Manfred's mother, a school teacher, was a union member. His father was an executive for Revere Copper and Brass, a company that had a bitter relationship with its unionized work force. It's not difficult to imagine that Manfred's success as a negotiator was forged early as he developed an uncommon ability to see both sides of even the thorniest issues.
Manfred gradually became a power broker in the MLB Commissioner's Office. First as an outside counsel who worked on collusion cases beginning in the late 1980s, then on collective bargaining in 1989-90, followed by working closely with Bud Selig, then the head of MLB's executive council, on baseball's first efforts at revenue sharing.
||Years in office
|Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis
|Albert Benjamin "Happy" Chandler
|Ford Christopher Frick
|General William D. Eckert
|Bowie Kent Kuhn
|Peter Victor Ueberroth
|A. Bartlett Giamatti
|Francis T. Vincent Jr.
|Allan H. "Bud" Selig
|Robert D. Manfred Jr.
Selig and Manfred became close in those years, with Manfred returning to help with the collective bargaining of 1994. The settlement contained an agreement on revenue sharing, which became one of Selig's triumphs after he became acting Commissioner in 1992. The program has been expanded since then, creating not only competitive balance but also unprecedented labor peace.
"Rob understood what I thought," Selig told Sports Business Journal earlier this year. "I knew we had to change and do things differently than we had, and he picked up on that."
When Selig became the full-time Commissioner in 1998, one of the first people he reached out to was Manfred, who came on board to be in charge of labor relations.
Manfred was MLB's chief negotiator in 2002, '06 and '11, and under Selig's leadership, he not only continued to widen the scope of revenue sharing but also got the MLB Players Association to agree to mandatory drug testing for the first time. The Joint Drug Agreement, too, has been expanded and is now regarded as the best among all professional sports leagues.
Manfred was also Selig's point man on the Biogenesis investigation that led to the suspension of 14 players, including the season-long suspension of star Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez. He also played a role in expanded instant replay, rule changes involving home-plate collisions, the Dodgers' bankruptcy and sale, and negotiations with the World Umpires Association, among other vital industry issues.
"He's been a very good resource for [Selig]," Blue Jays president and CEO Paul Beeston told SBJ. "Rob's got a highly organized mind, and always seems to know what's going on. And he's not afraid of an argument. Rob was able to see the union as adversaries, but not the enemy. That's an important and fundamental difference. He crossed that bridge, and the labor stability we now have is in large part due to the relationships he formed."
"Rob has the ability to understand that even when it's raining, it's not always going to be raining," said Alan Rifkin, outside counsel for the Orioles. "That is precisely the right attitude to have in such a complex structure ... and something that only comes from a seasoned negotiator such as him."
"I enjoy dealing with him," Athletics owner Lew Wolff said. "He tries very hard to be balanced, and my experience has been very positive. You get the sense he's trying to be fair to everybody."
Michael Weiner, executive director of the MLBPA until his death last year, was complimentary of Manfred and his chief deputy, Dan Halem, after the latest round of bargaining was completed in 2011.
"The negotiators for management displayed remarkable respect for the collective bargaining process, remarkable respect for the union and remarkable respect for the union's members and for the players," Weiner said. "As a union negotiator, you can't ask for anything more than that from your managing counterparts."
Manfred was promoted to chief operating officer last September. Getting to that point required a lot of hard work, a strong record of proven accomplishment ... and just a little bit of serendipity.
Manfred began his college career at Le Moyne College in Syracuse. Although a career in baseball was in his future, tennis was his early passion and he was good enough to make the varsity as a college freshman.
Manfred transferred to Cornell University after his sophomore year, graduating from the School of Industrial and Labor Relations in 1980. He applied to law school but was uncertain if he wanted to attend. And when Manfred was offered a position with Union Carbide in Texas City, Texas, to be part of the corporation's collective bargaining team, he at first leaned toward accepting it.
But two things happened. Manfred visited Texas City, an area devoted to the petroleum industry. And when he returned, there was an acceptance letter from Harvard Law School in his mailbox. He opted to continue his studies.
Manfred became articles editor at the Harvard Law Review and learned from famed Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox. He graduated cum laude in 1983. After graduation, Manfred clerked for U.S. District Court Judge Joseph L. Tauro in Massachusetts, then accepted a position with the labor and employment law section of Morgan, Lewis and Bockius, LLP -- MLB's longtime legal firm -- in Washington, D.C. He became a partner in 1993.
Manfred, who now lives outside New York with his wife, son and three daughters, went to work for MLB five years later and quickly became one of Selig's closest and most trusted lieutenants. Now he will be the sport's highest executive.
And the best part is that, like baseball itself, the story of Manfred's rise all starts at home.