Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday the strike zone wasn’t the issue in a 20-second interview on Bloomberg with Matt Bai that aired Wednesday and on which the man who is now baseball’s acting boss would only say: “There was more at play than the strike zone.”
Manfred has been accused of missed opportunities on numerous fronts, including by former players at the All-Star Game. He also expressed surprise Wednesday that Houston pitcher Justin Verlander has been so critical of his handling of the Astros-Brewers dispute over a disputed strike zone. Manfred replied, “He obviously has opinions, I am guessing.”
Manfred’s comments to Bai represent the most comprehensive airing yet of an issue that has been followed and speculated about by fans, but barely discussed in the media in recent weeks.
The perceived gap between Verlander and the commissioner raises questions about how the union views a potential strike and when the union should have mobilized. Players could have looked to the warning periods Verlander and others in the World Series criticized as insufficient. But the union, with the backing of the players and amid the fight over whether bargaining priorities should be negotiated ahead of the labor deal, and Manfred have been able to do their jobs.
MLB seeks a split in labor rights – a split that has been embraced by the owners in the NFL and NBA
MLB has won a little over half of arbitration cases since settling for a new system after a 2011 legal battle with the players’ union.
In his interview with Bai, Manfred repeated his defense of baseball’s instincts for doing its own contract talks even as it tries to reduce the union’s influence. Manfred suggested that the 2020 bargaining talks will be more fluid than those led by past owners. The changes being sought by teams that are not unionized, Manfred said, will be shaped and impacted by what teams do in arbitration, hiring staffs, proposing new medical guidelines and other factors.
The gulf between Manfred and Verlander is not the only one between them. The gap between baseball teams and the players’ union has grown to more than a 10-to-1 ratio in salaries. Manfred said he didn’t believe this was a year to be making significant concessions on new contracts.
But he added: “I think we’ve got a good process and are finding something that can really be maintained and refined and adapted in the years to come. We’ve got a group of folks around the table who really want to find a way to work with one another.”
Baseball union chief Tony Clark expressed mixed feelings in a meeting with Bai. After some criticism of Manfred from his public statements at the All-Star Game, Clark admitted that he “understand(s) why a player might feel under fire.”
Bai asked if “frustration is growing within the players’ union about Commissioner Manfred’s approach.” Clark responded: “I think the commissioner was clear from the beginning that he would be guided by certain fundamentals as well as a clear view of the science around the game. And that’s how he’s approaching the whole discussion. He’s gonna be guided by the science and the fundamentals.”
That’s how the whole discussion, Manfred said, “is handled.”