At my core, I’m a baseball guy. Always have been. So as baseball executives and owners kick up dirt in the days leading up to another season, let me say this clearly and uncompromisingly.
I’m with Rob Manfred on this one.
In the event you somehow missed it, Manfred and union leader Tony Clark have exchanged barbs in recent days about the future of the on-field product. Manfred spoke of quickening the pace and making the game more fan-friendly. Players spoke of history and tradition. And if you think there is even remotely a debate about this, then you’re undoubtedly old and stodgy and on the back nine.
In fact, you’re probably on the 17th tee.
“I’m firmly convinced both our avid fans and casual fans want us to respond to and manage the change that’s going on in the game,” Manfred said recently. “I’m certain that 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 played.”
Translation: the game moves too slowly. The world has undergone massive changes in recent years, largely as the result of a mobile and digital world that provides instant gratification. The world bus is moving, folks. Baseball is either on it or under it.
A pitch clock? An intentional walk without actual pitches? Fewer mound visits? I don’t know if any of it will work. What I do know, with certainty, is that it’s all worth a try, and the problem with baseball players, in particular, is that they are among the closed-minded people in the world.
Listen to some of these comments by players, according to USA Today:
“If you put a clock on baseball, you take away the sanctity of the game and the character of it,” said Texas Rangers catcher Jonathan Lucroy. “The game has been played like this way for 150 years, and now we’re going to change it? I understand trying to speed up the game to create more action, but this isn’t football. It doesn’t make any sense.”
(Actually, it makes plenty of sense. The world is different than it was 150 years ago. And so was baseball. Games didn’t take three hours then.)
“I’m just very glad I will not be playing this game in 10 years,” said Brandon Moss, now of the Kansas City Royals. “It won’t be recognizable. It’s going in a direction where it’s not the same game. Every year they keep trying to think of some stupid new rule. It’s getting old. Real old.”
(With that attitude, I’m glad you won’t be playing the game in 10 years, too. Maybe we can speed up your departure.)
“I read Manfred’s comments about how we have to concede to what the fans want,” said veteran reliever Jason Grilli, now of the Toronto Blue Jays, “but our health and our careers is more important than making sure they beat the traffic home.”
(Um, actually, it isn’t. That’s the point. Without the fans, there is no career. And how exactly is asking you to operate a little more quickly a threat to your career? Do you realize how much of a sniveling, whining child you sound like?)
Oh, there’s more. And most of it comes down to the simple fact that major league players are spoiled and have way too much power, which raises an interesting question about the timing of all this. Last fall, baseball owners and players agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement, though it has not officially been signed. (Rest assured that it will be.) Under the terms of that CBA, commissioner Manfred has the right to unilaterally impose changes to the game beginning in 2018, which means the players are going to have the new rules jammed down their throats.
Which, of course, is the only way that change is going to happen.
So here’s my question: why did the union agree to empower Manfred in the first place?
The answer: because deep down, even union leadership knows that the game must adapt, even if it doesn’t want to admit as much to its constituents. In fact, the only people who don’t know it are the players and your father. So I’m willing to bet that when Manfred and Clark were finalizing this CBA, there was a conversation that went something like this:
Manfred: “Okay, what about the pace-of-play issues?”
Clark: “You and I know both know the players are never going to go for it.”
Manfred: “But it has to happen.”
Clark: “I agree.”
Manfred: “So what do you suggest?”
Clark: “Well, you do have the power to impose changes unilaterally starting in 2018.”
Manfred: “Okay, fine. So I’ll be the bad guy. And by the time the next CBA comes up, we should have completed the transition.”
Think about it… if union leadership felt strongly enough about the changes to the game, why does the commissioner have the power to invoke change?
Because Clark has to save face, that’s why. I mean is it a coincidence that all of this is taking place almost immediately after the latest CBA was agreed upon? Baseball is going to go through a transition over the next five years. Things are going to get bumpy. Clark needs to preserve his standing with players while Manfred makes changes. By 2022, we’ll have a better grasp on what works and what doesn’t.
Look, life goes on. Basketball added a three-point shot decades ago. The NFL recently changed the distance of an extra point and makes tweaks constantly. Hockey has modified rules to increase scoring, going to so far as to discuss changing both the size of goalie equipment and the nets. Meanwhile, baseball has done … nothing … to the point where a game now takes, on average, more than three hours, for a 162 days a year. And the players are grumbling that they’re being rushed.
It’s not about you, you donkeys.
It is about the fans.
Without an audience that is rapidly changing on multiple levels, there is no Show.
Tony Massarotti is an avid Boston sports fan and has covered sports in Boston for more than 15 years for both the Boston Herald and Boston Globe. He now serves as a co-host on afternoon drive on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston. He was a two-time Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year as voted by his peers and has written four books, including “Big Papi,” the New York Times-bestselling memoirs of David Ortiz. You can follow Tony @tonymassarotti.