When MLB commissioner Rob Manfred took over for Bud Selig, it seemed as though great things were ahead for America’s Pastime. Instead, Manfred has struggled to handle some of the game’s biggest blemishes, while somehow continuously coming up with solutions to issues that are not problems.
A game known for more than a century of not having a time limit, all of the sudden clocks were brought in because “the average game takes too long” these days. How long? Just over three hours. Why though? For a multitude of reasons. Ones that suggest speeding up the time between pitches will do little for.
As the game has become more analytical, the pace has slowed. Batters are taking more pitches. Pitchers are trying to nibble at the corners. Home runs and their celebrations have increased, as has the number of relief pitchers that enter games. Also, commercial breaks are longer and more frequent.
Fight these all you want, but tweaking the sport for the sake of tweaking it does little but aggravate players and fans.
This year a few new rules take effect, like a three-batter minimum per pitcher, so teams can’t swap out relievers like they are trying on shoes at Foot Locker. Further punishing teams like the Brewers who use a multitude of relievers each game, there will also be a maximum limit to pitchers on a roster each night — and one step further, September call-ups will no long see 5-10 rookies come up to earn playing time, because? I don’t really know what Manfred is going for here other than trying to limit the number of relievers used and to keep teams out of the playoff hunt from sitting their veterans just to get a few guys some experiences — and when they would have just lost, keeping those clubs from collecting a better draft pick).
Speaking of playoffs (Playoffs?), Manfred has now proposed expanding the postseason field from 10 to 14.
Uh, Rob, the NBA regular season is boring because over half of the league makes the postseason (and the postseason seems to take the better part of a quarter century).
While I like the idea of allowing the team with the higher seed select their opponent, bringing in more teams only dilutes the regular season even more — not to mention players will collectively bargain the heck out of this.
Will MLB be willing to concede regular season games? Looking at the revenues, I don’t think so. But here’s a thought I haven’t seen anyone bring up: Maybe Manfred’s plan is to limit the regular season to 150 games. Maybe with 150 games, all of the “old time records” will be safe from getting passed again.
Fewer players will have a chance to chase home run records, or pitching records like strikeouts if they are playing two fewer weeks of games.
This can go deeper than a one-off year: Potential future Hall of Famers will not be such when over the course of a 15-year career a player will end up playing in fewer games than his predecessors — like, entire years, actually. A 15-year career now means the potential to play 162 games each regular season — but cut away 12 games from each and you have 180 potential games missed. That’s more than a full missed season, and in a sport that counts total statistics and not 162-game averages, that could have a major effect on personal legacies.
Yes, I am well aware that 100 years ago teams played in season of just 150 games or fewer, and adding two weeks to the season meant that for a while single season records had an asterisk (Roger Maris’s 61 home runs in 1961 comes to mind).
But do we want to go back?
In football, Roger Goodell (and the owners) want a 17-game regular season. Will players be compensated extra for the brutality their body takes each week?
Manfred has also caused a stir in his handling of controversy, namely the current sign-stealing scandal in Houston.
For those living under a rock these past few months, it came out that the Astros had a sign steal effort that used video technology and baseball-bat-on-garbage-can-drum-banging to tip hitters of upcoming pitches.
While evidence found that the efforts minimally produced positive effect, there is one stretch where it mattered most — the 2017 postseason.
During that run in which the Astros won the World Series, several players finished with other-worldly numbers. On their way to the collect their rings, the Astros defeated both the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers — teams with some of the highest payrolls in sports. Both clubs (and some fans) want the 2017 title vacated. I’m very indifferent on the issue, but Manfred is getting hounded.
His punishments included a $5 million fine to the club (chump change, really), and both the manager and GM were suspended for a year (and subsequently fired). Boston lost its manager, Alex Cora, because he was an assistant coach that helped the sign-stealing program, and the Mets had to get rid of their new manager, Carlos Beltran, who also played a significant role.
Rumors are swirling that this offense wasn’t limited to the Astros, that in fact almost all teams had some sort of video-assisted gamesmanship program going on up until a couple of years ago when Manfred quietly said to each club to “knock it off.” One team verifiably didn’t. But were they the only ones? Does it matter? Is the integrity of the game at stake because cameras were being used instead of a man with binoculars in the scoreboard or a trickster baserunner at second base? I still say no. Fine them more, take away draft picks, limit free agent spending — whatever. I’m ready to just move on.
And what better time to move on than right now, because pitchers and catchers just reported to Spring Training this week.
God Bless Baseball.
—Adam Krebs is a reporter for the Times and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.