Manfred on Deck

MLB commissioner-elect shaped by lifetime of labor influence
Thursday, November 20, 2014

For Robert D. Manfred Jr. '80, the road to the top of America's pastime has been a lifetime in the making.

Next, he steps up to the plate, taking the reins as commissioner of Major League Baseball Jan. 26.

It begins a new chapter in a life and career shaped by labor relations.

Manfred grew up in the small city of Rome, N.Y., the 'Copper City,' once an industrial hotspot that manufactured many of the country's copper products.

During his upbringing in the 1960s and early 1970s, he witnessed the erosion of regional and state manufacturing bases.

At home, he was surrounded by a blend of labor and employment relations. His mother was a union member as a schoolteacher. His father was an executive for Revere Copper and Brass – a company that had a difficult relationship with its unionized workers.

It is understandable that, from a young age, Manfred became familiar with the complex relationship between labor and executive management, and was able to see both sides of sensitive issues, according to

Transferring into ILR as a junior, he studied a variety of labor and employment topics, while building skills crucial to his future success.

He credits his Cornell ILR School education with preparing him for MLB's management pinnacle.

"The single biggest skill I gained at ILR is the ability to negotiate," Manfred said during a 2013 ILR interview shortly after being promoted to MLB's chief operating officer.

"I have been an effective negotiator because I was well trained in how to get ready to bargain – not only collectively bargain, but negotiate generally. And I am very rigorous to this day about that kind of preparation."

After graduating from ILR, Manfred received his law degree from Harvard Law School and joined the Morgan, Lewis and Bockius law firm. He became a partner in its Labor and Employment Law division where one of his roles was as an outside counsel to MLB – an organization affected by labor disputes throughout its history.

Joining the commissioner's office full-time in 1998, Manfred's knack for diplomacy can be seen throughout his 15-year tenure as MLB executive vice president of labor relations.

The New York Times reported that during this time, "… he proceeded to maintain relative harmony between the owners and players …" while he led negotiations resulting in three new collective bargaining agreements.

Manfred most recently served as the league’s chief operating officer, a role in which he continued to oversee labor relations and serve other executive functions.