Robert D. Manfred, Jr. was elected as the 10th Commissioner in the history of Major League Baseball on August 14, 2014 by vote of the 30 Major League Clubs. He officially became the sport’s leader on January 25, 2015. On November 15, 2018, Club owners re-elected Manfred to another five-year term through the 2024 season.
Since Manfred began as Commissioner, MLB reached a new five-year collective bargaining agreement, continuing the sport’s unprecedented era of 26 consecutive years of labor peace through 2021, and a landmark transaction in which The Walt Disney Company acquired a 75% stake in BAMTech, a leading technology platform and video streaming company created by MLB. Manfred has overseen the development of closer relationships with youth baseball and softball organizations and has allocated new resources toward improving MLB’s presence in the amateur ranks. He began MLB’s signature youth participation program, PLAY BALL, a partnership with USA Baseball and USA Softball that encourages both traditional and casual play. PLAY BALL has resulted in meaningful increases in baseball and softball participation, per the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA). Over the last four years, baseball has added 2.7 million new participants, a 52.8% increase in casual participation, and overall, baseball saw the highest growth of any major sport. Now with more than 25.6 million participants, baseball and softball combine to be the most participated team sport in the United States.
Manfred has prioritized sustaining the game’s international growth. In 2016, MLB returned to Cuba for the first time since 1999 as the Tampa Bay Rays played an historic exhibition game vs. the Cuban National Team on March 22nd at Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana, jointly attended by President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro. In 2018, MLB staged regular season games in Puerto Rico and Mexico. In 2019, MLB opened its regular season in Japan, played multiple series in Mexico and held an historic June series in London, which were the sport’s first games ever played in Europe. Under Manfred’s leadership, MLB has also taken the game to non-traditional domestic locations with groundbreaking events in recent seasons at Fort Bragg, North Carolina; in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, home of the Little League World Series; and in Omaha, Nebraska, home of the NCAA’s Men’s College World Series. In August 2021, MLB plans to hold a regular season game at the famed Field of Dreams site in Iowa, celebrating the beloved baseball film.
In 2020, Manfred oversaw the successful completion of a season impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, prioritizing health and safety in its operations and creativity on and off the field. MLB became the first sports league to start and finish a season during a pandemic, doing so in its home markets. The 2020 season included a streak of 59 consecutive days without a positive test among players; a positivity rate of 0.05% among Major League players and staff; and a schedule with 99.8% of its 900 games played, missing only two games that had no Postseason ramifications.
Prior to being elected Commissioner, Manfred had served as MLB’s Chief Operating Officer since 2013, managing the Commissioner’s Office in New York on behalf of Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig. From 1998-2013, Manfred served as Executive Vice President, overseeing labor relations, economics and league affairs and directing all collective bargaining with the MLBPA. Competitive balance has been a hallmark of MLB the last two decades, as there have been 14 different World Series Champions in the last 20 seasons, the most variety of champions in professional sports during that span. In addition, no Club has repeated as a World Champion since 2000, an active streak that is the longest in the history of not only MLB, but all professional sports. Manfred also represented MLB on all upgrades to the game’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, the toughest in American professional sports.
Under Manfred’s leadership, MLB has formed core partnerships with Boys & Girls Clubs of America, the Jackie Robinson Foundation and Stand Up To Cancer. In 2020, Manfred corrected a longtime mistake in the game’s history by conferring Major League status on the Negro Leagues, allowing future generations to more easily learn about this pivotal chapter and its meaning to the sport. Manfred has served as a member of the Board of Directors of the Sports Lawyers Association and the Partnership for Clean Competition. He currently serves on the Board of DREAM, a nonprofit that uses the power of teams to inspire youth to recognize their potential. In April 2016, Manfred received the Judge William B. Groat Award from his alma mater, honoring outstanding professional achievement and service to Cornell’s ILR. In November 2017, Manfred received the Jacob K. Javits Lifetime Achievement Award from the Greater New York Chapter of the ALS Association for MLB’s efforts against Lou Gehrig’s Disease. In 2021, Manfred established MLB’s new annual Lou Gehrig Day to continue the game’s support in the fight against ALS.
Manfred is a 1980 graduate of the School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR) at Cornell University. In 1983, he received his law degree magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, where he was an articles editor of the Harvard Law Review. Manfred was a part of the Labor and Employment Law Section of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, LLP, and became a partner in the firm in 1992.
Manfred, a native of Rome, New York who was born in 1958, has been married to his wife Colleen since 1982. The New York residents have four adult children.
Moderator: John Ourand, Staff Writer, Sports Business Journal