CINCINNATI — In the six months since he became baseball’s 10th commissioner, Rob Manfred hasn’t been afraid to confront the sport’s time-tested traditions and embrace the idea of change.
And Manfred continued the trend Tuesday during his first-ever All-Star Q&A session with members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, offering up thoughts on pitch clocks, expanded instant replay, shortening the 162-game schedule, adding more teams to the postseason and expanding into new markets.
The commissioner championed the idea of a 20-second pitch clock being added to baseball in future seasons, citing the positive effect it had in improving pace of play in the Arizona Fall League and this year at the Class AA and AAA levels.
“Interestingly, that experiment not only was successful in terms of the pace of the game,” Manfred said. “It was successful in educating those people involving in the process who — for want of a better term — were anti-clock. They went, they saw games, they saw the way the games played along. … We are really encouraged by the results of that experiment, in terms of how it moves the game along. Now, how quickly that experiment, or whether that experiment, migrates to the big-league level, is going to be a product of conversations with the MLBPA. But we remain positive about the 20-second clock as something that could be useful to the game at the big-league level.”
MLB officials may be embracing the idea of a pitch clock, but union chief Tony Clark offered some staunch opposition Tuesday during his own session with BBWAA writers, suggesting this change is far from a certainty.
“Hear me very clear on this one,” Clark said. “When you add the third deck in the major leagues, and you add all the other moving pieces tied to the major-league game, the idea that a particular rule in Double-A or Triple-A or Single-A or the Fall League … will automatically work in the big leagues is not true. The game is fundamentally different. The game is fundamentally faster. There are more considerations that need to be made at the major-league level than at the Single-A level or the Double-A level or the Triple-A level.”
Improved pace of play has been a hallmark of Manfred’s first six months in office, and the new commissioner cited plenty of examples Tuesday of the effect baseball’s new rules have already had. The average time of game is down 9 minutes through the season’s first half, down to 2 hours, 53 minutes, the largest decrease since 1965.
Manfred also discussed the possibility of speeding up the baseball season, with recent calls to move back from a 162-game regular season to the 154-game slate the sport had until 1961. That change will be easier said than done, though, with club owners unlikely to give away gates and revenue just for the sake of a shorter season.
“It’s a huge economic issue,” Manfred said. “If you were going to try to do something in that area … usually if you have a big economic issue where you’re giving up revenue, you’ve got to think up something that is offsetting in the other direction. And the one obvious possibility is making a change in terms of the playoffs. I’m not suggesting we’re anywhere on either of those topics, but I do think if you shorten the season, there will be pressure to look at the postseason as well.”
Manfred said there are no current plans for expansion but acknowledged he does see the sport adding new franchises again “down the road,” and admitted he has a list of viable cities. Montreal has moved back into the news recently after hosting a pair of highly successful exhibition weekends the last two springs, and while Manfred said he believes the former home of the Nationals can be a successful baseball market again, it will require a new stadium and evidence of support for far more than two exhibition games.
The most-controversial topic surrounding these All-Star festivities is the presence of Pete Rose, the banished all-time hit king who will be allowed to take part in pregame festivities along with other Cincinnati Reds legends.
Rose, who was banned from baseball in 1989 by then-commissioner Bart Giamatti for gambling on the sport while managing the Reds, has made a renewed push for reinstatement. Manfred reiterated Tuesday that he expects to meet with Rose at some point to discuss his case, but that meeting has not yet been scheduled.