“There is no change, in terms of the process, with respect to Pete Rose,” Rob Manfred said. “The review of the original investigatory material is ongoing. I was surprised at how much material there was to be reviewed. We’re taking a fresh look at all of that.”
NEW YORK – It’s not quite a state of the game address and it’s far from an inquisition, but each year at the All-Star Game, the commissioner of Major League Baseball meets with the assembled members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) to discuss the issues of the game and answer questions.
It was Rob Manfred’s first year handling this annual rite as commissioner after replacing Bud Selig. Tony Clark, who is head of the MLB Player’s Association, also had a similar session after Manfred.
Here’s a few highlights from the discussion.
With the game played in Cincinnati, Manfred was asked about Pete Rose and his status on being let back into baseball. Rose was part of the on-field pregame activities before the All-Star Game. With reports of more proof that Rose bet on games that he managed and played in, Manfred was careful with his wording.
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“There is no change, in terms of the process, with respect to Pete Rose,” Manfred said. “The review of the original investigatory material is ongoing. I was surprised at how much material there was to be reviewed. We’re taking a fresh look at all of that. I believe Mr. Rose deserves an opportunity to tell me in whatever format he feels most comfortable whatever he wants me to know about the issues. I’m sure there will be an in-person meeting. I want to make sure I have a good grasp of all the factual materials.”
Manfred and Rose did talk before the game briefly.
Speaking of gambling on baseball, if you’ve watched baseball broadcasts this season on television or online, you’ve been inundated with commercials for DraftKings — a fantasy sports site where people can participate in daily fantasy baseball competitions and win money. It seems a little hypocritical for MLB to partner with a site that is a form of gambling — you have to pay money to win money. So while it works in conjunction with MLB and is promoted to fans, people affiliated can’t use it.
“We’ve made absolutely clear to our players and front-office personnel that we do not believe that Draft Kings or any other daily fantasy site is an appropriate activity for them,” Manfred said. “We see a very clear distinction between people who affect the outcome of the game and fans who want to engage in that.”
Speeding up the pace of games was a major initiative this past offseason and the implementation of measures to make play on the field more efficient has been viewed as an initial success.
”I’m encouraged on the pace-of-game front for two reasons,” he said. “We continue to get reports that games are moving along better. This initiative can’t be judged solely by the length of games. That’s a confusing piece of data — useful, but confusing. It’s hard to ignore the fact that we are down 9 minutes, which would be the largest decrease since 1965. The most important issue is how supportive the players have been.”
It’s funny how players can be supportive when being fined for violating the rules. At the Class AAA and Class AA levels, MLB has installed a 20-second pitch clock to make pitchers work faster after experimenting with it in the Arizona Fall League.
“The Arizona Fall League experiment was successful not only in terms of the pace of the game, it was successful in educating those people involved in the process who were, for want of a better term, clock haters,” he said. “We are really encouraged by the results of that experiment, in terms of how it moves the game along. Now, how quickly or whether that migrates to the big-league level is going to require conversations. We remain positive about the 20-second clock that it could be useful to the game at the big-league level.“
But that may not get past the players association and the next collective-bargaining agreement.
“Hear me very clearly on this one,” Clark said. “When you add the third deck in the major leagues, and you add all of the other moving pieces tied to a major-league game, the idea that a particular rule in Double-A, or Triple-A, or Single-A, or the Fall League, because of how it may have been worked into the system there, means that they would 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, the Double-A level or the Triple-A level.”
If games are now growing shorter, will there be less of them as well? There is a growing movement for baseball to go back to a 154-game schedule with more off days in the season. The schedule was expanded to a 162-game season after the 1961 season. But with travel issues and television preferring night games, it’s caused some concern. Clark isn’t opposed to it.
“What the guys are being asked to do with respect to game start times, with respect to the travel distances themselves, with respect to performing at an elite level with three days off a month is a challenge,” he said. “I don’t know that it’s surprising when bodies are breaking down when you start to get to June, you start to get to July.”
Manfred was a little more realistic bringing up money, which usually trumps all.
“A shortened schedule is a major, major economic issue,” he said. “We sell out in a lot of markets in terms of gates. The gates are really valuable to us. We have television commitments. Each local contract varies, but there are game guarantees that could be affected by a shortened season.”
Manfred remained upbeat about the stadium situations in Oakland and Tampa Bay, though no real traction has been made with either city. Manfred wasn’t afraid to admit that expansion to places like Portland or Charlotte or Montreal isn’t an impossibility.
”I’m bullish on this game,” he said. “Growth businesses, over an extended period of time, look to get bigger. So I’m open to the idea that there will be a point in time where expansion may be possible. I think it’s very important for us to look at markets that are interested in baseball — and there are markets that are interested — examine their viability, think about what we can do to make them more viable so we have business alternatives available to us. We have a list of cities that we think are viable. If you read enough local papers, there is a list of cities that have identified themselves.“