HLS Alum Elected MLB's Next Commissioner

After a sustained holdout by a contingent of Major League Baseball owners, Harvard Law School graduate Rob Manfred, J.D. ’83 was unanimously elected the tenth MLB commissioner on Aug. 14. Currently serving as the MLB’s chief operating officer since September of last year, Manfred will assume his new post as the representative of the MLB’s interests in the place of outgoing commissioner Bud Selig on Jan. 25 of next year. 

The former lawyer beat out Tim Brosnon, MLB’s executive vice president of business, and Boston Red Sox chairman, television executive, and Harvard College graduate Tom Werner ’71 following a four-and-a-half hour long closed session.

While the final tally may have been unanimous in favor of Manfred, the initial contested ballots were all but that. For the first time in 46 years, the votes of the owners were split between three, then two candidates, divided enough so that none of the prospective nominees earned 23 of the 30 tallies necessary to earn election.

On the sixth secret ballot, Manfred received the 23 votes necessary for election after oscillating between 20 and 22 votes for the first five, and the MLB owners chose to make that vote unanimous in the final vote as a sign of unity.

A labor and employment lawyer by trade, Manfred worked with the MLB during collective bargaining negotiations beginning in the late 1980’s and notably served as outside counsel for the owners during the 1994-1995 seven-month strike. Shortly thereafter, Manfred spent 15 years as MLB’s executive vice president of labor relations and human resources before climbing the ladder until becoming its CEO and earned Selig’s endorsement as his successor.

Though Manfred has been criticized for the MLB’s handling of the recent Biogenesis performance enhancing drug use scandal, his experience and success in helping negotiate major labor deals over the past decade has inspired confidence in Selig and the majority of the MLB owners. Chief holdouts among ownership have cited their desire for a commissioner that would take a harsher stance in labor negotiations, especially with the current collective bargaining agreement set to expire after the 2016 season.

But beyond the looming negotiations on the horizon that Manfred has much experience in dealing with, the next commissioner has a slew of other issues to tackle right off the bat. Chief among those is the MLB’s approach to performance enhancing drug use and the owners’ desire for harsher penalties, an issue that Manfred has much experience in dealing with as a major player in obtaining the approval of the players’ union for the sport’s first drug testing agreement in 2002. 

However, other systemic issues must be dealt with as well. The length of MLB games has been a sticking point with fans across the country while viewership has declined. In light of the need to inspire interest for the sport in America’s youth, Manfred was in Williamsport, Penn. to watch the Little League World Series and was interviewed by ESPN on site.

At the ownership level, Manfred must also continue to deal with the expansion and definition of the usage of instant replay technology as well as the chronic stadium issues that afflict the Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays. While both teams have consistently remained competitive in the face of low payroll and stadium conditions that sometimes house more than just the players, the issue must be dealt with sooner rather than later. 

—Staff writer Caleb Lee can be reached at caleblee@college.harvard.edu.

Tags