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MLB commissioner blames players’ union for refusing pace changes

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred didn’t waste any time firing back at the MLB Players Association on Tuesday during a news conference for the Arizona spring training media.

There will be no major rules changes to help speed up the pace of games because the MLBPA shot down the proposals, Manfred said.

None of the proposals were given the blessing from the union, including raising the strike zone, limiting the time managers have to decide whether to challenge a call, and putting a cap on visits to the mound. The league has implemented multiple changes in the past few years to help speed up the pace of play. That included requiring batters to stay in the box during an at-bat and forcing pitchers to be ready for their first pitch after commercial breaks.

“Unfortunately, it now appears there really won’t be any meaningful change for the 2017 season due to a lack of cooperation from the MLBPA,” Manfred said. “I have great respect for the labor relations process and I have a pretty good track record of getting things done with the MLBPA. I have to admit, however, that I’m disappointed that we could not even get the MLBPA to agree to modest rule changes like limits on trips to the mound that have little affect on the competitive character of the game.”

Manfred dismissed the notion that he’s trying to alter the game, a common accusation from opponents of pace of play initiatives.

“I’ve tried to be clear that our game is fundamentally sound, that it doesn’t need to be fixed, as some have suggested,” said Manfred, who implied the league’s power to effect change will increase next year in the second year of the basic agreement.

“We intend to pursue our agenda for change into Year 2 of that process for the benefit of the game and the benefit of our fans,” he said.

Fans’ discouragement with lagging pace of play in recent years, Manfred said, hasn’t waned. The average game was three hours in 2016, four minutes longer than the previous season.

“I believe it’s a mistake to stick our heads in the sand and ignore the fact that our game has changed and continues to change,” said Manfred, while also heralding the popularity of the league in 2016. Balls in play, however, were at a record low in ’16, he pointed out, creating more perceived “dead time” during games.

“I’m firmly convinced, both our avid fans and our casual fans, want us to respond to and manage the change that is going on in the game,” he said. “I’m certain our job as stewards of the game is to be responsive to fans and I reject the notion that we can educate fans to embrace the game as it’s currently being played.”

Stefan Stevenson: 817-390-7760, @StevensonFWST

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