American sports have a problem. All of them. There are 5 major sporting leagues: MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL, MLS. There are also 5 white, male commissioners, the youngest (and best) of whom is 57. In a time when there are more entertainment options than ever, authenticity and diversity are key. So, naturally, every sport is lead by an old white man. Duh.
In both objective and subjective reviews of the 5 major sports, 2 things become clear. The first is that Adam Silver is . . . actually good at his job. The second is that Rob Manfred is . . . definitely not.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with an old white man having a leadership position. I should make that clear as I lay this out. Anyone who is good at their job is a perfectly acceptable choice for that job. Race, gender, and everything else aside. Just be good at it. That said, diversity can only make things stronger.
- Adam Silver
Adam Silver is doing a good job with the NBA, and is at least providing lip-service to trying to do the same for women’s basketball. The league hasn’t expanded under Silver, but it’s popularity has. Thanks to dynasties and super teams, the league is at it’s most popular since the Jordan era transitioned into Shaq/Kobe. It has weekday games on non-sports channels like TNT. It’s THE sport of Christmas day, airing regular season action on broadcast television all day. Silver also correctly banned Sterling and has not had a work stoppage. Adam Silver, for the purposes of this article, is not a problem.
2. Don Garber
It’s possible, even likely, that Garber deserve the number 1 spot. Rather than list all of his varied accomplishments, I’m going to give you 2 facts. Fact one: There were 10 teams when he took the job, there are 24 now, with 2 more to start soon. Fact two: attendance, league valuations, team valuations, and sponsorships all continue to trend up year over year. Garber might be old and white, but he’s also incredibly good at his job.
3. Gary Bettman
It’s true that hockey fans despise Gary Bettman. That criticism is not entirely unwarranted. He’s seen 3 different work stoppages during his tenure as commissioner. Labor unrest in the NHL remains a problem. He’s also rather terrible at gauging the success of a prospective market, as he moved a team from Winnipeg, gave a team to Atlanta, and then Atlanta failed and moved to Winnipeg. However, for all of that, the league has gone from 26 teams to 31, with a 32nd franchise in the works. Revenue has exploded from $400 million when he started to well over $3 billion now. The Winter Classic is aired on NBC every New Years, and outdoor hockey games haves become a huge draw. And youth participation is up across the United States. He’s not great at it, but he mostly gets the job done.
4. Roger Goodell
Goodell could easily be last. He’d have earned it. So it says a couple of things that he isn’t. For all of the scandals that the league has seen during his tenure, most people just like football and don’t give up on it. He’s seen several different cheating scandals, a player lockout, a referee lockout, burying concussion evidence, the Saints issuing bounties on injuring players . . . and the league has kept rolling through it all. Goodell isn’t dead-last simply because it seems football is an unsinkable ship sometimes, and because Rob Manfred really is THAT bad.
5. Rob Manfred
What’s there to say about Rob Manfred? He’s very hands on. That said, he’s hands on in an irritating, mostly inconsequential way. He spends his days trying to knock a couple of minutes off the average game time, while letting 2 consecutive champions use illegal tech to steal their way to titles. He decides that rather than pay minor league players a decent living wage, it would be better just to get rid of a lot of them. He’s overseen the slowest free agency winter in the history of the sport, and there are plenty of rumors about a work stoppage after the coming season. It’s entirely possible that he doesn’t even like the sport he’s commissioner of.
But seriously, those are the obvious things everyone complains about. Let’s look at some other issues with Manfred.
- Baseball remains the hardest sport in America to access. I’m writing this from Winston-Salem, NC. It’s 350 miles to the nearest major league team. But thanks to the rules, I’ve got not just one, but 4 teams blacked out. The Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals, Baltimore Orioles and Cincinnati Reds are all blacked out live here. How does it grow the game when I have to miss that much of it?
- While Manfred champions expansion, the Florida teams struggle and Oakland plays in a sewer. Miami has a stadium and no fans, and Tampa Bay has a good team, but no stadium or fans. And Oakland frequently floods with sewage. So not only has the league not expanded in nearly 20 years, it’s not even taking care of 3 of it’s own.
- He vehemently denies juicing the ball, but for someone who bills “pace-of-play” as one of his major tenants, the game has slowed to a crawl under him. The action that makes baseball so special is missing. Strikeouts, walks, and home runs have all soared to record highs. Length of game should not be the issue. Action during the game should be. Force the DH into the NL – no offense to Mike Foltynewicz, but no one needs to see him attempt to hit. Go back to a dead ball and let guys learn to hit singles and make diving catches again. Lower the mound. Un-juice the ball. I’m not actually advocating any of those things (except the DH) – just pointing out that those suggestions would at least be looking in the right direction. Make a tweak that improves the on-field product, not the time it takes for a lesser product to unfold.
- The highly touted replay system mostly fails. Either get it right, or do away with it. How is it that you can have a million people watching something on TV all seeing the same thing, but the umpires and people in New York can’t see it?
- On a related note, stop allowing Joe West and other umpires with massive egos to high-jack games.
- Baseball remains incredibly white and incredibly male. Why are there no female managers or GMs, and barely any coaches or team-specific broadcasters? Are there women umpires, and if not, why not? Why are there so few black, Latin or Japanese managers, coaches, broadcasters, etc? How is this not a bigger problem than whether a game lasts 3:06 or 3:08? Other leagues are leaving baseball in diversity – and that’s a great crime for a beautiful game.
- And for Pete’s sake, stop with the dumb format suggestions. No one wants runners on second to start extra innings. No one wants an entirely new playoff system. The fastest way to grow interest in the game isn’t to change the format. Gift-wrapping trash doesn’t make it a present. It’s still trash. The fastest way to grow interest is to make sure that what is happening ON THE FIELD is interesting. And all of Rob Manfred’s interests lie everywhere except the product on the field.
So, yes, baseball has a problem. His name is Rob Manfred. He’s the worst commissioner in American sports. And considering Roger Goodell buried concussions and Gary Bettman has seen 3 different work stoppages – that’s REALLY saying something.