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ILR grad Rob Manfred's major league career

Rob Manfred

Major League Baseball Commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr. ’80 got his start in the foothills of the Adirondacks in a small city where copper-bottomed pots and pans were manufactured.

“My interest in labor relations was really a direct result of the community I grew up in,” he said of Rome, New York.

Manfred’s father was an executive at Revere Copper and Brass, which had two collective bargaining units, and his mother was a unionized schoolteacher.

“I had both sides of the labor dynamic in my house,” he said. When labor contracts were being negotiated, “I remember quite vividly how tough that can be on a small community. I was aware of the tension.”

Manfred will receive the ILR School’s Judge William B. Groat Award April 14 in New York City. Also being honored will be investor Jonathan Dolgen ’66, who will receive the Jerome Alpern Award. The awards honor outstanding professional achievement and service to ILR.

Manfred has spent most of his career in Major League Baseball. He directed collective bargaining with players, became the chief operating officer and started as commissioner in 2015.

Through it all, Manfred, who went on to graduate from Harvard Law School after Cornell, says he has trusted his father’s advice: “‘Focus on the job you have now and don’t worry about the next job. It takes care of itself.’ And that’s what I’ve tried to do.”

Many decisions he makes these days are high-profile. They include continuing to ban Pete Rose from baseball, drug testing, organizing the historic baseball game between the Cuban national team and the Tampa Bay Rays, overseeing player discipline, and handling the financials of an industry spawning billions in annual revenue.

ILR taught him to think analytically, he said, and those chances come along often: “The quantitative stats and analytics are absolutely vital to sound decision-making in this economic climate. In today’s workplace, everything begins with good analytics.”

Manfred happily posed on Tower Road for selfies taken by strangers when he returned to campus last year to talk with ILR students, but he opts out of the limelight shone on professional sports.

“When I do things not directly related to day-to-day business, I accept invitations that are important to advancing the game and that serve the sport,” he said, such as recruiting alums at Harvard Law or sitting on a Police Athletic League panel to attract youth to baseball.

At the Groat & Alpern Celebration in New York City, Manfred expects “to talk about the significance of work in people’s lives” and the challenge of finding a way to draw satisfaction from work.

How is that done? Manfred’s amused reply: “Saving that for April.”

Mary Catt, MPS ’14, is assistant director of communications for the ILR School.

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Melissa Osgood