My latest for ESPN: EXCLUSIVE: Rob Manfred doesn't hate baseball, he wants to save it. "Yeah, here's the problem," Manfred told me. "When you acknowledge there's something wrong with the game, that turns you into a hater of baseball." espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/3413… ⚾🧵

Jun 29, 2022 · 12:06 PM UTC · OneUp App

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I asked Manfred the question some baseball fans ask every day on social media: "Do you hate baseball?" "It is the most ridiculous thing, among some fairly ridiculous things that get said about me," he told me. "That one does rub me the wrong way, I have to tell you the truth.”
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"How many hours of baseball do you watch in a week?" I asked Manfred. "So, let me count nights. I would say that I probably watch in the evening, at least four nights a week -- a game or games. So there's 12 hours and I always have it on in the office. So, in excess of 20 hours."
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"And when you watch baseball as a fan, what's your biggest aggravation?" "I think the same sort of sentiments that we hear from our fans in terms of pace of the game," he says. "I think the pace issue, the action issue, is more acute in a broadcast than it is at the ballpark."
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Average game length this season is 3 hours, 5 minutes. Manfred isn't the only one frustrated by baseball's slow pace. So are many owners. "The game has changed and it has changed for the worse," Cardinals owner William O. DeWitt Jr. says. "The game needs fixing. It's just slow."
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Manfred told me he's in favor of MLB pitch clocks and the elimination of the shift, likely in 2023, and robo-umpires, as early as 2024. "This is not a Rob Manfred crusade," he says. "These are, you know, research-driven views that any business would have to pay attention to."
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I asked Manfred to name the one decision he'd like to have back. He laughed. "I have to narrow it down to one?" he says. "You know, I think people who can't admit they've made mistakes, particularly in a job like this, are a little dangerous." He named several errors he regrets.
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From the Field of Dreams game and Cooperstown to Citi Field and MLB HQ, Manfred sat with me for lengthy interviews: "I hope that we undertake initiatives that result in baseball being passed down to the next generation," he says, "the way it was passed down to our generation."
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Manfred discussed his love of baseball as a kid playing Little League, his mentorship by Bed Selig, steroids & the Biogenesis scandals, how he got the top job, his handling of the 2017 Astros signs-stealing scandal, the 99-day lockout and his big smile as he canceled Opening Day.
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And Manfred acknowledged that a major part of his job is serving as a buffer for 30 billionaire owners: "Look, who the hell am I? I don't have $2 billion invested in a team. I'm just a guy trying to do a job. I mean it... I believe [the owners] deserve that layer of protection."
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Still to come, Manfred says: Expansion, to 32 teams. MLB is making a $40 million annual investment to grow the game among children. And most owners are thrilled with his job performance, giving him sky-high marks. His $17.5 million-a-year contract expires after the 2024 season.
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Does Manfred feel misunderstood by fans? "Like every human being, I would like people to have a positive impression of me and the job I do. But I try not to worry about what people say too much because you get caught up in that and it affects your decision-making process."
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Manfred on his legacy: "I want to make sure we get baseball back to at least where we were, if not even better." He's looking for buy-in from players, some of whom don't like him and the proposed rules changes, in visits to all 30 league clubhouses. He has already visited half.
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But in the end, Manfred told me with a laugh, most fans will likely remember him as "that crazy guy in New York" who couldn't stop messing with baseball: "That's going to be on my tombstone: 'He tinkered with the game until they got rid of him.'" espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/3413… /end
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