<
>

Rob Manfred's top five priorities

play
Manfred Talks Pace Of Play, Defensive Shifts (1:27)

New MLB commissioner Rob Manfred talks about the pace of play in baseball and potentially eliminating defensive shifts. (1:27)

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred routinely gets letters from Pete Rose loyalists who hope he will take a more forgiving stance than his predecessor, Bud Selig, on the subject of overturning the Hit King's lifetime banishment from baseball. With the All-Star Game set for July in Cincinnati, Rose's quest for reinstatement from Bart Giamatti's 1989 ban is likely to be a hot-button topic this summer.

That said, Rose's case will not be at the forefront of Manfred's "to-do" list.

"I was doing some labor work for baseball when it happened, but I wasn't involved in it,'' Manfred told ESPN.com. "It's always been a commissioner-only issue. I understand I have to get completely conversant and deal with whatever request comes my way from Mr. Rose. I'm just not at a point in time where I can say anything intelligent about it. I do, however, recognize that it's an issue.''

What issues will drive Manfred's agenda now that he's officially in office? In a wide-ranging interview, Manfred mentioned the following five big-picture items that will be front and center during his regime:

1. Youth outreach

"I think youth participation is a huge deal for us," Manfred said. "It's really important that we engage with all segments of amateur baseball from Little League to the NCAA to make sure more young people and the best athletes are playing the game.

"We need to make sure we capture the next generation of fans in a way that baseball has always captured fans. To me, that's about parents and grandparents taking kids to the park at an early age so they learn to appreciate the game and the bonding experience that takes place when a young person goes to an outing like that with a meaningful adult in their lives. My parents took the three of us to Yankee Stadium in 1968 and I will remember that day for the rest of my life. It was the beginning of my passion for the game. I think that dynamic has always been fundamental to the game's popularity and success.

"I see this as two different things. One is about attendance and one is about the talent pool. Our product is compelling when we have the best possible athletes on the field. You do that by making sure the best athletes start and continue to play the game for as long as possible when they're kids. A subsidiary benefit to youth participation is that our studies show a major determinant of fan affinity is when somebody played as a kid. That's when the two points start to come together."

2. Embracing technology

Again, Manfred views this as a two-pronged initiative. MLB tapped into a well of technological advances with the advent of expanded instant replay in 2014. Off the field, baseball is intent on providing compelling content that fans can access via mobile devices no matter where they're watching.

"We own literally one of the great technology companies in America," Manfred said. "When HBO decides it's going to offer an over-the-top product for the first time in history, other than sports, where do they go? They go to MLB Advanced Media to provide the streaming for that product. That's an astounding development. I think it's important we take that great technology company and make sure we apply that technology in ways that enhance the experience of fans in the ballpark, but maybe more importantly, when they engage on television.

"As far as instant replay, it's always hard to say why something was successful. I will tell you there were really good people who engaged in that project in a really thoughtful way. But to me, the single most important thing was that we had the ability to bring the best technology to bear on that product. We did it and we got it right."

3. Pace of play

Baseball tested out a pitch clock in the Arizona Fall League and recently announced that it will continue the experiment in the minors this season. As ESPN.com's Jayson Stark recently reported, MLB also is considering proposals that would tighten the down time between half-inning breaks. Any changes will have to be negotiated between Dan Halem, MLB's chief labor lawyer, and the players' association. But baseball is intent on moving the product along at a brisker pace.

"I think it is incumbent upon us to be responsive to concerns about pace of game," Manfred said. "It will be similar to the way we described the rollout of instant replay in a sense that it will be an ongoing process. Whatever happens in 2015, we'll look at it and be back at it in 2016.

"The fact that we had the guts to do it in the Fall League ... even the most traditional baseball people went to games and said, 'You know what? These games do feel different, and they feel better.'"

4. Strengthening player relations

Manfred is intent on building an even stronger bond between MLB's central office and the players, both in collective bargaining and in day-to-day relations.

"For a product to be popular, people want access," he said. "They want to be able to get at stars. They want to know more than, 'He went 2-for-3 last night.' They want to hear the sounds of the game. The only way you deliver that kind of product is to have a relationship with the players, so they understand the need to engage in a way that's maybe a little different than we did it 10-15 years ago. The way you get them to accept that is to build on the positive relationships we've been able to establish over the last 20 years. It's all about the players at the end of the day. You can't ever lose sight of that, and I won't.

"The players have to understand, when I go to them and say, 'I need you to do X, Y or Z today,' it's not because I'm looking to generate $200,000 more of revenue from that appearance to put in my pocket. It's so we have the people who are going to replace Derek Jeter, so our sport attracts the kind of media companies that are so crucial to our business. To have that kind of attraction, certain groundwork needs to be laid. It's crucial to growing the game day after day. We need to be with the players at all different levels of a great relationship. I am a player guy -- all the time."

5. A more unified business operation

Soon after Manfred was named to replace Selig, MLB announced a series of new job assignments and titles in its central office. Most notably, Tony Petitti will become baseball's chief operating officer, and Bob Bowman is now president of business and media. All the changes were intended to provide a more unified message and easier access for baseball's media partners and sponsors.

"Everything we've done was designed to make baseball one business," Manfred said. "Whether you're dealing with [MLB Advanced Media] or [the MLB Network] or 245 Park Avenue, we are one organization. There's one-stop shopping. Whatever platform you want to be on, come to one place and we're prepared to service you and we're open for business."