The 57-year-old commissioner hopes MLB's recent trip to Havana will help improve baseball's—and the country's—relationship with Cuba.
DAN PATRICK:Was this a vacation for you?
ROB MANFRED: Yeah, I was on the beach [laughs]. It was great! No, actually we were very busy in Cuba. We had a full schedule. We did some community events, attended a big youth clinic, and then hosted a luncheon for the congressional delegation. I was also fortunate enough to go to the state dinner on Monday night, and then of course we had the exhibition game [between the Cuban national team and the Rays].
DP:What was the baseball purpose of the trip?
RM: We were asked to play a role in what I regard as a historic effort to begin altering the relationship between the United States and Cuba. We [MLB] do have our own business interest in Cuba. The trip provided us an opportunity to get access to Cuban officials, to get access to important officials in our government and to bring focus to the issue of reforms that would allow players to move safely between Cuba and the United States to play baseball.
DP:What kind of interaction did you have with [Raúl] Castro?
RM: I did not meet the president. We were all at the state dinner but there was not a receiving line so I did not have a chance to meet him. I did spend a considerable amount of time with Fidel [Castro's] son Tony, who's very involved in baseball in Cuba. He's a wonderful guy who has been helpful to us in terms of trying to work through our issues.
DP:Would you ever consider a franchise in Havana?
RM: I think a lot has to happen in Cuba before we would be anywhere near a situation where the economy there could support a major league franchise. I saw a city that has beautiful bones, but it is very much in need of repair and refurbishment. The people are absolutely wonderful. They're warm, they're friendly, and they love baseball. But the infrastructure is in need of a tremendous amount of work.
DP:I heard they [the government] handpicked who could go watch the game.
RM: There's absolutely no question the Cuban government controlled the house in terms of who was going to be in the ballpark. That's the way things work there. That's one of the things we accepted as the price of trying to make progress on the issue of getting players into a position where, if they want to play baseball, they can come here safely and then return to their homeland.
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MICHAEL J. LEBRECHT II FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (PATRICK)
AL TIELEMANS FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (MANFRED)
CLIFF MCBRIDE/GETTY IMAGES (PAYTON)
RON SACHS/POOL/GETTY IMAGES (HILL)
DON JUAN MOORE/GETTY IMAGES (SABAN)