Manfred joins peers in Milken Institute talk

MLB, NBA, NHL and MLS commissioners address hot topics in sports at global conference

Manfred joins peers in Milken Institute talk

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- The object of the annual Milken Institute Global Conference, according to the economic think tank's slogan, is to "convene, inspire and change." During a one-hour presentation amongst his peers at the head of major sports leagues in North America, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred described how MLB continues to stay ahead of the curve by checking all three of those boxes.

Manfred joined the commissioners of the National Basketball Association (Adam Silver), National Hockey League (Gary Bettman) and Major League Soccer (Don Garber) on Tuesday afternoon in a session called "Commissioners of Sport: Agile Leadership in a Competitive World."

The program, which included a wide-ranging conversation before an audience of about 1,300, was moderated by longtime sports broadcaster Jim Gray and touched on a variety of topics, including pace-of-play modifications, the impact of technology on how sports are followed in today's smartphone-driven world, youth sports specialization, performance-enhancing drugs and more.

Manfred discusses Play Ball

Manfred was asked first about his own stamp on pace-of-play alterations, and he pointed out the elimination of pitchers throwing four balls for an intentional walk that went into effect for the 2017 season.

"This is one of those interesting spots where we do listen to our fans and we try to make changes in the game that always respect the history and tradition of the game on one hand, and on the other hand we try to listen to what the fans are saying about the [game] experience," Manfred said.

"Our fans are interested in less dead time in the game. Being against dead time is like being against cancer. Everybody is against that. All sports are trying to make themselves as relevant as possible by eliminating dead time in their product."

Gray also posed a question to all the commissioners about PED use, and Manfred pointed out that MLB has been at the forefront in testing.

"Anybody who tells you that performance-enhancing drugs are gone from your sport doesn't know anything about your sport," Manfred said. "We're going to do 26,000 drug tests in Major and Minor League Baseball, almost 12,000 just at the big league level.

"Do the math. That's a lot of drug tests. … You have to remain constantly vigilant in this issue."

Gray ended the program by asking each commissioner what he loves the most about his sport. Manfred made it simple.

"The game," Manfred said. "It starts there and ends there. It's not just when you go to a Major League park. I love the idea of being out there and being involved in youth programs where you see kids play our game."

Manfred: "The game. It starts there and ends there."Natalia Sanchez Herrera/Milken Institute

The Milken Institute, which is based in nearby Santa Monica, was founded in 1991 by former banker Michael Milken, and its purpose is to combine economic principles and development to better society through education and innovation and health care on a global basis

The conference attracts 4,000 high-profile influencers from 50 countries spanning industries and the political realm. Former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Joe Biden were scheduled to speak separately on Wednesday, and Bush's brother, Jeb, the former governor of Florida, spoke Monday.

The conference also hosted talks by four current Cabinet members: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Labor Wilbur Ross and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. Movie directors J.J. Abrams and Jon Favreau and former NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar made appearances as well.

Titles of similar sessions on the same day as the sports commissioners' appearance included Brexit, The Refugee Crisis, Women as Health Care Deciders and Food Investors and Innovators, among many others.

There was headline entertainment, too. Lionel Richie and Paul Anka were among the singers performing Monday night and famed music producer Quincy Jones was set to deliver the closing reception on Wednesday evening.

Jim Gray and Rob Manfred listen to NBA commissioner Adam SilverNatalia Sanchez Herrera/Milken Institute

After the presentation was complete and attendees scurried off to their next programs, Manfred shook hands and joked a bit on stage with the other commissioners.

He said he always enjoys being in the company of his peers.

"It's a really unique experience to get to be on a panel with three of the other commissioners," Manfred said. "It's sort of a small fraternity, and the exchange of ideas, I think, is educational for everybody.

"Of all of the other commissioners, including [NFL] commissioner [Roger] Goodell, who wasn't here today, I'm the most junior, and they've been very kind to me. I've had long relationships with all of them, and we're friends."

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.