years.

And the last time around in 2011, we actually extended a couple of deadlines in the free agent market in order to allow us to finish up.

I do think that there's a natural deadline there. The idea of operating under the new agreement is an appealing one. So let's hope we do it again.

Q. [ No microphone ].

COMMISSIONER MANFRED: Oh, no, that's an issue that needs to be resolved in collective bargaining. Obviously, those September call-ups all earn service time and other benefits that are set forth in the basic agreement and the expansion of the rosters is, in fact, a rule that's embedded in the agreement.

Q. [No microphone ].

COMMISSIONER MANFRED: Well, it's interesting. September call-ups were a non-controversial item for many, many years. I think that the controversy has arisen because of the changes that have taken place in the game and the way the game's played, particularly the use of so many relievers, so many matchups, has made the presence of the extra players so much more visible. It's brought attention to the pace of our games, and I do believe that a reform of those rules, again, protecting the benefits that are available to players. I'm not looking to take away service time or anything like that.

But I do think it would make sense to get to a situation where we played our September games closer to the rules that we play with the rest of the year.

Q. For the second year in a row, we've seen a big spike in home runs. I think it was 1,400 more home runs since 2014. Can you say definitively that it's the same baseball throughout? And if so, how do you explain this big spike?

COMMISSIONER MANFRED: Somebody wrote an article about home runs in The New York Times.

I can't remember who it was. Look, we have tested the baseball. We are absolutely convinced that this issue is not driven by a difference in the baseball.

My own view is that the spike is related to the way that the game is being played now, the way that we are training hitters from a very young age, and we have not been able to find any external cause that explains the spike in home runs.

Q. Naturally, every time you come to Canada, they ask a question about the Montreal situation. What can you say today? How long could it take to see two expansion teams joining the MLB? And what's the process?

COMMISSIONER MANFRED: The only thing I can say in terms of timing is this: I think there are two or three, depending on how you count things, that need to happen. First of all, we need to make a new basic agreement. Nothing is going to happen on that front until we make a new agreement with the Players Association.

Secondly, there are two stadium situations, Tampa and Oakland, that need to be resolved before I believe the owners have any appetite for thinking about expansion. Hopefully, we're going to make good progress on both of those stadium situations in the relatively short term.

And then we would begin, first, with an internal debate as to whether baseball wants to go to 32. Obviously, with the way the economics operate in our game, that's a very, very significant economic decision because it means that 1/30-owned assets and revenue streams become 1/32. Assuming the owners make that decision, it would then begin the process of selecting two cities.

I will say, in terms of schedule format, 32 teams is a nice number for us. Whether that carries the day or not given the other issues I've identified, hard for me to say at this point.

Q. You mentioned the excitement here in Toronto. There's been a huge revitalization, obviously, attendance-wise the past season and a half. What do you see here in the Toronto market? And what does it mean for Major League Baseball to have Canada's one market kind of buzzing again?

COMMISSIONER MANFRED: I think the idea of having Toronto, the market here, buzzing again is a huge boost for Major League Baseball. 3.4 million fans I think they drew this year. It's a great number for us. I saw some survey information today that fan avidity in Canada for the Blue Jays is the highest of any of our markets. I know during the All-Star Game some of the best ratings we had was all across Canada. And those are just tremendously positive stories for baseball. We want a strong Canadian franchise in Toronto.

Q. I have a question about the Save America's Pastime Act, which Major League Baseball endorsed earlier this summer. Can you explain why you're opposed to paying minor league players minimum wage?

COMMISSIONER MANFRED: We're not opposed to paying minor league players any particular wage. What we are opposed to is the imposition of administrative requirements in terms of keeping track of hours and overtime. They're simply impractical in minor league baseball.

A young man decides that he wants to take extra batting practice, is that overtime, or is that his voluntary undertaking? A young minor league player decides that he wants to go to the gym. Are those working hours, or are they not? Most buses when we're on the road, time clocks, what do you do with the team that's on the road for ten days in terms of keeping track of hours?

For us, it's really not about the money. So much as the burden that would be imposed. I don't think that when the wage and hour laws were passed, that people were thinking about minor league baseball players.

Q. [ No microphone ].

COMMISSIONER MANFRED: I'm not going to talk about what we would consider doing. We still have active litigation out there. There's conversations ongoing. In terms of getting into revenue, it's just not productive for me to do at this point.

Q. Commissioner, going back to the issue of Cuba, will you have a Cuba game next spring? If so, how would that team going be chosen?

COMMISSIONER MANFRED: We have not made any firm plans for returning to Cuba. We have a number -- we have the WBC next spring. We'll have the Cuban national team playing in the WBC. I think it's somewhat unlikely that in the same spring period when we were doing the WBC, that we would go back to Cuba.

