Maybe the major leagues can borrow from the more joyous fan experiences in Asia and Latin America, even at the risk of adding five minutes to the game. Maybe television broadcasts can shorten commercial breaks by adding ads to a corner of the screen during play. And, yes, maybe the players and coaches could cut back on the in-game caucuses.
“The stuff where nothing is going on – Yadi Molina is making his 93rd trip to the mound, or whoever the catcher is, I don’t mean to pick out a guy – dead time is an issue,” Manfred said.
That might be the relatively easy part of the change Manfred seeks. The much more challenging part involves accelerating action within the game itself, and the trial balloons have included restrictions on defensive shifts, altering the strike zone and limiting the use of relief pitchers.
Should Manfred really be legislating strategy? Teams now pay millions of dollars to baseball operations executives to devise clever and efficient ways to win. If a team believes its best chance to win includes a lineup of walk-prone, strikeout-prone sluggers that rarely put the ball in play, and an eight-man bullpen that makes four or five pitching changes per game a common occurrence, should that not be the team’s decision?
Among those who think it is time for the club to decisively move away from the logo is the Major League Baseball commissioner, Rob Manfred, who in continuing discussions with the team’s ownership is beginning to apply a little bit of pressure on the club to come up with a plan of action.
In a statement to The New York Times, Pat Courtney, a spokesman for Major League Baseball, said Manfred, in his talks with the Indians’ owners, had made clear his “desire to transition away from the Chief Wahoo logo.’’
“We have specific steps in an identified process and are making progress,’’ Courtney added. “We are confident that a positive resolution will be reached that will be good for the game and the club.’’
Although Manfred had previously acknowledged a willingness to engage in talks with the Indians about the logo, Courtney’s statement appears to be the first time that Manfred is identified as having staked out a clear position on the issue.
It is an issue, however, that may not be that easy to resolve. Although many people, including baseball fans around the country, would welcome the removal of Chief Wahoo, there is a significant segment of the Indians’ fan base that still cherishes the logo, which has existed in various forms since 1947.
“Chief Wahoo is the Cleveland Indians,” said Karen Hale, a local Indians fan who was outside the stadium before Tuesday’s game. “I think there comes a time when you have to take a stand for what you believe in. I don’t think it’s hurting anybody.”
Manfred has indicated time and again that he thinks the sport needs to change, as the league works to draw a younger viewing audience and better position itself for the future, and he wants to affect change. The union’s substantive contribution to the conversation so far has been to say no.
MLB intends to push this conversation again next winter, when it will have the power to unilaterally alter rules. And, down the road, the next round of labor talks may be more difficult, after what was perceived to be a major management victory in 2016.
The more the two sides understand each other, the better, and we know this from recent history. For about a decade, Manfred and the late union chief Michael Weiner led the two sides through relative labor peace because of how well they communicated.
But now it seems there’s a vacuum of contact, and Manfred could help to fill that by talking more with players, to advance past the polite niceties and get to a place where both sides can say what they think and find common ground.
B/R: You’ve talked about the need to create more action, and certainly the numbers support your desire. In the 2016 regular season, a record 30.2 percent of all plate appearances failed to produce a fair ball, instead ending in a strikeout, walk or hit batter. How much are you alarmed by this and where does adjusting the strike zone up stand?
RM: It’s not about whether or not we should change the game. The game has changed. The question is, should we be more like other professional sports and more actively manage that change to produce the kind of product we want to have out there on the field. Me? I’m one for active management of that change. I think it’s really important for us to look at.
Strike zones, great example of it. Years ago, we thought when the strike zone was higher on the knee that the low pitch wasn’t getting called. We moved it to the hollow of the knee to try to get the umpires to call that. Interesting thing happens: Technology gets laid on top of that, our umpire force starts to turn over, they all get used to being evaluated and all of a sudden, they’re actually calling it where we told them to call it. You can’t blame the umpires on this. They’re doing exactly what we told them, and the technology told them that they were doing what we told them to do. The problem with that pitch is, it’s tough to hit. So the question becomes do you make an adjustment? And honestly, if we moved it from the hollow of the knee up to where it was before, I think modern civilization is going to survive.
As part of its initiative to improve pace-of-game play, Major League Baseball has approved a change to the intentional walk rule, going from the traditional four-pitch walk to a dugout signal, team and union sources told ESPN’s Howard Bryant.
MLB has studied various ways to quicken games.
