From format of ASG to unwritten rules, Commissioner opens up with fans in Miami
By Mark Newman
MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- Commissioner Rob Manfred carried on a tradition on Monday afternoon by taking questions from fans at the 17th annual Town Hall Meeting held at FanFest in advance of the 88th MLB All-Star Game presented by Mastercard, which airs tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX.
The Commissioner covered such topics as the All-Star Game format, the designated hitter, the stadium situations in Oakland and Tampa Bay, possible expansion sites, international competitions, the Play Ball initiative, pace of play and why younger players often change "unwritten rules" on the field by themselves.
The event was moderated by Marlins broadcaster Rich Waltz at the Miami Beach Convention Center. Manfred took the stage for his third time in as many years as Commissioner, answering e-mailed questions as well those asked by fans in attendance before heading over to watch Yankees slugger Aaron Judge claim the 2017 T-Mobile Home Run Derby crown in a memorable night.
"Miami was a great choice as an All-Star venue," Manfred said. "Marlins Park is modern, really ideally suited to host an event like this, and I think the City of Miami so far, with the early events, has really turned out. We had almost 4,000 people for our 5K the other night, and nearly 1,000 showed up for the Zumba class. I went and watched, and let me tell you something, it looked a little too tough for me -- really rigorous. We had a nice crowd in the ballpark last night, and I'm sure it'll be packed tonight."
A fan asked if Manfred would consider a new format for the Midsummer Classic to mirror that of Sunday's SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game, which pitted Team USA vs. Team World.
"In terms of the All-Star Game itself, and I don't get to say this often, I am a traditionalist. I cannot see it spinning away from the American League versus National League format."
Nor can Manfred see the NL adding the designated hitter in the foreseeable future, if at all: "I know people feel a tension with this question, but I never have. I think it is interesting. The owners are at peace with it, and I do not see this changing in the near future."
One fans asked if Manfred can resolve the Rays' ballpark situation, and the Athletics' ballpark issue piggybacked on that question. Manfred said he is "happy with progress" for both clubs.
"It's really a positive sign that both local governments on the St. Petersburg side and Tampa side said, 'Look, let's not worry about whether it's St. Pete or Tampa; let's find the best location and figure out a way to keep the Rays in the broadly defined Tampa-St. Pete area,'" Manfred said. "I take that as a positive step. We are committed to Tampa as a baseball market. We think it's a good market for us. We want to be in Florida, and I have told [Rays owner Stuart] Sternberg that I will do anything I can to help move that process along."
As for Oakland, where the energetic new A's president Dave Kaval said the club is close to proposing a new site, Manfred said, "In terms of positive developments, not unlike Tampa, I think the renewed interest that [managing partner] John Fisher has shown in finding a new site in Oakland is positive. Baseball has had a long history of commitment to its communities. We have been the sport least likely to relocate. We'd like to have Oakland be a success. I think the identification of a single site in Oakland will be a step forward in that stadium process."
Manfred said that no expansion of the league will take place until those issues are resolved. But he did throw out some names of cities that are attractive markets at some point.
"I know the Mayor of Montreal has been very vocal about bringing baseball back to Montreal," Manfred said. "Charlotte's a possibility. And I'd like to think that Mexico City or some other place in Mexico would be a possibility."
Speaking of Mexico, Manfred talked at length about international competition, emphasizing MLB's commitment to the World Baseball Classic after the fourth staging of the event this past spring, and he expressed uncertainty on what is coming down the road for the Olympics. Baseball is returning for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, but MLB players are not expected to participate.
"We're really committed to the WBC," Manfred said. "There are certain scheduling and logistical issues surrounding the Olympic Games that make it very difficult for us. The Summer Olympics are usually in the middle of our season. I can't imagine a situation where we would take the kind of break that would be necessary to have our best players in the Olympics.
"As a result of that, we feel that the WBC is crucial as a substitute, a premier international tournament that allows our players to play for their countries. I think those who followed the event this spring would agree that it really took a step forward."
Earlier in the day, Manfred attended the dedication of an All-Star Field at Jose Marti Park, the fourth such new surface for kids in this ongoing All-Star Legacy program. It is part of the overall Play Ball initiative, and Manfred, when asked what MLB is doing about lowering the costs of the game at the youth level, extolled the virtues of that program so far.
"Our Play Ball initiative is fundamentally about making baseball competitive in the youth participation space," Manfred said. "Some of that we have done with our family programs, where we make elite play available for free to kids who can't afford that kind of play. … One of the things we have just started to do is fund or scholarship other elite play programs, for the simple reason that we realized what we are doing for free is not big enough."
Regarding pace of play, Manfred said many fans might be surprised to know that MLB is "experimenting with shorter commercial breaks. It obviously has a revenue impact for us. And with creative ideas for advertising during the broadcasting that may make up for that revenue. I think it's important for fans to understand, however, that it's not just the game on the field we are looking at."
Another on-field dynamic that Manfred addressed is baseball's "unwritten rules," which seem to become a point of conflict any time a player flips his bat or takes his time rounding the bases. In Manfred's mind, any change to baseball's "code" will come from the players.
"The unwritten rules have always been something that were developed and generally enforced by our players," Manfred said. "As our workforce has become younger and more diverse, there has started a conversation about whether all these unwritten rules make sense. I really do believe that the conversation is going to result in some changes."
On Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. ET, tune in to the 2017 All-Star Game presented by Mastercard live on FOX, and during the game visit MLB.com to submit your choice for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet via the 2017 MLB All-Star Game MVP Vote. The 88th All-Star Game, in Miami, will be televised nationally by FOX, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 160 countries via MLB International's independent feed. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB.com, MLB Network and SiriusXM will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com and a baseball writer since 1990. Follow him @Marathoner and read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com/blogs hub. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.