CINCINNATI — The RBI World Series is one of commissioner Rob Manfred’s personal points of emphasis.
That’s why Manfred made the trip to Cincinnati for the baseball finals Monday at the P&G Reds Urban Youth Academy in Roselawn. RBI stands for Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities.
“It’s the single most important thing we’re doing,” Manfred said. “This is part of a larger initiative that we refer to as ‘Play Ball.’ It’s directed at ensuring that baseball gets passed along to the next generation, so that we have fans like we have today 20 years from now.
“It’s about our future.”
Manfred knows that Major League Baseball has fallen behind the NFL in television ratings and general fan interest.
One reason cited is parity. The NFL generates huge revenue from TV, merchandising and the like that is evenly distributed. Add in a salary cap, and every team has a chance to win every year, based on how well the franchise is run.
Baseball has a great disparity in what teams get from local TV revenue. The national revenue is a drop in the bucket compared with the NFL. That makes attendance most important. And there’s no salary cap.
Thus you hear the term "small market" often when referring to teams like the Reds. You never hear it with the Bengals.
When things go badly for the Reds as they did in 2014 and ’15, it leads to a period of rebuilding — like the one the Reds are currently in. Atlanta and Philadelphia are going through the same thing.
Manfred is not concerned.
“There have always been cycles of rebuilding baseball,” he said. “I don’t think it’s any different today than it’s ever been. You had some teams that went with payrolls that were really stripped down and got a lot of draft choices …. I understand that dynamic.
“But it you think about it, it’s self-regulating. The more people who try to do it, the less successful that strategy is going to be.”
The Philadelphia 76ers of the NBA have been accused of tanking it — well, actually they admit it — to get high draft picks.
“I don’t believe our teams tank,” Manfred said. “I think our teams make decisions that are designed to be competitive over the relevant time period. Not everybody can be in first place every moment every year. Teams make decisions to put themselves in the best position to compete.”
Other topics that Manfred touched on during his visit:
— Allowing the Reds to honor Pete Rose: “I do think it was a good moment for baseball. The Reds were anxious to honor Pete. He’s one of the great players in the game. I felt that they should be allowed to do that. Those sort of ceremonial activities do not present the kind of threat to the game that day-to-day involvement with play on the field does. When you have a penalty like the one that was imposed upon Pete, you have to think about what that penalty was designed to accomplish and make sure you’re not applying the penalty more broadly than it needs to be applied.”
— The P&G Urban Youth Academy: “We’ve had six academies that now have opened. We’re really proud of all of them. But you can say that there’s none that is better than Cincinnati. The Reds, Procter and Gamble really have created a first-class facility. It’s one that everyone in Major League Baseball can be proud of.”
— Pace of play: “(It’s) going to remain something that’s high on our radar screen. Three-hour games aren’t good for the sport moving forward. We have owners meeting next week in Houston. We’re going to talk about how the game has changed. The one thought to bear in mind: People talk about leaving the game alone as opposed to making rule changes. I don’t really think about it that way. The fact of the matter is the game has changed in terms of the way that’s it is played. The question is: Are we going to manage it a little more closely to make sure that product is as good as it can be on the field?”
— Baseball and softball returning to the Olympics: “I think baseball belongs on the Olympic program. There are large chunks of the world where baseball is the most popular game. The Olympics are doing the right thing by trying to include baseball and softball. The logistics remain an issue that we’re going need to spend some time on in terms of availability of players. We have some meetings set up.”