ESPN’s Jayson Stark reported earlier this month that MLB had made formal proposals to the players’ union to usher in both raising the strike zone and scrapping the practice of lobbing four balls toward home plate to issue an intentional walk.
Getting rid of the old-fashioned intentional walk would eliminate about a minute of dead time per walk. In an age in which intentional walks actually have been declining—there were just 932 all last season (or one every 2.6 games)—that time savings would be minimal. But MLB saw the practice of lobbing four meaningless pitches as antiquated.
Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, angered and frustrated that the players union will not accept any of their rule changes for the 2017 season, threatened Tuesday to unilaterally impose new rules in 2018 if an agreement can’t be reached.
Manfred wants to implement a pitch clock, limit mound visits and change the strike zone in 2018, and if the union won’t agree to the changes next year, he said the new labor agreement empowers MLB to apply the changes without union approval.
The commissioner came out swinging like no other time since taking office two years ago.
“Unfortunately, it now appears there won’t be any meaningful change for the 2017 season,’’ Manfred said in a prepared statement, “due to a lack of cooperation from the MLBPA. I’ve tried to be clear that our game is fundamentally sound, and it does not need to be fixed. I think last season was a concrete demonstration of the potential of our game to captivate the nation and its unique place in American culture. …
“At the same time, I think it’s a mistake to stick our head in the sand and ignore the fact that our game has changed, and continues to change.’’
And on Wednesday at the Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit in New York, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred confirmed that he is monitoring the issue and re-thinking pro baseball’s long-held stance on the issue.
“There is this buzz out there in terms of people feeling that there may be an opportunity here for additional legalized sports betting,” Manfred said. “We are reexamining our stance on gambling. It’s a conversation that’s ongoing with the owners.”
When fans bet on games, Manfred continued, it “can be a form of fan engagement, it can fuel the popularity of a sport. We all understand that.”
And make no mistake: fans are betting on games. The American Gaming Association estimates that $4.7 billion was bet on this year’s Super Bowl, an all-time high—but 97% of those bets were placed illegally.
MLB is an increasingly dominant hegemon on the American and the global baseball scene. That hegemony affects almost every pitch that is thrown in the United States, from youth baseball all the way up to the World Series. It is a product of a confluence of events largely outside the realm of baseball, including such developments as the civil rights movement and population shifts following World War II. MLB’s domination of the sport was not inevitable, but that is what has happened over the past fifty or sixty years. Just as it was not inevitable, it is also not irreversible.
Last year’s phenomenal Game Seven ratings might mask some deeper truths about the game’s long-term prospects.
“Selig’s annual statements about the health of the game were not pulled out of the air but reflected in the financial data and products being offered to fans. His successor, Rob Manfred, will almost certainly continue to report on the financial health of baseball. While these reports may be factual, they do not quite represent the entire truth.”
Baseball’s streak of 21 consecutive years of labor peace is in jeopardy.
The owners will consider voting to lock out the players if the two sides cannot reach a new collective-bargaining agreement by the time the current deal expires on Dec. 1, according to sources with knowledge of the discussions.
A lockout would put baseball’s business on hold, delaying free-agent signings and trades until a new agreement is reached. The winter meetings, a joint venture between the majors and minors scheduled to take place from Dec. 4 to 8 near Washington D.C., might still transpire, but without the usual frenzy of major-league activity.
The possibility of a lockout stems from the owners’ frustration with the players’ union over the slow pace of the discussions, sources said. The two sides still have more than a week to complete a deal, but a number of significant issues remain unresolved.
“We don’t negotiate in the press,” commissioner Rob Manfred said. “We remain committed to the idea that we’re going to make an agreement before expiration.”
Manfred hinted to Golic that he has plans to speak with team ownership about the use of the logo during the offseason:
Well, I understand that particular logo is offensive to some people, and I understand why. On the other side of the coin, you have a lot of fans that have history and are invested in the symbols of the Indians. I think that after the World Series, at an appropriate point in time, Mr. [Larry] Dolan and I have agreed we’ll have a conversation about what should happen with that particular logo going forward.
I reached out to MLB for clarification on whether Manfred has concrete plans to meet with Dolan or other Indians people about the logo.
Dolan said earlier this year that Wahoo would become its alternate logo to the classic block-C logo. During the ALCS, an indigenous activist in Canada filed a request for an injunction to disallow the use of the team name and Chief Wahoo logo while the Indians were playing the Blue Jays in Toronto. The request for the injunction was denied.