For the unlucky few who have yet to watch former Mets manager Terry Collins explode in that wildly popular viral video, Major League Baseball already is at work scrubbing the leaked footage from the internet, and commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday it’s a matter of labor peace with the umpires.
“If there’s one thing I believe more strongly than anything else about the way you should conduct yourself in business is that you should live up to your commitments,” Manfred said after the MLB owners meetings concluded Thursday in Manhattan. “We made a commitment to the umpires that if they would wear microphones, certain types of interactions that we all know go on the field would not be aired publicly.
“We promised them that. It’s in the collective bargaining agreement. We had no choice in a situation like that then to do everything possible to live up to our agreement. It is labor relations 101. To not do that is the kind of breach of trust that puts you in a bad spot over the long haul.”
The Collins video was among a number of topics that Manfred addressed, with a handful — including what to do about defensive shifts and the DH — still very much in discussion with the owners. One issue the commissioner was pleased to speak about, based on favorable, concrete results, involved the sport’s pace-of-play initiatives, and the new rule limiting mound visits.
To date, the average length of a nine-inning game this season sits at 2:59:49, a significant decrease from 3:05:11 at the end of last year. Part of that is due to the tighter breaks between innings, but apparently the six-visit cap on mound trips has made a difference, too. The games are averaging 3.92 visits so far, as compared with 7.41 a year ago. Those minutes add up.
“We’ve managed to play all the games without a mound-related incident, despite predictions to the contrary,” Manfred said, referring to the initial fears about less communication with pitchers. “I think that’s a positive. One of the things that happens when you make rule changes, in the pace-of-game area . . . it puts pace in the front of people’s minds. And I think some of what we’re seeing is just actually players playing faster.”
As far as the DH is concerned, Manfred conceded that a number of National League owners remain steadfastly loyal to their style of play, with pitchers having to hit. But Manfred, who pointed out that pitchers are batting .113 this season, hinted at the possibility of a universal DH gaining traction, something that he’s increasingly supported since taking over as commissioner in 2015.
“I think the DH is one of those topics that you never quite put to bed,” Manfred said, “and I think that is a continuing source of conversation among the ownership group. I think that the dialogue actually probably moved a little bit.”
Manfred also consulted with MLB’s competition committee on rule upgrades, and the potentially damaging impact of defensive shifts was brought up, especially in light of what’s perceived as a game that’s starving for more action. While other sports have installed rules to make some defenses illegal, baseball has moved slowly in this area.
“I do think that people believe — and I think there’s evidence to support — that it’s affected batting averages,” Manfred said. “I think there’s some new thinking that it may actually be increasing walks, which is kind of an offsetting trend. This demonstrates the difficulty of trying to make rule changes and expecting that those rule changes are going to produce a particular outcome on the field.
“Take shifts. When they came. everybody said it was common thought, people are going to learn just to go the other way. But the fact of the matter is the human element took over and what they decided to do was go over the top than go the other way. The outcomes of these rule changes are uncertain. I think we want to proceed judiciously, but I also think we want to proceed.”