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Rob Manfred says MASN dispute likely to continue after court ruling

During a stop in Aberdeen at the Cal Ripken World Series on Thursday, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred gave a brief update on the dispute between the Orioles and Nationals over MASN television rights. (Tom Brenner/Baltimore Sun)

ABERDEEN — Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday that the television rights dispute between the Orioles and Washington Nationals won't be settled until after a judge hands down a decision in the lawsuit filed in New York by the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network.

Manfred, who had attempted to mediate the dispute between the two ownership groups, toured the site of the Cal Ripken World Series and met with reporters at the Marriott Courtyard Hotel that borders the playing fields.

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Sitting beside Cal Ripken, he took questions on a variety of issues, including Major League Baseball's commitment to promoting youth baseball, the possibility or moving back the midseason trade deadline and the timetable — or lack of one — for deciding which city will host the 2019 All-Star Game.

He said that the court case, through which MASN asked New York Supreme Court Justice Lawrence K. Marks to set aside the decision of an MLB arbitration panel and either settle the dispute himself or send it to a neutral arbitrator, is far enough along that the parties will wait for a decision before determining how to proceed.

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"My own view is that nothing will move until a decision is rendered by that court," Manfred said. "The next step following that decision really will depend on how he rules. We believe that the decision that was rendered [by the MLB arbitration panel] was rendered consistent with the relevant agreements and we're hopeful that the judge agrees with that."

Marks heard arguments on May 18, but Manfred said that he had no idea when the ruling will come. Until it does, he said, the sides remain polarized and there isn't much he can do about that.

"I think what happens in a process like this is you get close enough to a decision that people just say that, 'Hey, we've gone through this whole process; we're going to find out how this plays out,'" Manfred said. "It does take the steam out of the, you know, 'Maybe we can settle this at some point,' and I am at the point where I believe we're going to have to see what happens with the court's decision before there can be meaningful conversation.

"I think the most troubling from my perspective is when you think about the issue in front of the judge. It probably is not going to resolve the matter. Something more is going to happen. That is troubling."

Manfred has long contended that there is no connection between the lawsuit and the fact that Baltimore was passed over when MLB awarded All-Star Games to San Diego (2016), Miami (2017) and Washington (2018). He said Thursday that a decision on 2019 might be well down the road and that he hopes to develop a more comprehensive bidding process to determine future sites.

"We want our All-Star Games to be awarded in a more competitive process where the club and the community come together and present to Major League Baseball a package in terms of available facilities and support that will help make the game a great success," Manfred said.

"I know, because I was a season-ticket holder for a long time, Baltimore has the capacity to present that type of package to Major League Baseball and I'm sure there will be an effort when we get into the process for the games beyond 2018."

With the midseason deadline looming for making trades without waivers, Manfred continues to leave open the possibility that the July 31 date could be pushed back next season because the expanded number of playoff berths has succeeded in keeping more teams in contention longer. Moving the deadline back into August would give some struggling teams more time to decide whether they are still in legitimate contention or should start looking past the current season.

"You now have more teams in the hunt who are in the hunt longer and it's much more difficult for those teams to make a decision whether they want to move players and not move players," he said. "I think those dynamics naturally raise the question of should we move the date back a little bit and give them a little longer to decide. So, I think it will be a topic of conversation this offseason."

Manfred came to Aberdeen during the nine-day 12-and-under tournament to show support for the Ripken youth program and highlight MLB's wide-ranging effort to connect with more kids.

"Youth participation is a really competitive space," he said. "Every sport is trying to make them one-sport athletes. I think over the last 20 years, baseball has probably underinvested in youth efforts, and we have work to do."

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Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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