POTSDAM — Major League Baseball’s commissioner-in-waiting, Robert D. Manfred Jr., spent his boyhood growing up in Central New York, but his family tree has deep north country roots stretching to the villages of Potsdam and Norwood.
Manfred, a native of Rome, was named baseball’s 10th commissioner Aug. 14. He will succeed outgoing commissioner Bud Selig when he retires in January.
Although Manfred grew up in Rome, his father, Robert D. Manfred Sr., and his grandfather, Francis H. Manfred, were long-time Potsdam residents.
Robert Sr. was born in Potsdam, graduated from Potsdam High School in 1948 and the chemical engineering major graduated from then Clarkson College of Technology in 1952.
The new commissioner’s grandfather, Francis, was a long-time manager of Kinney’s Drugs on Market Street, Potsdam. The family lived at 6½ Garden Street.
Manfred Sr., 85, who now lives in Sunset Beach, N.C., said he still has fond memories of his childhood growing up in Potsdam, especially of his school days and playing sports.
He said never in his wildest dreams, after starting a family in Rome, did he imagine his son would become the commissioner of Major League Baseball.
He described his son “Robbie” as a talented tennis player and a pretty fair second baseman in Little League.
“He was a good ball player and an excellent tennis player,” Manfred Sr. said. “He played second base in little league and played tennis in high school and college.”
He added, “We sure are proud.”
Etta S. Manfred, Robert Jr.’s aunt, is another Potsdam native with fond memories of the future baseball commissioner when he was a child.
Now living in North Carolina, Etta Manfred said her nephew and son were always close playmates, whether romping around at family events in the north country or in Central New York.
“We called his father Bob and we called him Robbie. But he changed that after he became an attorney,” she joked. “Yes, he and my son Steven played together a lot when we got together in Rome or in Massena, where we lived, for family dinners.”
Robert Sr., was involved in a variety of athletics at Potsdam High School and would go on to play tennis at Clarkson.
“I think going to school were my best memories,” Manfred said. “I played basketball, football and tennis. We had an awful good time there.”
Manfred said the last time he visited his hometown was about eight years ago to attend a friend’s funeral.
“We don’t get up there very much any more,” Manfred said. “It’s been a long time.”
Etta Manfred, whose maiden name is Swan, also graduated from Potsdam High School and married Paul Manfred.
She said most of the Potsdam area Manfred family has either died or moved away, although a cousin, the Rev. Father Donald Manfred, still lives in Massena, where he serves as pastor of Sacred Heart Church, Massena, and St. Lawrence Church, Louisville.
Etta said the last time she saw Robert Jr. was when he attended her husband’s funeral.
“I remember what he told me,” she said, noting he had high praise for her husband.
Although his life is now far removed from his days of playing with his north country cousins, Etta Manfred said her nephew has a proud lineage.
“His grandfather was the manager of Kinney’s in Potsdam, and his great grandfather ‘Henry’ was a tailor in Norwood,” she said.