DENVER – Rob Manfred, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, rarely talks romantically about his sport. But on Tuesday, with the All-Star Game just hours away after a lonely 2020 summer without one, Manfred succumbed to nostalgia. Fifty years ago, at a friend’s house in Brantingham Lake, New York, an All-Star Game fascinated him.
“I vividly remember the big room we were sitting in and Reggie Jackson hitting the home run,” Manfred said at a lunch with the writers. “I was 12 then, and I don’t think I remember a single other place I was on a particular day when I was 12. I think maybe the lack of last year’s game made me focus on how big an event the All-Star Game really can be. “
Alas, even the vaporous return of the midsummer classic, after the pandemic canceled last year’s event, could not escape the controversy. In April, Manfred moved the game from Atlanta in response to Georgia’s new restrictive election rules. The sport’s showcase event has moved here to Coors Field, where the American League won 5-2. Manfred almost sighed when asked if he would reconsider holding league events in Texas, with lawmakers pushing for their own overhaul of electoral rules.
“The decision with respect to Atlanta is probably the hardest thing I’ve been asked to do so far,” said Manfred. “I kind of hope it’s the hardest thing I’m asked to do, period. That said, I am not going to speculate on who will pass which law and where we will take the jewel events. It is hard enough to deal with in real time and concretely. “
Manfred and Tony Clark, the executive director of the players union, have more pressing issues on their agenda. The sports collective bargaining agreement expires December 1, and as Manfred pointed to his resume – there have been no job stoppages in his 23 full-time years with Major League Baseball – the parties are nearing a crossroads. critic.
Gamers have been skeptical in recent years of owners’ competitive intentions, reflected in tepid free agent offers. Owners have been concerned about the entertainment value of a game with more strikeouts and less action on the pitch and on the ground. Players have been reluctant to accept radical changes to the rules and Manfred has avoided unilaterally introducing some ideas he prefers.
“Every conversation about changing the game implies, on some level, that something is wrong,” Clark said. “For me, the question is: what has changed, why has it changed? When answering this question, you can talk about what may need to be changed from there. Players are willing to talk about adjustments. Gamers are also interested in protecting the integrity of what the game has always been. “
Manfred’s office actively sought ways to spur offense, installing several changes to the rules on minors. He said on Tuesday he was strongly in favor of eliminating indoor shifts (now banned in Class AA), which turn more grounders into outs and encourage hitters to swing for fences.
The negotiations, Manfred said, offer a chance to reimagine the sport and “bring it back to being played in a way closer to what many of us have historically enjoyed. The game evolves. What we play today won’t look much like 1971.” The question is: which version would you like to arrive at? “
The recent innovations brought about by the pandemic, he said, are unlikely to last. Extra-inning games have begun with a runner on second base for the past two seasons, and games played as doubleheaders have only lasted seven innings each. Both, he said, are “much less likely to be part of our permanent landscape” – although he has stopped requiring teams to at least offer coupons or discounts as goodwill gestures to fans who have purchased match tickets. nine innings that have been changed into seven innings.
“These things seem easy,” Manfred said. “They are much more difficult to perform in real life.”
MLB initially wanted to postpone the start of the season until early May, but the union rejected the idea, which proved wise. Yet, even now, only 23 of the 30 teams have reached the 85% vaccination threshold needed to ease coronavirus restrictions. Before Sunday’s game in Boston, four Philadelphia Phillies players were placed on the Covid-19 casualty list.
Clark, who is vaccinated, said the union didn’t push its members to get vaccinated, but tried to emphasize the importance of doing so.
“Vaccination is important; it gave us the opportunity to keep the wheels on track, “Clark said.” The more vaccinated, the better we’ll be. Our players have heard us say this too. But the idea that there are still games being adjusted – and we’re making contacts even while we’re here – it’s a daily consideration. “
Last winter, Manfred cited uncertainty about the pandemic as a reason to present expansion plans. On Tuesday, however, he strongly suggested that a franchise may soon be moving.
Three years ago, Manfred said that no other market had the advantage of Oakland, where the Athletics have played since 1968, and that the league would regret it if the team ever moved. But Athletics soured to build a new park on the ground around their existing stadium – as did Cincinnati, New York, Philadelphia and others – and a proposed site at Howard Terminal will face a critical vote next week. from Oakland’s City Council.
“The Oakland trial is at an end,” Manfred said, later adding, “Las Vegas is a viable alternative for a major league club, and there are other viable alternatives that I haven’t even explored at this point. So think about it. to this as a bluff is a mistake. This is the decision point for Oakland if they want to have Major League Baseball. “
Manfred may want to restore the sport to the look it did in 1971, but he couldn’t completely do it if the As move. The team Jackson played for when he hit his famous All-Star homer? Oakland Athletics.