CLEVELAND • Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred took on a host of topics with baseball’s card-carrying writing press on Tuesday at the All-Star Game and one of the issues du jour was the designated hitter.
The upshot? Not coming to our National League town anytime soon.
Manfred said that the DH for both leagues won’t be up for change until after the current bargaining agreement is over after the 2021 season.
“I think it’s probably a 2021 issue before anything else meaningful happens,” Manfred said.
And, Manfred added, “I do not think that (the DH in both leagues) is inevitable. It depends on how the bargaining unfolds and how my politics develop on that one. I’m not quite sure where I am on that one.”
Manfred reminded reporters that it would take three-quarters of the owners (or at least 23 of the 30) to agree to the change.
“Hell, it was hard for me to get three-quarters to get elected, let alone on the DH,” cracked Manfred. “Lest we not forget.”
One of the hottest items this week was the texture of the baseball and an intentional alteration of it, as American League starter Justin Verlander of Houston had suggested the day before. Manfred said the independent scientists asked by his office to do the studies have determined that, indeed, there was a “drag,” on the ball.
“If you have less drag, (the ball goes further),” said Manfred, who added that further tests will be conducted. “We need to figure out why,” said Manfred.
“We not only need to figure out why, we need to figure out a process that lets us manage in advance how the ball’s going to perform. We’re working on that. We’re trying to get there as fast as we possibly can.
“It’s hand-made. There is — and always has been — variation in that process. Manipulation of the baseball is a great conspiracy theory.”
Many team home-run records will fall, but Manfred indicated to the Post-Dispatch that nobody, i.e. hitters, had complained that the composition of the same ball also was causing record strikeouts and walks in the past couple of years. Then, broached with the theory that if more balls were put in play, there would be less kerfuffle about the ball, Manfred replied, “You’re right.”
As for a Tampa Ban team struggling to attract fans, moving half its games to Montreal in future years, Manfred said, “I’m focused on the idea that this split-season (plan) the Rays came up with is an opportunity to preserve baseball in Tampa Bay. And I’m not prepared to say one way or the other what’s going to happen if that effort turns out to be unsuccessful.”
But Manfred said there was no expansion on the horizon.
“There’s no way we’re biting into expansion until we get Tampa and Oakland (which also needs a new stadium) resolved one way or the other," he said.
Addressing the barrage of stories and interest generated by the National Basketball Asociation’s free-agent signing period which started last week, Manfred said, “Would it for a good thing for us if we all went to the winter meetings in San Diego and we had a non-stop run of press conferences where all our free agents signed and we owned that week? Yeah ... that would be good for the game.
“The NBA has a very different system than ours. We would be more than prepared to discuss with the players’ association that system or any other system.
“I want to negotiate the freest free-agency in any sport, which is what we have. No cap. No franchise tags. No maximum contracts.
“Let’s not lose sight of the fact that our free-agency process, whether it’s perfect or not, has produced more $100 million guaranteed contracts than the rest of professional sports combined. But we’re prepared to talk to the MLBPA (players’ association). We’re good with the deal we made in 2016. We’re prepared to live with it. We told Tony (executive director Tony Clark) to tell us what mechanism he wants.
“But the conversation has to be limited. You can’t cherry-pick certain aspects of another system and say that I don’t want the things that aren’t good for me. And our economic system has to preserve the competitiveness of those small-market clubs. That is always our overriding goal.”
Clark had indicated that he might want to do away with the draft as an entry into the game. But Manfred replied, “Every professional sport has a draft. It’s part of the normal economic system that preserves competitive balance in the sport.”
A new rule for All-Star Games is to have a runner at second base with nobody out for each team in the 10th and each succeeding inning, for time and player usage constraints. Manfred said he wasn’t ready to endorse at the major-league level a rule that is in place in the minors, the All-Star Game excluded.