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One year in, Manfred loves being Commissioner

January 25, 2016

Rob Manfred's first year has flown by. If there has been a surprise for baseball's 10th Commissioner, perhaps that is it."It feels like it just started," he said.Actually, Manfred celebrated his first anniversary on the job Monday. One year in, he loves it, loves it more than perhaps he could

Rob Manfred's first year has flown by. If there has been a surprise for baseball's 10th Commissioner, perhaps that is it.
"It feels like it just started," he said.
Actually, Manfred celebrated his first anniversary on the job Monday. One year in, he loves it, loves it more than perhaps he could have imagined. He sees it as much a privilege as a responsibility.
"It is the greatest job in the world," he said. "This is the greatest game in the world, probably one of the greatest American institutions."
Manfred stepped into the office as prepared as anyone could have been, having worked in and around baseball for three decades, including 12 years as chief labor negotiator and 15 months as chief operating officer.
Manfred was one of previous Commissioner Bud Selig's confidants and a trusted voice on every important issue. He was elected Commissioner on Aug. 14, 2014, and then last January 25, the job was his. Manfred sprinted into it with an array of initiatives regarding youth baseball, diversity, technology and pace of play.
Beyond all of that, Manfred has attempted to balance moving the game forward while respecting its history.
"The idea that you have an opportunity to lead an institution like that to help form what its history is going to be going forward and to work with a group of 30 that are as outstanding as the group of owners we have right now is really an honor," he said. "Every single day I wake up and think I'm lucky to be able to do this."
Manfred has praised baseball's owners for their "collegiality" in dealing with difficult issues. Likewise, they appreciate what Manfred has brought to the table.
"I think he's doing a great job," Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said. "The reason I supported Rob is that he's a not a big-market guy, he's not a small-market guy. He tries to listen to everyone's concerns.
"He tries to do what he feels is right for the industry as a whole. He tries to help everybody out and doesn't focus on one side or the other. He's great at that, always has been."
In Manfred's first year on the job, he met with players from all 30 teams, promising to listen to their concerns. He also promised that baseball would promote its biggest stars, emphasizing both their exploits on the field and contributions in their communities.
Manfred's first season was one in which the Astros, Mets, Blue Jays and Cubs returned to the postseason and the Royals won the World Series for the first time in 30 years. In addition, there was an impressive new generation of talent on the field in the likes of Kris Bryant, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor and Noah Syndergaard. Television ratings soared during a postseason that delivered on every level.
Baseball's embrace of technology has been perhaps the largest backdrop of Manfred's first year. He understands that fans are engaged on almost every level, from accessing HD video and statistics on mobile devices to the use of Statcast™, which tracks the movements of players on the field and offers "the sort of information we think will draw people deeper into the game."
"What fans want is not just to watch the game now," Manfred said. "While they're watching, they probably have some other device going, and that other device is ideally suited to provide them with access beyond the traditional play of the game they're watching.
"Social media is an opportunity to provide our fans with that type of access. 'Fan engagement' is a buzzword we all talk about all the time. But the purpose of a lot of this information is to allow the fan to understand the game better."
Also in Manfred's first year:
• Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association committed $30 million to youth baseball programs.
• Fifteen teams will have in-market streaming of games on phones, tablets and other devices thanks to a three-year deal with Fox Sports. Negotiations with carriers of the remaining teams are ongoing.
• There will be live streaming of 125 games and other programming into mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau thanks to an agreement with Le Sports.
Apart from the day-to-day duties of the job, Manfred's love of the game is enduring. He grew up an hour from Cooperstown in upstate New York and can't remember a time when baseball didn't occupy part of his heart and soul.
In the cold of this offseason, it's the games Manfred misses, the nightly reminder of why the job is special.
"We feel good about the season we had last year from a competitive perspective, and I really can't wait to get going on 2016," he said. "It's kind of interesting. You think you're busy and whatnot, but I miss the games being played more now than in my old job. It's an interesting thing, and I'm anxious to get going again."
Manfred has prided himself on attempting to give a voice to all 30 owners and to try and understand their concerns.
"I've tried to be as transparent and encouraging of open debate as possible," he said, "and the 30 owners have responded to that in the absolutely most positive fashion possible. They've really been outstanding. That's been great."
Manfred's second year will be focused largely on getting a new collective bargaining agreement with the players. The current agreement expires after the season. Baseball hasn't had a work stoppage in 21 years, and while the game has enjoyed explosive growth in that time, difficult issues are on the table, among them revenue sharing, compensatory Draft picks, qualifying offers and an international draft.
"We're dealing with some of the most difficult and divisive topics," Manfred said. "But the collegiality [among our group] makes me feel good about the processes and changes we've put in place."

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U.