Major League Baseball is once again looking at ways to make changes to the game with the goal of enhancing the experience not only for the 30 professional teams, but also for the fans who watch at home and it the ballpark.
Changes to the game are brought up annually, so there should be no surprise the time of the game and discussing ways to speed up the experience is being discussed. Those changes “almost exclusively” concern pace-of-play issues, commissioner Rob Manfred said this past.
Ken Davidoff of the New York Post wrote on Saturday, one proposal being discussed — with “still a ways to go,” a person in the loop cautioned — is limiting mound visits at least by teammates, if not by coaches and managers as well. The players understandably have been more hesitant to disrupt the pace to which they have become accustomed, and just as they negotiated the terms for when a player can legally exit the batter’s box during an at-bat, concepts are being exchanged for when a pitcher can receive a visitor. For instance, there is a desire to see an exception made for when a pitcher and catcher are confused on signs.
Both MLB and the Players Association would have to agree to these changes. The average regular-season, nine-inning game in 2016 lasted 3:00:42 according to MLB, up from 2:56:14 in 2015. The 2014 season registered an all-time high average time of 3:02:21. That is why Manfred repeatedly lamented last year that focus on the issue had been lost, and that is why you can expect some changes, however incremental, to be in place by Opening Day.
The baseball season is about to heat up with the start of spring training and the NFL winding down on Sunday with the Super Bowl. The NFL saw a dip in ratings and fans who attended games. Manfred and MLB are hoping to cash in on those numbers and engage the fans with ways to make the product better on and off the diamond.
The focus of the country has changed since the Cubs outlasted the Indians in an epic World Series, and I asked Manfred how he saw these most interesting times impacting his primary goal.
“We see baseball as one of those fundamentally unifying American institutions,” he said. “I think that we need to go out there and put the best baseball product we can put on the field. That’s the single best contribution that we can make to American society.”
While Manfred said the pace of the game is important, it is not at the top of the list of changes he would like to see to the sport. Still, he said there are individuals who are looking into making the game better for all involved.