I’m not one of those guys who just rips the commissioner of a sport because it’s easy. I don’t just blame everything that I don’t like about a sport on the suit in charge.
But Rob Manfred makes it tempting.
In a press conference this week on the status of Major League Baseball and the future of the game, Commissioner Rob Manfred made several comments that hint at terrible things to come.
Challenging Balls and Strikes Is Coming
The challenge system has been in place in MLB since 2014. It affords each manager at least one challenge per game. If a challenge is successful, the manager gets another challenge, and so on.
Some fans like the challenges, some don’t. But it’s clear that Manfred is in the former group. In his presser, Manfred explained that he has witnessed a new “strike zone” expansion to the challenge system. Currently MLB managers can only challenge plays like safe/out, fair/foul, or catch/no-catch.
“We’re continuing to experiment in the minor leagues,” Manfred told reporters in New York on Thursday. “Big kind of development in the challenge-system alternative. The idea of using two different formats is a big change this year. Went down and saw the challenge system, I have to say, I saw three challenges in the minor league game, the first one was so darn fast, I missed it. ‘What happened?’
“I mean, it was like four seconds, literally. I kind of like that. I mean, four seconds is a pretty good replay change. So you know, we need to continue to work on that. There are difficult issues surrounding the strike zone that affect outcomes on the field. And we need to make sure we understand those before we jump off that bridge.”
That sounds like a man who is smitten, doesn’t it?
Expect the strike/balls challenge to be added at the Major League level in the future, possibly as soon as 2023. Under the recently ratified Collective Bargaining Agreement, the league office can unilaterally implement rules changes.
How fun is it going to be watching a baseball game and having a close strike/ball call be reviewed? Four seconds? That sounds like an outlier. Don’t be surprised if baseball games get even clunkier and slower due to managers challenging strike/ball calls.
What will a strike/ball challenge do to the ego of a home plate umpire, who works close to the catcher and batter, and in many ways in tandem with pitchers? This idea is slathered with badness. I don’t want to watch a game where a pitch I just thought they called a ball has been changed to a strike.
Unfettered MLB Streaming Is On The Horizon
Want to get some underwear in a bunch? Gather a few baseball fans together and introduce this talking point: “broadcast blackouts and streaming MLB games.”
Many fans have been whining for years that they cannot watch all of their team’s games. That will likely change in the future, and the savior will be the league itself.
“Unlike any other entity, we have access to all of the digital rights, and let’s not forget we do have the technology chops to stream 2,430 games, given that we’ve been doing it since 2000. … It’s about giving fans that may be outside the traditional cable bundle adequate opportunity to see our games.”
Major League Baseball Advanced Media (BAM, as it’s known), has been operating since the owners funded it in 2000. It’s ben both good and bad for the game. I’d argue mostly bad. Full disclosure: I worked for BAM from 2007-2009.
But, if MLBAM can figure a way to launch an affordable streaming service that allows fans across the U.S. and elsewhere to see all of their local market games (except for national exclusive-rights games), that would be a winner for the game.
The Commish Again Begs For Corporate Welfare
Manfred spoke about the domestic situations for two teams: the Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays, both of whom have threatened to relocate if the local government doesn’t provide funding or most of the funding for stadiums.
It’s absurd that billionaires who own sports teams feel they can and should hold cities hostage and demand corporate welfare. The league, as it always does, is playing the fear game: making it clear that the A’s and Rays would bolt if they had to. The Las Vegas market is most often mentioned.
Manfred said boldly: “I’m going to say it again. There needs to be a resolution in the Tampa Bay region for the Rays.”
What that means for the tax-paying folks in Oakland and Tampa is: more public dollars being spent to build playgrounds for the filthy rich.