Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred speaks at a news...

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred speaks at a news conference following an owners meeting, Thursday, May 23, 2024. Credit: AP/Julia Nikhinson

Robo-umps likely will have to wait, and even when the automated ball-strike system does come to Major League Baseball, it may be in a limited capacity, commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday afternoon.

Speaking at the conclusion of the owners meetings and MLB’s midtown headquarters, Manfred said that ABS is “unlikely” for 2025, and that “there’s a growing consensus — in large part based on what we’re hearing from players — that the challenge form should be the form of ABS, if and when we bring it to the big leagues, at least as a starting point. I think that’s a good decision.”

ABS was first used in 2019 and then implemented more widely in the minor leagues beginning in 2021, but Manfred said baseball is still dealing with technical issues in operating the system — strike zone definition and setting the zone for individual batters, in particular. There was hope that its greater use this year in Triple-A would lead to more refinements, but that hasn’t occurred to the extent necessary, he added. Triple-A has used ABS both ways — for every pitch, and only during challenges, with the latter being what Manfred views as the best alternative.

“We had different things going there” to better establish the electronic strike zone, Manfred said, “percentages of height, camera systems. I’m not sure that anybody is wholly satisfied with either approach.”

Players, too, have been more reticent than expected, he said.

“The (issue) that is often pointed to, but not the only one, is the framing catcher,” Manfred said. “I think that the players feel that the catcher that frames is part of — if you let me use the word — art of the game. And that, if in fact, framing is no longer important, the kind of players that would occupy that position might be different than they might be today and you could hypothesize a world where, instead of a framing catcher who’s focused on defense, the catching position becomes a more offensive player. That alters people’s careers, so there are real, legitimate concerns that we need to think all the way through.”

The automated strike zone was just one part of a wide-ranging discussion with the media.

Other topics included the poor quality of the Nike jerseys players are sporting this season, issues with regional sports networks, and the decision to hold this year’s All-Star Game in Atlanta after baseball revoked that privilege in 2021 in protest of a Georgia voting law that critics called discriminatory.

Manfred also announced the 2026 World Baseball Classic host sites: Japan’s Tokyo Dome, Miami’s loanDepot Park, San Juan’s Hiram Bithorn Stadium and Houston’s Minute Maid Park

"We promise an unprecedented event that will not only honor our rich baseball history but will also mark the beginning of an exciting future," said Anaymir “Tuti” Munoz, vice president of Puerto Rico's MB Sports via statement. "Baseball fans in Puerto Rico and around the world should be prepared for an unforgettable experience."

Of the jerseys, Manfred said that Nike “appropriately took responsibility for the issues with the new uniforms and the roll out of the new uniforms.”

In 2025, the company plans to address the small lettering on the back of jerseys, non-customized pants, issues with players sweating through their uniforms, and grays that did not match each other.

The commissioner added that there was still not much clarity on what would happen to fans spread across 12 markets that don’t currently have access to local baseball — a consequence of Diamond Sports Group filing for bankruptcy. Diamond has plans to reorganize its business plan before a July 29 hearing, and baseball has until July 18 to file an objection; Manfred said they still haven’t decided what route to take. If Diamond loses rights to the teams under its umbrella, MLB can take over — putting the league one step closer to a national, straight-to-consumer streaming service that would ostensibly get rid of regional blackouts.

“Bankruptcy is bankruptcy, and it goes at its own pace,” Manfred said. “The conversation about nationalization, I think it's dependent on getting, in the relatively short term, some body of rights — 14, 15, 16, 17 clubs — and then you start down the path from there. I’m not so naïve to believe that two weeks from tomorrow, I’m going to have all 30.”

Additionally, Manfred called the decision to hold the All-Star Game in Atlanta this year a “personal evolution.”

“One of the things we’ve learned over time is that the more we stay out of political issues, the better off we are,” he said.

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