Gil LeBreton

Manfred comes out barking in favor of baseball speed-up rules

Mound visits. A 20-second pitch clock. No-pitch intentional walks.

Yeah, yeah, we get it. Commissioner Rob Manfred, saying he has examined extensive data, wants to shave a few minutes off the length of the average major league baseball game.

Do what, now? The games are too long?

I didn’t notice. I was too busy looking at my cellphone.

That’s really all the data — the roving Fox cameras — that Manfred needed to conclude that baseball has a short-attention-span problem.

But he leaped over the turnbuckles anyway Tuesday and came out swinging, accusing players union head Tony Clark of a “lack of cooperation” in wanting to make the games more fan-friendly.

Speaking to Cactus League media, Manfred immediately went on the offensive, saying, “I have to admit that I’m disappointed that we cannot even get the MLBPA to agree to modest rule changes, like limits on trips to the mound, that have little effect on the competitive character of the game.”

Clark, for his part, had precipitated things by saying in Florida last week that he was “a romantic” and didn’t see any need to change the game he loved.

As Clark put it, “I think the game itself is pretty sexy the way it is.”

Wait. Intentional walks are sexy?

Manfred’s time-wasters elimination agenda are all reasonable, frankly. Pitch clocks in the minor leagues have been an undisputed success. The 20-second timers have become like an invisible drill sergeant, hurrying both pitcher and batter along.

The no-throw intentional walk is a no-brainer. A simple signal from the dugout will replace the four nervous wide ones that pitchers are now asked to execute.

If the MLBPA doesn’t want to agree to the speed-of-play changes, Manfred promised that he would use his czarly powers to unilaterally implement the new rules after this season. The current collective bargaining agreement gives him power to do that, Manfred pointed out.

“We routinely draw 75 million people live to major league baseball games every year and another 40 million people to minor league baseball,” the commissioner said. “No other sport has that kind of drawing power.

“At the same time 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.”

Since 1980, Manfred said, home runs were 32 percent, while strikeouts rose to a rate (67 percent) more than double that.

“Last year balls in play were at a record low,” Manfred said. “We all know that things like the use of relief pictures have changed dramatically in the past 30 years. I’m firmly convinced that our fans, both our avid fans and casual fans, want us to respond to and manage the change that’s going on in the game.”

Games, indeed, could be enhanced without the nightly dozen mound trips and pitching changes.

Football seems to do OK with hand signals from the sideline. Why not pitchers?

And instead of a one-batter minimum for relievers, why not increase it to two or three?

Batters now are allowed to leave the batter’s box, call for the pine tar rag and reset their Velcro batting gloves, just for hitting a foul ball. That shouldn’t happen, either, though it doesn’t appear to be one of the priority items on Manfred’s agenda.

But, yeah, we get it. The games are dragging. Replays aren’t helping things.

And as a warm-up for their next visit to the labor negotiations table, Manfred and Clark are behaving like two dogs this week, barking at each other through the fence.

Union leader Clark has every right, of course, to dig in his spikes. But he’s wrong. Three-hour-plus baseball games aren’t sexy — they’re just long.

The fans are too busy playing with their cellphones. And that’s the players’ problem, not just Manfred’s.

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram