The new baseball commissioner drew a line in the dirt here Monday.
More accurately, it was a line on the clock.
“Certainly, we want to reverse the trend of the increasing length of games,” said Rob Manfred, who announced rules changes last week designed to speed up play.
“I’m really intent upon the idea that we’re going to have an average game time this year that starts with a ‘2’ as opposed to a ‘3.’”
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Speaking to media members at the stately, Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired Arizona Biltmore — at age 86, a bit of a time machine in its own right — Manfred agreed that baseball needs to make itself more attractive to younger fans.
Younger audiences expect more technology, the commissioner suggested. They have shorter attention spans.
The average major league game crept over the three-hour mark last season. As recently as the mid-1980s, the average game clocked in 22 minutes faster.
Under the rules changes announced last week, players will not be allowed to leave the batter’s box after every pitch and (1) adjust their batting gloves or (2) update their Facebook status. I’m only half-kidding about the latter.
Beginning this season, teams also need to be ready to go when the TV commercial ends. Regrettably, walk-up music is still permitted, but it also will not be allowed to linger.
The third rule change is designed to end last season’s charade of managers slowly sauntering onto the field after a close call and waiting for a signal from the dugout on whether to challenge. Managers will now be allowed to issue a challenge from the dugout.
None of this is breathless stuff, of course. Baseball needs the commercials. But Manfred knows that opening even the slightest dialogue on improving the pace of play could have a positive, time-cutting ripple effect down the line.
Give the new guy credit. Baseball once had a commissioner who refused to wear an overcoat at the World Series, because he wanted to uphold the image of baseball as America’s summertime game.
Now, along comes Manfred, tinkling the bells of sacred cows like the size of the strike zone, second basemen lining up in right field, and the number of runs on the scoreboard.
Purists need not panic. Manfred said he wants to make sure there is a problem before he appoints a committee to correct it.
Manfred said he met with union chief Tony Clark and, “We began with the conceptual understanding that we were going to proceed with caution on the pace of the game. Obviously, we never want to do anything that’s going to change the way the game is played on the field.”
Anything that happens in that regard, Manfred said, is likely “going to be an ongoing multi-year evolution.”
As for changes designed to boost offense, he said he’d first like to determine whether the decline in hitting is “an aberration or something that will self-correct.”
Manfred was also asked Monday about Pete Rose. He said he will consider Rose’s case “whether and when I receive a request from Mr. Rose.”
Tampa Bay’s charges against the Cubs, meanwhile, of tampering in the hiring of Joe Maddon “will be resolved before the season begins.”
That dump in Oakland where the A’s play?
Manfred answered, “The A’s need a new stadium. The facility in which they’re playing, I don’t believe, is of major league quality.”
In other words, the new commissioner himself didn’t step out of the batter’s box Monday in his first major session with baseball’s national media.
Baseball’s clock is ticking. Shaving off a few minutes of lollygagging is, at least, a progressive start.
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697