Q. Earlier today, John Gibbons said that, while he wasn't greatly in favor of having the one Wild Card, being in it, overall he thought it was a great thing for baseball. What are your thoughts on the one-game format and what are the positives and benefits?

COMMISSIONER MANFRED: Let's start with what we just had, right? We just had final day of the season where you had all sorts of meaningful baseball games, and most of those meaningful games were related to the fact that we had a second Wild Card. I think that's very important. I think that the unappealing nature of a one-game playoff encourages teams to play through and win their division, and you should get rewarded for winning the division, and it should be different than finishing second.

Those are the benefits, as I see them, associated with the season itself, and I believe them to be really substantial. In terms of the one games themselves, I understand that baseball doesn't usually have one-game knockouts, but I do believe these two games get our playoff season off to a really exciting start. I've gone to the Wild Card games, both of them, each of the last two seasons. The atmospheres in the ballparks are phenomenal, and I think it gives a great jump start to our playoff season.

Q. Just to follow up on what Bob asked you, when you watched a lot of these games in September and saw maybe 17 or 18 pitchers being used, as a baseball fan yourself, what was your reaction?

COMMISSIONER MANFRED: I don't think 18 pitchers in a game is a good thing. I have been outspoken about the idea that our game has changed. It's changed significantly in recent years. We started in August in the process of thinking about how -- broadly thinking about how we're playing the game on the field and whether the evolution that's taken place needs to be managed a little more carefully to make sure that we provide our fans with the most entertaining, action-packed, fast-paced product that we can put out there.

Q. The other day in Boston, you had some comments about Ortiz, giving real sort of clarity and context to everything that happened in '03. Was part of that, in a way, meant as sort of guidelines for Hall of Fame voters as to what to do with the whole issue?

COMMISSIONER MANFRED: No. I really would never presume to give guidance to the baseball writers on Hall of Fame votes. I think over time the writers have done a phenomenal job making judgments about who belongs in and who doesn't belong in, given what the Hall of Fame criteria are.

I have to say, I was a little surprised at how much attention the comments that I made the other day received. I think most of that information had been disseminated by the Players Association and some comments from our office at the time of some of the original leaks. I don't know if I was more articulate on Sunday or people paid more attention because I had a different job, but it did attract a lot of attention. But those basic facts, I hope most people understood.

In terms of the Hall of Fame situation itself, the only thing I have ever said on that topic is I see a huge difference between players who are caught, suspended, whether it's because of a positive test or some investigation, on the one hand, and writers have to make a judgment about what that means. On the other hand, I do think that it's unfair to base a decision on rumor, innuendo, or what I regard to be an ambiguous piece of information that was never intended to be public in the first place. So that's the only thing I've ever said about Hall of Fame voting.

Q. With regards to Montreal, have you considered playing a regular season game there at any point? What do you like about that market?

COMMISSIONER MANFRED: Well, we have talked about the possibility of playing regular season games there. I think that -- I know that there were folks in Montreal who are interested in this year. I think it's tough to do that in a year where you have the World Baseball Classic and a bargaining process that's ongoing during the preceding year. It's just very difficult to plan international events, given the uncertainty that's caused by a bargaining year.

Look, Montreal was a great baseball market for us for a really long time, number one. Number two, there does seem to be strong local support. I mean, you see the sell-outs that -- I guess it's been around 90,000 people, I think three years in a row, maybe more, for those exhibition games. This is a demonstration of local support. The mayor has been a tremendous advocate for returning baseball to Montreal. I think it's the kind of market that we see as potentially successful for our sport.

The idea of a broader international footprint, another team in Canada is also appealing to us.

Q. Commissioner, what are your thoughts on the idea of having an award named in honor of Jose Fernandez? And what, if anything, can you tell us about discussions on that front?

COMMISSIONER MANFRED: Well, honestly, the sort of shock of the situation has occupied us through the end of last week. I did attend the funeral. I mean, it was a really emotional experience.

I understand there's some strong feelings on this topic. It's not the right time of year to be thinking about additional awards. We're moving into the playoffs. But it's an issue we'll talk about during the off-season. Obviously, we recognize the significance of Jose in terms of his importance to the Marlins franchise, and the fact that he was symbolic kind of the next generation of players, it is really important in Major League Baseball, not just the Marlins.

Q. Commissioner, do you see any movement toward a resolution in the MASN dispute? I know you expressed some confidence that eventually it would turn back to committee. At this point, how do you feel about it right now?

COMMISSIONER MANFRED: You know, I feel about it how I feel about litigation in general. It's out of your hands is how I feel about it. You kind of think you know where it's headed, but unfortunately, it's somebody else who's driving the boat. I guess I would say I am at this point resigned to the idea that the litigation process is going to have to play out a little further before anything positive can happen.

I think it is a good example of why in general our rules prohibit litigation between clubs. Once you're into that court system, sometimes it's hard to find your way out.