Commissioner Manfred, a man on a mission

Shots have been fired over the baseball landscape, with MLB commissioner Robert D. “Rob” Manfred Jr. standing on one side, and MLBPA executive director Tony Clark standing on the other. The issue? Manfred’s obsession with pace of play.

Before teams reported to camp, two issues were sent to the MLBPA for approval – eliminating the 4 pitches for an intentional walk, and setting some kind of limits on mound visits. Somehow all the discussion now also includes the idea of adding a pitch clock. Yesterday, it was announced that nothing much was going to change for the 2017 season, and Manfred was not happy.

“Unfortunately, it appears there won’t be any meaningful change for the 2017 season due to a lack of cooperation from the MLBPA. I’ve tried to be clear that our game is fundamentally sound, and it does not need to be fixed. At the same time, I think it’s a mistake to stick our head in the sand and ignore the fact that our game has changed, and continues to change. I have to admit that I’m disappointed we could not even get the MLBPA to agree to modest rule changes — like limit trips to the (pitcher’s) mound — that had little effect on the competitive character of the game.”

Strong words. Clark wasn’t thrilled with these comments, and he fired back at Manfred. In a statement to USA TODAY Sports, he said:

“Unless your definition of ‘cooperation’ is blanket approval, I don’t agree that we’ve failed to cooperate with the Commissioner’s office on these issues. Two years ago we negotiated pace of play protocols that had an immediate and positive impact. Last year, we took a step backward in some ways (with the time of game increasing four minutes) and this offseason, we’ve been in regular contact with MLB and with our members to get a better handle on why that happened.”

The concerning thing that’s come to light in the midst of this is that the new CBA apparently allows Manfred to make changes to the game without MLBPA consent (Article XVIII permits rule changes within a two-year window), and Manfred stated that he has every intention of exercising this power if he can’t reach an agreement with the union. Manfred is bent on moving forward with his “pace of play” and “pace of action” obsession, and he loves using the fans as his reasoning to do so. “I’m firmly convinced that our fans want us to respond to and manage the change that’s going on in the game. I’m certain our job as stewards of the game is to be responsive to fans, and I reject the notion that we can educate fans to embrace the game as it’s currently been played,” referencing a statement Clark made about educating fans about the game within the game.

What I want to know is who these fans that Manfred keeps referencing are? “We know, not based on impressions, thoughts – we know based on really fundamental research what our fans think about the game. It’s in the players’ interest, it’s in our interest, to be responsive to what fans think about the game.” I like the game the way it is. How is my opinion included in all this “fundamental research?” I don’t recall being sent a questionnaire. One example of how my thoughts aren’t included in his research and opinions: Manfred has a huge issue with the number of strikeouts in the game today. I happen to find strikeouts exciting (sexy, even), especially when one pitcher piles up 20 of them in a game, and I have a feeling that every fan in Nats Park the night Max Scherzer did that feels the same.

Bigger picture, I find it mind boggling that the CBA would include an article that would allow the commissioner to make unilateral changes, even when the union disapproves of them. And I find it concerning that Manfred has stated that he has every intention of exercising that power. I’ve gotta level with y’all, I think Manfred is coming off like a toddler throwing a tantrum because his ice cream was put in the blue bowl, not the red one. The players have agreed to several changes over the years, so it’s not like they’ve stonewalled and have refused to address anything. The specific changes of limiting mound visits, raising the strike zone, and a pitch clock are things they are not currently ok with, and they have every right to have an opinion about how the game they play is run. Manfred can’t expect that every issue he puts in front of them gets approved.

The next steps should be discussing what changes the players are ok with rather than trying to shove these specific ones down their (and the fans’) throats. The intentional walk is now just a signal rather than 4 pitches (I’ll skip over how unhappy that makes me), there are plans to limit replay reviews to 2 minutes, and there will be pace of play warnings and fines, which should help move at least some players along. Manfred shouldn’t get to dictate exactly what changes take place, and it’s ridiculous that the CBA gives him that kind of power.

My other concern, beyond preserving the sport that I love, is that if Manfred puts unwanted changes into the game, we’re in for a world of trouble when the new CBA expires in 2021.

One player told Ken Rosenthal that Manfred:

 “…doesn’t realize the fight he is picking. Four years from now, he will see absolute wrath if he makes the moves himself… The union is listening to the players, and the players don’t want the changes.”

Let’s maybe work to prevent this. Nobody wants another strike, least of all baseball, an industry that is expected to generate $10 billion in revenue this year. That kind of money would indicate that everything is going along just fine and doesn’t need a lot of tweaking.

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