By Jasper Scherer – Rob Manfred, the man who makes Major League Baseball tick, hardly thinks about his legacy as the game’s 10th commissioner. He simply goes to work and tries to execute his vision. No time for getting caught up in reputation.
“When you start thinking about things in terms of legacy, sometimes the effectiveness of your day-to-day activities gets reduced,” Manfred told digital editor Aaron Task in the inaugural episode of Fortune’s first podcast, Fortune Unfiltered.
For the show, Aaron sits down with the brightest leaders in business today and explores their journey from visionary to leader. Manfred, the podcast’s first guest, explained how he ended up in charge of Major League Baseball after previously working at a law firm in Washington, D.C.
Manfred’s entry to the sport, as he describes it, was a fluke. After doing well on a pension case — “one of the driest areas of law that you can imagine,” Manfred said — he got rewarded with a more compelling baseball assignment, and eventually joined the league as EVP for labor relations and HR in 1998.
Hear more here: At the time, baseball was still reeling from a series of labor strikes that culminated in the cancellation of the 1994 World Series. But under Manfred, MLB’s collective bargaining guru since he came on board, baseball has achieved more than two decades of labor peace.
“Labor is uniquely important in professional sports because your workforce is also your product,” Manfred said on Fortune Unfiltered.
Aaron spoke with Manfred on June 6, about a month before Disney DIS -0.55% purchased a 33% stake in BAM Tech, the video unit of Major League Baseball’s digital arm, MLB Advanced Media. As technology becomes more and more central to the game – through replay, the whispers of VR and robot umpires, and now various technologies’ stiff competition for children’s attention – Manfred is tasked with leading MLB’s digital revolution.
“I think BAM Tech will become an over-the-top distributor of content,” Manfred said, calling it a “really important hedge against changes in the delivery of content.”
On the podcast, Manfred also said he is most excited about baseball’s youth outreach program, a crucial area when it comes to building fans – but one the league underinvested in for years.
“I think the unique thing about baseball is the values,” Manfred said. “It sounds kind of romantic, but I do continue to believe that things like teamwork, the ability to overcome failure, that are inherent in our sport, are really important lessons for kids, whether or not they turn out to be baseball players. They’re lessons that serve them well no matter what they turn out to be.”
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