HOUSTON (AP) — Limiting pitching changes, restricting defensive shifts, altering the strike zone and installing pitch clocks are among the ideas Major League Baseball may consider as it undertakes a multiyear review of the game that could include the sport’s most radical changes in decades.
Baseball owners were given a lengthy presentation Thursday during their quarterly meeting of how the sport has changed in the past 40 to 50 years.
“Sometimes baseball fans think about what should happen with the game sort of with an artificial construct, that the choice is between preserving `The Game,’ as it came down originally from the mountain, and making some changes to that game,” baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said.
“The point of the conversation today was that the game has changed dramatically. It’s changed organically. It kind of has flowed where the competitive juices of managerial and general managerial decisions have taken it. And the question is, you take a snapshot after 40 years of that and you say, wow, here’s what it looks like, here’s what it used to look like and should we be thinking about what has occurred and whether we want to allow it to continue to go on on the path it’s on?”
If implemented, some of the changes could be the most revolutionary since the AL adopted the designated hitter in 1973 or perhaps even since the number of balls for a walk was reduced from five to four in 1889.
“I think it’s kind of ridiculous. It changes the game completely,” Orioles reliever Brad Brach said before Baltimore hosted Houston on Thursday night.
Orioles catcher Matt Wieters wasn’t too enthused, either.
“I don’t like things that would actually change the way the game is played. If you make the game shorter without changing its integrity, I’m all for it. But the things that are being talked about can mess with the integrity,” he said.
Offense dropped steadily after the start of drug testing in 2003 until an uptick started in the second half of last season. Strikeouts have set records annually for much of the past decade, increasing from an average of 12.74 per nine-inning game in 2006 to 15.57 this season.
And the average time of a nine-inning game is exactly 3 hours — Manfred highlighted that Game 7 of the 1960 World Series took 2:36 for Pittsburgh’s 10-9 win over the New York Yankees.
Manfred acknowledged some of the increased length was caused by added TV commercials.
“We did not and we are really not at the point of making recommendations or having the owners make decisions about what if any changes are necessary,” Manfred said.
“I think when you have sort of a new administration, it’s a good time to take a really hard look at the product. I think there are pieces to this project that are not yet complete, including figuring out what are fans are seeing, what they like, what they don’t like in a more comprehensive way than we’ve done in recent years, having interactions with the other stakeholders in the game, the ESPNs, the Foxes, the Turners, our big partners, and sharing with them how we see the product and getting their reaction,” he said.
AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel of the Astros was wary.
“All of those you could argue for. But then again, it’s changing the culture of the game of baseball and what fans have been accustomed to. That would be a bad thing because you want the best hitters facing the best pitchers,” he said.
Chief Operating Officer Tony Pettiti made the presentation with Senior Vice President Chris Marinak and Steve Hirdt of the Elias Sports Bureau.
Manfred said defensive shifts have changed the game: There were 2,464 on balls in play in 2011 and this year’s total projects to 28,117, according to Baseball Info Solutions. Pitchers per nine-inning game have increased from 6.89 in 2000 to 7.88 last year.
“You can make an argument that more relievers have lengthened the game, more pitching changes has slowed the pace of the game and the unbelievable effectiveness of those relief pitchers have robbed some of the action from the game,” Manfred said.
MLB is unlikely to propose altering the height of the pitcher’s mound, which was lowered from 15 inches to 10 inches after the 1968 season.
“Because the height of the mound does changes people’s delivery and we have a lot of pitcher issues in terms or injury and whatnot, probably would be a little slower to move in that direction,” Manfred said.
While MLB can make on-field rules changes unilaterally with one year advance notice, it has done so in recent years only with approval of the players’ association.
While Manfred would like to see pitch clocks, which have been used successfully in the minor leagues since 2015, the union has been reluctant, leaving the matter for this year’s bargaining.
“There’s too many scenarios within a game that depend on either the pitcher or the batter to take a little extra time and if you get penalized for that,” Boston pitcher Clay Buchholz said. “I don’t see how that’s going to make the game any better. It’s going to actually cost people some jobs, I think. No, I don’t think I’d be in favor of that.”
“But the commissioner is the commissioner, he can do what he wants to do. If that happens, then I’ll abide by it and go from there,” he said.
The current contract between owners and players will expire Dec. 2.
“The CBA process is kind of where you expect it to be in August,” Manfred said. “We’ve got a nice, compete inventory of issues on the table from both sides. We’ve had a good, respectful exchange at the table and we’re moving into that phase where I think we’re going to start trying to package some things up and hopefully start to make agreements on issues and move towards a final agreement. The pace of that depends, always depends, on how both parties see the relevant timing deadlines.”
Owners approved the sale of a controlling stake in the Seattle Mariners from Nintendo of America to a group of minority owners led by Western Wireless Corp. founder John Stanton, who will be the control person, and retired Microsoft executive Chris Larson.
Bob Bowman, MLB’s president of business and media, reported on the split-off of BAMTech from MLB Advanced Media and the agreement announced Aug. 9 to sell a 33 percent interest of BAMTech to The Walt Disney Co. for $1 billion, with part payable now and the remainder in January. Disney, which owns ESPN, gets an option to acquire majority ownership in the future. The NHL receives a minority interest in BAMTech under an agreement announced in August 2015.
Manfred expects to have an announcement “quite soon” on baseball’s investigation into a December report by Al Jazeera accusing high-profile athletes of using performance-enhancing drugs, among them Philadelphia first baseman Ryan Howard and Washington first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. The lawyer for Howard and Zimmerman, William Burck, called the report “outright lies.”
Former major league catcher Taylor Teagarden, another player implicated, was suspended for 80 games in April.
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