Originally Published: February 3, 2017 11 p.m.
PALM BEACH, Fla. — For those rooting for baseball to speed up the game, Commissioner Rob Manfred says: have patience.
Owners and players ratified a new collective bargaining agreement in December, but they’re still negotiating innovations designed to improve the pace of play. Owners discussed the issue during two days of meetings that concluded Friday.
“We did review some rule changes largely related to pace of game that are being discussed with the players’ association,” Manfred said. “More to follow when those negotiations are complete.”
Manfred has pushed for faster games since he became commissioner two years ago. But the average time of a nine-inning game last season was 3 hours, a 4-minute increase over 2015. One playoff game took more than 4½ hours.
The new CBA, which extends labor peace to 26 years through 2021, addresses issues such as smokeless tobacco and World Series home-field advantage but not on-field rules.
“Given the really serious big economic issues on the table, I think it’s unrealistic to think that you’re going to get an agreement (regarding pace of play) when you’re doing the overall agreement,” Manfred said. “As is the usual course in the offseason, we’re turning to the playing rule issues now.”
Management would like to tighten restrictions on trips to the mound and introduce a pitch clock, which has been used in Triple-A and Double-A the past two seasons. Players generally have resisted such changes, and many say there’s no problem with the length of games.
“Pace of play is an issue that ‘we’ need to be focused on,” he said. “The ‘we’ there is players, owners, umpires, everyone who is invested in this game.
“I don’t think there’s a magic bullet that is going to come one year to be the solution to pace of play. It’s going to be an ongoing effort to make sure our game moves along in a way that is most attractive to our fans.”
Miami Marlins president David Samson said Major League Baseball is aware that despite much talk about the need to speed up games in recent years, the problem has gotten worse.
“Pace of game is critical,” Samson said. “We know that from our fans and TV partners. We have to recognize the reality of life today, which is that attention spans are going down and choices are going up. Whatever business you’re in, you have to adjust.”
Among other issues Manfred discussed following the meetings:
— Major League Baseball is “monitoring the developments” regarding recent changes in U.S. immigration policy by President Donald Trump, Manfred said. “Obviously our foremost concern is that players that are under contract with our organizations be able to come and go,” Manfred said. “As of right now the countries that have been mostly affected are not places where we have players.”
— The new CBA eliminates the provision that gave World Series home-field advantage to the All-Star winner, but Manfred said players will still be motivated to win the All-Star Game. “I am a believer that when our players go out on the field they want to win, whether it’s in the All-Star Game or any other game,” he said.
— The quality of players taking part in the World Baseball Classic will be high, Manfred said, even though the event takes place during spring training. “I am pleased with the level of cooperation we’ve had from the teams,” he said.
— Houston’s Jim Crane and San Diego’s Ron Fowler replaced Minnesota’s Jim Pohlad and St. Louis’ Bill DeWitt Jr. on the executive council.