DENVER — Prior to Tuesday’s MLB All-Star Game in Denver, commissioner Rob Manfred and MLB Players Association executive director Tony Clark addressed a range of issues concerning the sport at a Baseball Writers’ Association of America meeting.
Here are five key topics they discussed.
Doubleheader and extra-inning rules
Baseball traditionalists everywhere can rejoice.
Seven-inning doubleheaders and automatic extra-inning baserunners might soon be a thing of the past.
Manfred said those rules — created as part of the league’s efforts to safely continue play during the pandemic — are unlikely to “become part of our permanent landscape” beyond this season.
Manfred said the league might discuss other “non-radical” rules changes with the Players Association, such as adding the designated hitter to the National League or implementing regulations against infield shifts.
But the doubleheader and extra-inning changes that were made prior to last season might be in their final days.
Clark said the union wasn’t making an outright “push” for its remaining unvaccinated players to get the COVID-19 vaccination but insisted they had “encouraged from the beginning” for players to do so.
Even as stadiums return to full capacity and masks become scarcer around ballparks, the pandemic has continued to have an effect on the season, most recently when the Philadelphia Phillies had to place four players on the COVID-19 injured list last week.
According to Manfred, 85% of the league’s Tier 1 personnel (a group that includes players, coaches and those who most closely interact with them) have been vaccinated. Seven teams, however, still remain below the 85% threshold, the point at which social distancing restrictions are relaxed for clubs.
Manfred didn’t rule out the possibility of the league potentially requiring players to be vaccinated — he noted that the commissioner’s office had a mandatory vaccination policy — but said conversations with the MLBPA hadn’t reached that point yet.
“I understand people have different views,” Manfred said. “I wish everybody’d get vaccinated. I think it would be a good thing for us generally. But you’ve got to work it through with the people that represent the players.”
The fate of the A’s in Oakland
Manfred said the process for trying to get the Oakland Athletics a new ballpark in Oakland was heading toward an ultimatum, with upcoming votes by local governmental authorities on a proposed stadium project likely to “determine the fate of baseball in Oakland.”
The Oakland City Council is set to vote next week on a stadium proposal at Howard Terminal in Oakland, the latest of several efforts to build the A’s a new ballpark in the Bay Area. If that project is not approved, Manfred said the A’s potential relocation to Las Vegas or another city would “take on more pace.”
“Las Vegas is a viable alternative for a major league club, and there are other viable alternatives that I haven’t even turned the A’s loose to even exploring at this point,” Manfred added. “Thinking about this as a bluff is a mistake. This is the decision point for Oakland.”
Other rules changes
Although the seven-inning doubleheaders and extra-inning modifications likely are going away, other potential changes to the game remain possible as the league and players’ union embark on negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement.
Manfred said rules changes the league might pursue would have a common goal of making the game more enjoyable for players, teams and fans.
What that means to each group, however, will undoubtedly differ.
Citing regulation of infield shifts as one example, Manfred characterized potential proposals as a “restoration” of the game’s historical style rather than a fundamental change.
“What we play today doesn’t look all that much like 1971,” Manfred said. “The question is, which version would you like to get to? That’s the way I think about the differences.”
Clark also weighed in on how players might view such rules changes, though he didn’t reveal how the union might respond to specific ideas.
“Players are willing to talk about adjustments; players are willing to talk about the best ways to move the game forward,” Clark said. “Players are also interested in protecting the integrity of what the game has always been. That’s what they fell in love with and many folks have fallen in love with.”
Speaking of the CBA negotiations, neither Manfred nor Clark revealed details about how the process was going less than five months before the current agreement was set to expire.
Manfred did downplay the notion that last year’s contentious negotiations on how to stage the pandemic-shortened 2020 season would have some effect on the latest discussion between the sides.
“I think we have a very professional working relationship with the MLBPA,” Manfred said, adding: “Agreements get made or not made based on the substance of what’s out there. The fact we had a period of time, which we admittedly had last spring, where we had serious disagreements that became public I don’t think is really an indicator of whether you’re going to get a new agreement.”