Ira Berkow and Rob Manfred at The Concert Hall
Ira Berkow and Rob Manfred at The Concert Hall

Ira Berkow interviews Rob Manfred for Drew Forum’s In the Game.

Manfred became commissioner last year.
Manfred became commissioner last year.

September 2016 – Speaking at Drew University, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred touched upon a host of topics, including expansion, steroid use, Alex Rodriguez, Pete Rose, pitch limits and how baseball compares to football.

The commissioner grew up as a Yankee fan in upstate New York.
The commissioner grew up as a Yankee fan in upstate New York.

Manfred, a guest of Drew Forum’s In the Game series, sponsored by the Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation, took questions from Pulitzer Prize–winning sports writer Ira Berkow and seven attendees. Also, in a prelude to his appearance, the commissioner met with a class of students studying sports marketing.

James Fiorentino C'99 created the giclée of Mickey Mantle behind Berkow as a gift to Manfred.
James Fiorentino C’99 created the giclée of Mickey Mantle behind Berkow as a gift to Manfred.

It was a full docket and Manfred, a former labor lawyer now in his second year as commissioner, handled it with aplomb. In a nod to the uniform number of Mickey Mantle—his favorite player—here are seven highlights from his talk.

The commissioner doesn’t think A-Rod will mount a comeback. Manfred, who was central to Alex Rodriguez’ season-long suspension for steroid use in 2014 and his reinstatement last year, isn’t expecting him to play again following his farewell as a Yankee last month.

Manfred is okay with Pete Rose being honored for his play but draws the line on lifting his lifetime ban from the game. Why? Because he admitted to betting on baseball—something that impinges the integrity of the sport. So, while he sees no problem with Rose being inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame—or the Baseball Hall of Fame, should the voting writers deem him worthy—he doesn’t plan to reinstate him.

Pitch count limits are a product of players going all-out on each pitch, according to the commissioner. In the past, that wasn’t always the case. Still, Manfred shares Berkow’s frustration of not seeing star pitchers compete late in games. “That’s sort of an issue and it deserves some thought,” the commissioner said.

Manfred envisions expanding the number of MLB teams and suggested Mexico as a host for a new team. Such a move would give the league the international flavor it has lacked since 2005, when the Montreal Expos franchise moved to Washington, D.C. and became the Nationals. In Mexico, “baseball is part of the culture. It could be a great media market for us and I think it would help us domestically in terms of engaging the Hispanic base in America.”

Football beats baseball in TV ratings but baseball is part of America’s culture and has an emotional bond with its fans, Manfred said. If someone plays the game as a child, he’s likely to become a fan as an adult and be passionate about the purity of it. That’s why baseball fans are particularly upset about the impact of steroid use on the game, according to the commissioner.

Steroids are hard to rout out because they work. “When I first started worrying about them, the scariest thing that happened was one of our own doctors said to me, ‘The problem with these things? They work,’” Manfred said. “And if you’re in competitive environment, performance enhancing drugs will always remain a temptation. You’re never going to solve the performance enhancing drugs problem.” Still, MLB remains committed to testing players and publicly penalizing those who test positive.

A drop off in youth playing baseball into their teens, and, in particular, African-American youth, is a problem that Manfred aims to correct. How? By encouraging youth leagues to adopt uniform rules, offering clinics in urban areas, pushing for more scholarship money at the college level and drafting more African-American players.