David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
The Rob Manfred Era began in January, when the former chief operating officer of Major League Baseball replaced longtime commissioner Bud Selig. But the Manfred Agenda, or his imprint on the sport, will take months and years to establish -- with the cooperation of baseball's owners, of course.
This past week, at MLB's offices on Park Avenue, Manfred presided over this group's quarterly meetings. Though there were no pressing matters to resolve, Manfred does have a number of issues percolating, such as the possibility of a 154-game schedule, an increase in minority hiring at the management level, and the likelihood of playing games in Cuba next spring.
Now that Alex Rodriguez is back from his full-season suspension and behaving like a model citizen, Manfred hasn't dealt with much turbulence. That could change as the next collective-bargaining agreement looms -- the current one expires Dec. 1, 2016 -- but that still leaves plenty of time to work on a number of changes.
Here's a list of a few topics of conversation and how Manfred will deal with them.
THE 154-GAME SCHEDULE
Baseball has played a 162-game season since 1962 -- the American League switched from 154 in 1961, when it added the Angels and the second incarnation of the Washington Senators (now the Rangers); the NL followed a year later, when it added the Mets and the Houston Colt .45s (now the Astros) -- but the idea of moving back to the previous model has been gaining momentum in recent months.
Teams -- more specifically, players and managers -- have complained about the more taxing demands of the TV networks, namely the ESPN Sunday 8 p.m. starts and the effect that a preponderance of night games has on travel. Fewer games would permit more days off but also allow playoff expansion, such as adding another round.
Under the current 162-game format, MLB can barely squeeze in the wild-card playoff game, and if the World Series goes seven games this year, a champion won't be crowned until Nov. 4. As you might expect, fewer games would mean less regular-season money -- from stadium gates and TV programming -- so that has to be balanced out.
But the 154-game scenario is being talked about before it winds up on the CBA negotiating table.
"I don't want to get into discussions about our preparation or analysis of those issues," Manfred said. "I'll say this: The 154-game schedule is a huge economic issue. It will require a lot of analysis before we're prepared to bargain a topic like that."
There also is the matter of the sport's single-season records, but the biggest stumbling blocks seem to be financial, as Manfred pointed out.
THE SELIG RULE
The same week that Ron Washington -- who resigned from the Rangers last season because of personal reasons -- was hired by the A's to be a major-league coach, Manfred faced questions about the swift hirings in Milwaukee and Miami after Ron Roenicke and Mike Redmond were fired during the past month. The Brewers and Marlins both chose in-house replacements -- Craig Counsell and Dan Jennings, respectively -- without interviewing any minority candidates first, as the sport's Selig Rule dictates.
After Washington's departure in Texas, that left the Mariners' Lloyd McClendon as the only African-American manager in the majors. But Manfred believes the special circumstances of the firings made it difficult to follow the usual protocol, especially when a team already has someone ready for the immediate transition.
"You have to bear a couple things in mind with respect to the situation that we had," Manfred said. "No. 1, they were in-season changes. Those are always more difficult, because time is of the essence. Point 2, if a club has an internal candidate that they're so sure about that they're willing to forgo the opportunity to interview anyone, forcing people through an interview process really doesn't make a lot of sense.
"Remember, the Selig Rule is only an interview requirement. The idea that a club would make a suboptimal decision with respect to its next manager to avoid the interview requirement makes no sense to me. You have to be realistic in terms of the enforcing of the rule."
Manfred hinted that MLB is exploring a more thorough amendment to the Selig Rule in regards to the process, but he did not provide details.
"I think that the Selig Rule, the interview requirement, is a very important rule," Manfred said, "and we're going to encourage clubs to the extent that it's feasible, to make sure that rule is not only adhered to but scrupulously adhered to.
"But I think we also have some ideas that we're working on that go beyond that rule, and we'll have more to say about that as time goes on. Providing additional support for candidates -- in terms of not only getting an interview but getting a job."
Other than acknowledging that Pete Rose, serving a lifetime ban for gambling, has applied for reinstatement, Manfred has been reluctant to provide much insight into his review of the case. The commissioner stayed that course this past week but did say MLB has been talking with the Reds about what Rose will be able to do during the All-Star festivities in Cincinnati in July.
"We're in conversations with the Reds about the specifics of his involvement at the All-Star Game as it relates to Pete's employment, where he's committed, what he's going to be available for," Manfred said. "It's just a question of nailing the details down."
Rose already has dipped his toe back into baseball in working as a studio analyst for Fox, but his appearance at one of the sport's jewel events no doubt will be a sideshow, especially with the huge media gathering. Still, Manfred did not sound concerned about it.
"The idea that any individual could overshadow the great players that we're going to have at the All-Star Game in Cincinnati is just not something that seems realistic to me," he said.
Manfred sounded confident that MLB could play games in Cuba as early as next spring training, on the heels of the recent thaw in relations between the island nation and the United States. The Orioles played an exhibition game there in 1999, but no team has been back since.
"I'd like to say that we would do something in Cuba this spring," Manfred said. "I still remain optimistic about that."
On the subject of potential expansion -- despite the already shaky footing of the Rays in St. Petersburg -- Manfred doesn't see adding another team in the near future.
"I don't see expansion as a hot topic," he said.
The commissioner was pleased about the pace-of-game initiatives, which have trimmed more than eight minutes from last season's average.
Manfred is hopeful the players and umpires can keep things humming along. He also suggested that replay again could be expanded at some point -- if not for checked swings, which have caused some friction this season, then other smaller instances.
"With respect to replay, where it goes from here," Manfred said, "you're going to see those sorts of changes at the margins, I think."