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Has MASN dispute affected Baltimore's chances of hosting All-Star Game? Rob Manfred says no

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred on Tuesday sharply denied that the ongoing Mid-Atlantic Sports Network dispute over TV rights fees and ownership in the Orioles-operated network has affected Baltimore’s chances of hosting the All-Star Game.

Speaking at a Baseball Writers' Association of America event Tuesday morning, Manfred opened his comments by remarking on the excitement of Monday’s Home Run Derby at Nationals Park, won by Washington’s Bryce Harper, and how the District has been a superb host of baseball’s midseason showcase event.

This year marked Nationals Park’s first All-Star Game — and also the 25th anniversary of Camden Yards’ only season as host. With most of the game’s new ballparks having hosted in recent years — Miami’s Marlins Park, San Diego’s Petco Park, Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park, Minneapolis’ Target Field and New York’s Citi Field all hosted before Nationals Park this year — the All-Star Game rotation is returning to parks that have already hosted the event. Cleveland’s Progressive Field will host in 2019, and Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium in 2020.

Meanwhile, the Orioles remain embroiled in a dispute with the Nationals. Orioles ownership has made attempts to resolve the impasse, including a meeting with the commissioner in New York before this season.

An agitated Manfred said Tuesday that the dispute has played no role in Baltimore’s not receiving the All-Star Game, an event that would have a substantial economic impact on the city.

“I have not made one decision in my entire time as commissioner related to the Baltimore Orioles that was based on whether or not the MASN litigation was ongoing,” Manfred said. “I know there are some people who have perpetuated this idea. We have treated Baltimore exactly the same as the other 29 clubs since this dispute began. And, as a matter of fact, we have probably treated them more fairly in a number of important respects — or more leniently than more fairly, is what I mean.

“So whether or not there’s an All-Star Game in Baltimore depends on whether Baltimore gets organized and submits a bid that would be compelling for an All-Star Game, just like any other team.”

Manfred, who during the session acknowledged his role as dealmaker, said he has little control over resolving the dispute. The Orioles and MASN have argued that MLB’s Revenue Sharing Definitions Committee, comprised of of three major league owners, cannot make a fair decision, but their efforts to get an independent arbiter have been unsuccessful. The new RSDC panel is scheduled to meet in November, but if that panel decides against the Orioles, the team could appeal and continue its search for a resolution, now in its sixth year.

Manfred said he’s “just along for the ride on this unfortunate boat trip.”

“I think it’s important that at the end of the litigation that took place in the New York court, the most important thing that was determined was that the original agreement of the parties must be upheld, and the most important aspect of that is that the Revenue Sharing Definitions Committee is the body that the body that the parties agreed would settle this dispute,” Manfred added. “It might be now that I might prefer or [Orioles owner] Mr. [Peter] Angelos might prefer or [Nationals owner] Mr. [Ted] Lerner might prefer a neutral arbitrator, the Supreme Court or who knows? But the fact of the matter is that what the court said is that you made an agreement that the RSDC was going to decide this issue, and we’re back in front of the RSDC, and they have the responsibility to decide this issue.”

When the Orioles and MLB first agreed on the settlement allowing the Nationals to move within the Orioles’ region, the detrimental effect of moving a club within 40 miles of Baltimore was well acknowledged. If the Orioles lose the dispute, it would affect every facet of their operation, from ticket prices to team payroll, and the team fears it might no longer be economically sustainable in its market.

The Orioles contest that the commissioner, effectively serving as CEO of MLB, can play a bigger role in settling the dispute through an independent arbiter. Manfred doesn’t see that as the case.

“First and most important, what I want is really irrelevant, because it’s an agreement between the two clubs and MASN,” Manfred said. He added: “I think, if you ask me what’s important as a matter of principle, there are two things. I’m a big guy on agreements. If you live up to your agreements, you go a long way in life. Believe me, I’ve made good ones and I’ve made bad ones, but I think just that there is something that has inherent value in living up to the agreement that was made, so that’s the first point I’m going to make.”

eencina@baltsun.com

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