It’s safe to say that MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is coming off a very good week.
Manfred and his operation just capped off a week where they crowned their newest champion, one that can call itself such for the first time in 108 years. And the lead-up to that moment that some have been waiting their whole lives for was nothing short of gold for baseball’s executives in New York.
The Chicago Cubs’ run to their crown saw them play in some dramatic playoff series, while Wednesday’s Game 7 itself had everything, from late-inning suspense no one could script, to a rain delay that kept the fans in both Cleveland and Chicago on edge (plus the record TV audience), to a 10th-inning rally by the Cubs that gave social media literally days worth of content from fans who were so happy some literally broke down.
And what’s happened since the Cubs’ victory has also left Manfred and his associates smiling, too.
After not winning in over a century, Cubs fans all over the country can’t seem to buy enough championship merchandise, while their victory parade on Friday was one of the largest gatherings in not just U.S. history, but human history.
Some pundits have been saying that MLB is on it’s death bed and has been for a while now, but because of recent events it would almost be fair to expect Manfred to come out and deliver a spin on the old Mark Twain quote, stating, “The rumors of baseball’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.”
Putting the Cubs’ World Series run aside for just one second, at the end of September (which was a good month of baseball in it’s own right) the baseball world said it’s farewell to Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully. During that time we were shown numerous tributes and clips looking back on all the great baseball moments he was there for.
But it was almost as if when fans saw those clips, they were reminded of how great the game is and can be. It was like fans rediscovered the vigor they had for the game years ago.
In many ways, you could almost say that the last couple of months of baseball drama and nostalgia culminating in something some thought would never happen has almost sparked a mini-renaissance of sort in the game.
Compound this with the fact that the NFL, now regarded as the king of American sports, seems to be in a sort of identity crisis right now. From it’s heavy regulation of the rules, along with the declining TV ratings due to a number of factors, it’s opened the door for baseball to build some momentum and keep it.
And that’s where the hard work begins for Manfred and MLB. Baseball can’t simply just be happy with long-suffering Cubs fans queued up for their chance to throw handfuls of money at vendors in exchange for championship caps and shirts. The game’s leadership will need to figure a way to turn this mini-renaissance into one with staying power.
This effort will likely require Manfred to engage in some out-of-the-box thinking as far as marketing, social media and the ability to put baseball’s best foot forward to casual fans or a younger generation of fans who are said to have more tepid feelings to the game compared to those who are older.
Is baseball in a perfect state right now? Far from it. According to ESPN.com, the American League Champion Indians averaged just 19,650 fans over the course of the 2016 regular season.
That means Progressive Field averaged just 55.7 percent capacity, and while no one expects a sellout every game over the course of an 81-game home schedule, it’s still a number that needs to improve.
Other times Manfred’s leadership has appeared a bit rudderless, from his changing stance on the designated hitter in the National League, to his various ideas to speed up the game, the commissioner has appeared to have trouble forming a single, cohesive plan for baseball under his tenure.
But despite all this, right now is as good a time as any to showcase the sport to a wide-ranging audience.
The energy surrounding the sport and the passion of the Cubs fans alone could make the most casual of baseball fans embrace the game just a little bit tighter.
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