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  • Nathan Maidi

ILR SBS Interview: MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred Talks 2021 Season

Manfred, an ILR alum, currently serves as the 10th Commissioner of Baseball. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Rob Manfred, an alumnus of Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, first joined Major League Baseball in 1987. The New York native has since held a myriad of roles in the league, including Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. In January 2015, Manfred was named Bud Selig’s successor as the 10th Commissioner of the MLB.

Following last year’s pandemic shortened-season, what are you looking forward to in the coming season?

Looking forward to 2021, I am most looking forward to the return of our loyal fans to the ballparks. Our in-park experience is an important part of what makes our game great and the key to that experience is the fans.

In 2020, MLB teams suffered devastating financial losses totaling nearly $3 billion. How will the industry recover? Do you expect any long-term ramifications?

The losses in 2020 were devastating and our results in 2021 will only be marginally better. The owners, however, are a resilient group and we have a great product that we will continue to provide to our fans.

The 2020 season saw a number of innovative changes to the game, including the implementation of a universal DH, expanded playoffs, and 7-inning double-headers. Which of the changes, if any, do you hope to see in the future?

I see the 7-inning doubleheaders as a COVID-related change that I do not expect to become a permanent part of the game. The fate of the DH in the National League and the expanded playoffs (both of which were popular with fans) will depend on the outcome of collective bargaining.

Kim Ng was recently named general manager of the Marlins, becoming the first woman to hold the position across the four major professional sports leagues in the United States. Having previously worked with Ng, how did you react to the news?

I was very excited by the news for two reasons: First, having a woman GM is a groundbreaking achievement made possible in part by MLB’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. Second, on a personal level, Kim persevered and continued to develop her skills over a long period of time. It is great to see her talent, diligence and hard work rewarded.

What are the biggest challenges facing the MLB?

These are challenging times. Right now, our top priority is keeping our players and employees healthy, delivering games to our fans and making it through to the post-pandemic world.

What are your thoughts on the recent emphasis placed on analytics?

Analytics are an important competitive tool that help Baseball Operations executives understand the game better and produce winning teams. However, rigid adherence to all things analytical can rob the game of some of its charm.

What drew you to the ILR school?

I selected the ILR School because labor relations was a big topic in my youth. My mother was a unionized teacher and my father was an executive who ran a facility with an often difficult, unionized workforce.

How did Cornell prepare you for a career in baseball? If you could do it all over again, what would you do differently?

I have been fortunate to enjoy a great career. While there [are] certainly mistakes I would love to correct, I would choose the same path given the opportunity.

What advice do you offer to undergraduates interested in pursuing a career in baseball?

To pursue a career in baseball it is crucial to develop an area of expertise whether it be analytics, marketing, labor relations or a myriad of other relevant fields.

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