The Kalb Report: Inside Baseball with the Commissioner

A decision on reinstating Pete Rose to Major League Baseball (MLB) will be made by the end of the year, said Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred to host Marvin Kalb during the 22nd season opener of The Kalb Report on September 28.

“His requests, or various requests, for reinstatement have been out there for a long time. He’s entitled to a definitive decision, and I’m going to give him one,” Manfred said of one of the most contentious, long-standing controversies of the game.

Rose, one of the great ball players of all time, was drummed out of Major League Baseball in August 1989 amid accusations that he gambled on baseball games while playing for and managing the Cincinnati Reds. He is still the all-time Major League leader in hits, games played, at bats, singles, and outs. At 71 years old, Rose is hoping to have the ban lifted, making him eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Manfred, who became Commissioner in January, told Kalb that he will not necessarily follow his predecessor Bud Selig’s lead in maintaining Rose’s ineligibility. “I don’t think that I’m prepared to say, or you should think, that I share [Selig’s] judgment with respect to Pete Rose,” Manfred said. “I haven’t made up my mind yet about Mr. Rose, and when I do there will be a public decision.”

In a wide-ranging discussion with Kalb, who claims to be one of baseball’s biggest fans, Manfred said he is looking to expand the 30-team league—possibly in Canada, and into Mexico for the first time.

“Mexico, I think, presents a tremendous opportunity for baseball,” he said. “It’s a country where baseball is part of its culture. There would be a really significant broadcasting opportunity. And maybe most important, I think, a team in Mexico would help baseball engage the Hispanic audience in the United States in a way that we’ve not always been as successful as we wish we were.”

But adding a 31st team in Mexico would require adding a 32nd team somewhere to keep the number of teams even, he said. And while Cuba is now opening up and has a tremendous baseball culture, the country would have to undergo major economic development before a franchise there would be possible.

“I don’t think Cuba would be in a position right now to support a major league franchise,” he said. “But at some point down the road…. We love markets where baseball’s part of the culture.”

So that leaves a market in Canada, which already boasts the Toronto Blue Jays, as the most likely international site for a 32nd team, he said, although he didn’t say where.

Manfred covered a lot of bases during the course of the evening. He talked about these issues:

  • The designated hitter rule—He denigrated the idea of eliminating the American League rule, despite Kalb’s repeated prodding, saying each league must maintain its own identity.
  • Chewing tobacco—It’s difficult to ban it because the players won’t accept that in contract negotiations. Nevertheless, he advocates a ban.
  • The number of games in the playoffs—Manfred insisted the number is just right and does not need to be expanded or contracted.
  • Reviewing plays from the video command center—Umpires reviewing controversial calls on the field by watching on special slow-motion monitors in New York has been a “huge plus” for the game, because “our research suggested that fans overwhelmingly wanted us to use the best available technology to get important calls on the field correct.”
  • Major League Baseball.com—Manfred said that the website, which provides news for each of the teams, has been a major money-maker for MLB. This year it distributed $300 million to the teams after expenses. He added that the content on MLB.com is as independent as it would be in the regular news media.

Kalb asked Manfred to explain to the audience from his own heart and soul what it is about baseball that creates this link with the heart and soul of the country. Manfred thought for just a moment, then waxed eloquent.

“I remember the first time. My first ball game was at Yankee Stadium. It was on August 8, 1968. I remember walking into that ballpark. I was 10 years old, and the ballpark opened in front of me. And it was a magical moment that I will never forget. That day at Yankee Stadium, Mickey Mantle, who was my hero, hit two home runs. And it turns out that it’s the last time he ever hit two home runs in a game. And if they hadn’t taken my phone away from me before [going on air with you], I would show you the video of those two home runs, because I carry it with me on my phone.”

About The Kalb Report

The Kalb Report is a series of forums on ethics and excellence in journalism co-produced by the National Press Club Journalism Institute, University of Maryland University College, the George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs, Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center, and the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at University of Maryland. For the 13th consecutive year, the series is underwritten by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.