As part of their annual meeting with members of the Baseball Writers Association of America during the All-Star Game, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred and MLBPA executive director Tony Clark met with the media to talk about several issues around the game, and what fans might expect for 2022.
Topics were broad-ranging from rules put in place during the pandemic that is designed to shorten game length, all the way to whether there might be a work stoppage given the current collective bargaining agreement is set to expire on Dec 1 of this year. Here’s a breakdown of their comments.
Manfred Wants To Drop Runner On Second In Extra Innings, Seven-Inning Doubleheaders
Started in 2020, the league and MLBPA agreed to some rule changes that were designed to address game length during the pandemic: one is to put a runner on second base at the start of extra innings. The other was making traditional doubleheaders seven innings in length. Manfred does not see it holding over for next season.
“When we adopted seven-inning doubleheaders for this year, we didn’t know the country was going to look like it does now,” Manfred said. “We were scared it was going to look very, very different.
“It was a COVID-related change. I don’t think that seven-inning doubleheaders are going to be part of our future going forward.”
Manfred Continues Push To Regulate The Shift
Manfred has been critical of the widespread use of the shift citing the pace of the game and lack of offense. He doesn’t wish to ban the shift outright but is seeking some rule changes that will minimize its effects.
“Let’s just say you regulated the shift by requiring two infielders on each side of second base,” Manfred said. “What does that do? It makes the game look like what it looked like when I was 12 years old …
“It’s not change, it’s kind of restoration. That’s why people are in favor of it. Front offices, in general, believe it will have a positive effect on the play of the game. … I’m hopeful that we will have productive conversations with the MLBPA about non-radical changes to the game that will restore it to being played in a way that is closer to what many of us enjoy historically.”
A’s Ballpark Matter Reaching Critical Point
The Oakland A’s have been pining for a new ballpark for over 20 years. The question now is, will the ballpark be at Oakland’s Howard Terminal location, or potentially a relocation market such as Las Vegas or elsewhere?
“[A’s owner] John Fisher and Major League Baseball have done everything humanly possible to get a stadium built in Oakland,” Manfred said. “At the point in time that you come to the conclusion that it can’t get done, whether you like the market or not, you have to find someplace else to play because you need a facility. It’s that simple.”
The Oakland City Council is scheduled to take up a vote on a non-binding term sheet on July 20.
“The Oakland process is at an end,” Manfred continued. “John Fisher, Dave Kaval have devoted literally millions of dollars to the effort to get a ballpark proposal that could be supported by the city of Oakland and Alameda County. That proposal is in front of the relevant governmental authorities. There are really crucial votes that are going to take place over the next couple of months, and that’s going to determine the fate of baseball in Oakland.
“I do want to say this: Those terms that are going to be voted on involve investments of well over a billion dollars by John Fisher and his family, and that is one heck of a commitment to a community. So it’s not about that. John Fisher has done everything I’ve asked him to do in terms of trying to keep the A’s in Oakland and more than I asked him to do in terms of financial commitments. So we’re going to know one way or the other what’s going to happen with Oakland in the next couple of months. And if you can’t get a ballpark, I think that that the relocation process, whether it’s Los Vegas or a broader array of cities that get considered, is going to take on more pace.”
Asked about relocation to other markets should Oakland not approve a deal, Manfred touched on Las Vegas, specifically.
“Las Vegas is a viable alternative for a major league club, and there are other viable alternatives that I haven’t turned the A’s loose to even explore at this point,” Manfred said. “So thinking about this as a bluff is a mistake. This is the decision point for Oakland as to whether they want to have Major League Baseball going forward.”
Will The Blue Jays Play In Toronto Before The End Of The 2021 Season?
While the U.S. has largely opened up for business given the percentage of those vaccinated throughout much of the country, travel to and from Canada remains blocked. The league and union for the players are looking at a couple of options that would allow play to return to Rogers Centre.
“We know there’s a lot of dialogue going on with the government there in Canada and everything you just detailed are all the same things that are being shared with us and that are being discussed with our players,” Clark said outside the BBWAA meeting.
