DETROIT – With the announcement that Rob Manfred will become the 10th commissioner of Major League Baseball in January when Bud Selig steps down after 16 years as acting commissioner, there has been no shortage of advice given about different ways baseball’s new leader can improve the game.
The consensus seems to center on a handful of issues. Some are easily fixable, while others may take creative thinking and time. But all would make the game much better in a variety of ways.
1. Pace of play
Baseball games are taking longer than ever. Sure there is a certain amount of historical romance in a timeless game without a clock or ties. But even nine-inning games are getting out of hand. It’s not as noticeable for local fans. The Mariners, thanks to a stellar pitching staff and less than powerful offense, play the fastest games in baseball, averaging 2 hours, 58 minutes per game. But the average length of game is over three hours, the longest on record, and if you’ve ever watched a Yankees-Red Sox game, it seems interminable.
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What can be done?
Well, obviously the addition of a pitch clock would work wonders. Pitchers are taking too long in between pitches. Reliever Joel Peralta of the Rays takes more than 30 seconds between pitches. It’s just unnecessary. The Southeastern Conference has used a pitch clock during conference games to speed up play.
Umpires also need to do a better job of pushing pace, including keeping hitters in the batter’s box between pitches.
Call it the Nomar-ization of hitters. Remember when Nomar Garciaparra would manically check his gloves after each pitch? Well, it’s snowballed. Nick Swisher’s elaborate pre-pitch ritual where he checks his gloves, his helmet, positions himself and then looks to the sky in honor of past family members is unnecessary grandstanding and a time drain.
Umpires also need to speed up the process of in-game pitching changes. Managers already draw out the process by using situational relievers late in games, but the process needs to go by faster.
Seattle closer Fernando Rodney almost always throws two or three extra pitches in the bullpen once he’s signaled into the game, delaying the process by more than a few minutes.
It all adds up to games that take too long.
2. Replays/collision rule/umpire accountability
Speaking of umpires, they should also be atop Manfred’s to-do list. The quality of umpiring has seemed to regress in past years. Players and managers privately grumble that the mixture of large egos of veteran umps, inexperienced younger umps and the infusion of minor-league umpires into major-league games have been the root of the problem. Umpires have been more empowered yet MLB has shielded them from a large amount of accountability for mistakes.
To be fair to umpires, MLB hasn’t made their jobs any easier with the implementation of instant replay and Rule 7.13 (the home plate collision rule). Both changes are here to stay. But Manfred needs to do some modifying to make them better.
Replay has incrementally improved this season. But the time elapsed is far too long and the automatic ejection of a manager upset with a replay ruling seems heavy handed. Also MLB needs to make available the replays they are watching to broadcasts. Fans are often left questioning replay rulings since they are seeing something different on their local broadcasts. Having 12 full-time umpires in the replay center is keeping good umpires from working games and forcing minor-league umps into situations they simply aren’t ready for.
The collision rule is important, but common sense needs to prevail. The most obvious case was in a Marlins’ loss when a base runner actually gave himself up because he knew was out — the best scenario for all involved. But he was ruled safe because the catcher hadn’t given him a lane to run to when the runner was about 30 feet away.
3. Tampa Bay/Oakland stadium situations
If the O.co Coliseum sewage system couldn’t handle the usage by fans during a three-game series with the Mariners last season, how will it handle a postseason and possible World Series this season?
Maybe a stinky situation of gurgling sludge in the clubhouses and public bathrooms during the postseason will make it more important to MLB.
The mishandling of the entire stadium situation in Oakland is laughable and regrettable. Selig often feigned interest and concern while largely doing nothing other than appointing a committee that actually never seemed to meet or do anything.
Even with a new 10-year lease for the coliseum, Manfred can push owner Lew Wolff and the city of Oakland in a direction that seems suitable for all involved. The team, the city and most important fans deserve a new stadium.
The situation in Tampa isn’t much better. Tropicana Field functions well. But it’s sterile shopping mall atmosphere doesn’t attract average fans to the park. The location in St. Petersburg is also an issue. There is a question whether the area can or will actually support a team if a new stadium is built. That question needs to be answered soon. If that’s the case, then Manfred should look at relocation.
Also on the list
4. Increased penalties for first time positive tests for performance-enhancing drugs
5. An international amateur draft
6. Finding ways to market to younger fans
7. Starting times in the postseason.
8. Streamlining the participation and time of the World Baseball Classic.
Good luck Mr. Manfred. You’re going to need it.