WASHINGTON -- During his annual Town Hall Q&A session at Play Ball Park on Monday, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred touched on a variety of topics, including the hot topic du jour among fans: infield shifts.Manfred has said from early in his tenure that he's willing to discuss virtually
WASHINGTON -- During his annual Town Hall Q&A session at Play Ball Park on Monday, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred touched on a variety of topics, including the hot topic du jour among fans: infield shifts.
Manfred has said from early in his tenure that he's willing to discuss virtually any new idea, including banning shifts as a way to potentially increase the number of base hits. On Monday, though, Manfred wondered if that would offer a solution to the "three true outcomes" -- home runs, walks, strikeouts -- that have all increased in frequency in the last few years.
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"The question is what sort of rule would produce the outcome that people are looking for," Manfred said. "In other words, is there a change we can make with respect to defensive alignment that would get away from the three true outcomes?
"I'm not sure there is. I think it's something we need to discuss more. I think it's something where we need to get a lot of player input. But if you think about it, right now, players have made a decision that the home run -- trying to hit it over the shift -- is more valuable than a hit to the opposite field. Even if you move players to the other side of the diamond, it's unclear that they're going to change their approach at the plate. We've got to think that one all the way through.
"The best I can say about that is there's a lot of conversation going on in the game. It's being discussed among ownership, and I do think there's some concern with respect to that issue. We've also approached [MLB Players Association executive director] Tony Clark and told him we'd like to have a dialogue with the players on this.
"Obviously, the players' input on this is really important. We're hopeful Tony will be in position to have that dialogue in the near future."
Among other topics Manfred discussed:
• The Yankees-Red Sox games scheduled for London next year have been wildly successful, with more than 50,000 people registering for tickets in the first 24 hours.
• Manfred favors expansion from 30 to 32 teams once the stadium issues in Tampa Bay and Oakland are resolved, and he said there are cities in Canada, Mexico and the United States that are interested in obtaining a franchise.
"Thirty-two teams does a lot for us from a schedule format perspective," Manfred said. "Right now, we have five-team divisions. If we could get to eight four-team divisions, the schedule would be more flexible, give us more opportunity to do things in the schedule to market the game. Also, it would allow us to look at our postseason format and maybe [consider] things even as aggressive as geographic realignment and things like that."
• The youth programs that were Manfred's highest priority when he became Commissioner are paying dividends.
"I think our youth programs are our most important initiatives," Manfred said. "It's about our future in two respects. First of all, our game is compelling because we have the greatest athletes in the world, and we have to be out there competing and making sure that they choose baseball so we have great athletes for the future.
"But equally important, youth participation builds fans. If you play, you're much more likely to be a fan. It's really important for our business of the future. Honestly, the single thing I like best is the level of participation we've achieved."
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Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.