“For our guys, particularly the Blue Jays players, being able to have a semblance of normalcy, I think they’re more than willing to have a conversation about what that protocol needs to look like in order for them to be at home, settled at home, playing at home. The opportunity to have teams come in, yeah it may mean to and from the hotel as a way to navigate, all of those things are on the table and guys are willing to discuss.”
One avenue to allow ease of travel would be mandatory vaccination of all players and staff. Thus far the league has not imposed any mandate on this tier 1 personnel requiring the jab, and Manfred did not say whether that would, or would not be the case.
“To date our conversations with the MLBPA haven’t gotten us to that,” said Manfred in reference to mandatory vaccination. “I’m a believer in vaccination. I understand people have different views. I wish everybody would get vaccinated, I think would be a good thing for us generally. But you’ve got to work it through with the people that represent them.”
Manfred Not Happy With How Dodgers’ President Addressed Bauer Controversy, Defends Domestic Violence Policy
The continuing domestic investigation into Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer continues to move forward, but the matter bubbled to the surface with Manfred in relationship to some comments Dodgers’ president Stan Kasten said. According to The AP, Kasten said he told manager Dave Roberts ahead of his meeting with reporters: ”Just say, ‘Can we please talk about foreign substances?’” Kasten said the team would await the investigation before commenting.
That raised the ire of Manfred.
“It was pretty clear what people thought about it. I don’t think it was a helpful comment given all we’re trying to achieve in this area,” Manfred told the BBWAA on Tuesday. “But I can’t say much more than that.”
Asked if the league’s domestic abuse policy was satisfactory given other cases beyond Bauer that have included Dodgers pitcher Julio Urías, Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman and pitcher Domingo Germán, Chicago Cubs shortstop Addison Russell, Toronto pitcher Roberto Osuna, Colorado shortstop José Reyes, and Braves outfielder Hector Olivera, Manfred defended it.
“I think that our policies are robust and appropriate,” Manfred said. “I think when you put them next to the policies that are present in most businesses in industry, they’re actually broader and more protective in terms of who we cover, for example.
“So, yes, I think the policies are appropriate in terms of the administration. Every single time that we have had an allegation, we have conducted the most thorough investigation possible. We have a department of investigations that’s significantly bigger and (has) more expertise than at any point in the history of the game. And when we have found credibility to an allegation, I think if you look at the disciplinary record, we have sent a message about what we will and will not tolerate.”
Manfred Believes Lockout Or Strike Will Be Averted
The current labor deal between the league and MLBPA is set to expire on Dec 1. Over the last few years, the relationship between management and the union for the players has resembled a cold war. There have been disputes over how the 2020 and 2021 seasons should proceed, so much so that the MLBPA filed a $500 million grievance with the league filing a counter-grievance. With the acrimony, the media and fans have braced themselves for a possible lockout or strike. Manfred tried to downplay it.
“This whole relationship thing gets overplayed and misinterpreted,” Manfred said of the relationship with the MLBPA. “In a collective bargaining situation, you’re going to have disagreements and sometimes they’re going to go public. That’s not a good thing, but it happens, OK? It’s just the way of the world.”
“Since I’ve been at MLB, we’ve had a pretty good track record at that,” Manfred continued. “We’ve never had a dispute and I believe, I really am optimistic, that the process will work here. We’re committed to the process. We’re open-minded. We’re optimistic we want to make an agreement. Those should be good sentiments for all baseball fans to hear.”
Tony Clark didn’t express the same feeling as Manfred and was focused on the process of getting a deal done.
“The dialogue with the league is ongoing,” Clark, the top man for the union for the players said. “It will continue after the All-Star Game with some dates that are being discussed, topics that are being discussed as well. There’s a lot do and a short period of time to do it.
“Nothing has changed as far as the expiration of the current agreement. It’s still Dec. 1. But our focus is on continuing to meet and finding a fair and equitable agreement.”