For those hoping that we’d seen the last of Major League Baseball’s “ghost runner” extra inning rule, you are probably going to be disappointed. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred spoke to Chris Russo on SiriusXM about a variety of topics on SiriusXM Friday night prior to Game 1 of the World Series.
When the subject of rule changes came up, Russo asked about the extra innings rule which has drawn the ire of some fans since its implementation.
“We haven’t finalized that. My strong sense is we’re gonna have it again. The clubs like it, the players like it,” Manfred said. “I think overall the fans like it. I think it does bring sort of a focus to the end of the baseball game in a way that has been positively received.”
Major League Baseball will be implementing several rule changes for the 2023 season which among them are a pitch clock and limitations on the defensive shift. Russo asked Manfred if he was concerned about push back from the players as they try and adapt.
“Look, I’m always concerned when we go through a period of change that it’s gonna be hard for the players,” Manfred said. “I think one of the things that I got out of the trip around talking to players is you get a really good understanding of the fact that, you know, this is their livelihood. Any change, you know, they feel it’s a threat to the continuity of their careers. But I’m hopeful that these changes, they’ll be able to adjust to them pretty quickly and we won’t have problems with the changes next year. Overall, I think the changes are crucially important for our game.”
Coming out of the lockout, Manfred said that he wanted to try and repair the relationship between the league and the players as things have been contentious over recent seasons. He added that he met with small groups of players from all 30 teams throughout the 2022 season.
“Well, yeah. I think we had a really good season in that regard. I actually met with small groups of players - well, some were small, some were 25 [players], for all 30 clubs,” Manfred said. “Usually the meetings were away from the ballpark. Really good exchange. I learned a lot. I listened a lot. I really didn’t have a message other than I wanted to hear from them. I think that it was very positively received by the players, and I think that’s an important first step. I’d also point out, you know, the MLBPA decided that they wanted to try to organize the minor league players. We voluntarily recognized them. Again, an effort to build, not only with the individual players but with the union, a better relationship.”
On the subject of an automated strike zone, Manfred said that he is a fan of the system. Russo pushed back on losing the human aspect of the game to which Manfred replied that they have been experimenting with two different implementations in the minors. One is straightforward where the umpire has an earpiece, the other would involve a challenge system where teams would receive three per game.
“Well, you know, it’s interesting. There’s two different ways that we’ve been experimenting in the minor leagues,” Manfred said. “One is the sort of straightforward umpire has an earpiece. Every pitch gets called from up above. The one that I saw this year that a lot of people like is a challenge system. It takes four seconds for the challenge. The pitcher, the batter, or the catcher can challenge. Literally immediately the correct call goes into the umpire’s ears. It fixes the big miss without taking the human element out.”
Given what we have seen from MLB’s replay system, the three challenge system doesn’t sound appealing, especially given the league’s focus on improving pace of play.
“They wait ‘til big pitches,” Manfred added of the challenge system. “It was the sort of theory behind replay when we first went to it, is fix the big miss. The ones that really matter. I do think there are ball-strike calls where a four-second delay to get a review would not be a bad thing.”
Manfred also said that one big thing he was concerned about was the ability of fans, who have opted out of cable, to still be able to watch in their local markets.
“Oh, I think the biggest single thing on our docket now that fans are not focused on is the reach in our local markets,” Manfred said. “With the erosion of the cable bundle we’re not in as many homes as we need to be in. We need to develop a digital alternative, a streaming alternative that is available in-market. Obviously we’ve had the out-of-market package. We were the first real over-the-top product. We need a similar product in our local markets because so many people have opted out of cable, they’re not getting baseball. It’s crucial.”
That hits home for cord cutting Braves fans who have no good way to see the team thanks to Sinclair’s refusal to allow Bally Sports South or Bally Sports Southeast on streaming platforms such as YouTube TV and Hulu. Bally has recently introduced its own streaming package, but for a ridiculously high price tag. This is certainly something that the league needs to step in on especially as traditional cable subscribers continue to disappear.