Manfred has eye on advanced technology
Commissioner discusses variety of topics during visit to ESPN
Appearing live in-studio on ESPN's "SportsCenter" on Thursday morning, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred talked about the impact of technology and how it can further enhance the game for fans as early as the upcoming season, among other topics.
Manfred spent most of the day at ESPN's headquarters in Bristol, Conn., for a series of editorial meetings plus television and radio appearances with one of MLB's national broadcast partners.
"We own a world-class technology company in MLB.com [and] it's not just the websites," Manfred told host Kevin Negandhi. "The company as a whole is much broader than that. And I think it's important that we bring the technology that is available there to bear in our broadcasts and in the stadium to help people understand the game better and to enjoy the game more.
"You'll see us make available enhancements to our broadcast partners nationally and locally this year. We have a product that we're referring to ... as Statcast. It will help people understand not only that Rob Manfred was thrown out at second base trying to steal, but why that happened. We have technology available to track player movements in a way that gives you that sort of information."
Technology also encompasses expanded instant replay and initiatives to improve the pace of games, Manfred pointed out.
"I think replay was a huge success for us last year," he said. "It was a massive expansion that we did. And I think the key to the success is the technology that was brought to bear on the process so that we had crisp, correct reviews.
"I think a pitch clock has shown some promise in the early experiments we have done. We started in the Arizona Fall League. We expanded it to Double-A and Triple-A for this season. We wanted to be really careful that we understand what a clock does before we try to bring [it to the Major Leagues]."
A Commissioner, Manfred said, has to strike a balance. Just because there's talk about limiting defensive shifts, for example, doesn't mean it's going to happen.
"I think the biggest challenge we face, like all entertainment products, like all sports, is for our product to continue to evolve to be consonant with what's going on in our society," he said. "I think that challenge is particularly tough in baseball because you always have to balance change against the need to avoid harming the great traditions that underlie our game.
"We have had a lot of conversation internally about what we see as a trend to less offense in the game. It's something we think needs to be monitored closely. We are not at the point where we've decided that this is actually something that's going to continue as opposed to just as aberration. But because it's out there, we've started talking about various ideas that might be helpful in terms of injecting extra offense into the game. It's very preliminary. I just think it's a product of my approach to management, which is to get ahead of the issue, have open conversation about it, so if you have to make a change, you've really thought it through."
Manfred was asked about his recent meeting with the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez, who is returning this season after a one-year suspension for his involvement with Biogenesis and performing-enhancing drugs, and the possibility that Pete Rose, banned for gambling, could be reinstated.
"I have meetings with players all the time about various topics that I regard to be private," Manfred said. "I will say this much: When you have stringent penalties like we have in our drug program, a player gets caught, he serves his penalty. I think it's incumbent on the institution to try to help the player in his attempt to resume his career."
On Rose: "I have to be careful about this one. I fully expect that at some point I will have a request from Mr. Rose and his attorneys to review that situation. And because I'm the decision maker on that, it's just not appropriate for me to talk about my stance until he's had that opportunity. The timing is really in their court, but I expect that it will happen at some point."
In a separate interview on the "Mike & Mike" show, the Commissioner went more in depth on his opinions about baseball's traditions.
"The key for us, and we've learned this over time as we've gone through changes like instant replay and things such as that, is process," Manfred said. "And I'll give you a great example of that. We started talking about pace of game in the fall. We got a bunch of ideas together. And some of the more traditional people on the committee, when we started talking about clocks, said, 'You can't put a clock on the field! This is the game with no clock!'
"So we talked a little more and what we agreed on was to use the clocks in the Arizona Fall League. And what happened was people started watching the games streamed on MLB.com and they noticed a particular flow to the game. They liked the way the game flowed."
The General Managers Meetings held in Phoenix in November allowed the executives to watch the games in person.
"At the end of this process, those same really traditional people came back and said, 'I was against this, but now that I've seen it, we should study it a little more,'" Manfred said.
"So you just have to get people used to the idea slowly. Pace of game is going to be a multiyear thing for us."
That will involve enforcing existing rules, not only about how quickly pitches must be delivered but on keeping batters from stepping out of the box after every pitch. And it will involve starting each half-inning more efficiently.
"Our problem isn't the commercials," Manfred said. "It's that we don't get in and out in the time we could get in and out."
Another live appearance on "SportsCenter" with David Lloyd and a call-in to the "Carmen and Jurko" show on ESPN Radio in Chicago covered many of the same topics, although Manfred was asked about the possibility of adding the designated hitter to the National League during the latter appearance.
"I've never had a lot of dissonance about the different rule in the two leagues," he said. "I think it causes a lot of debate, and debate is good. It causes a lot of interest in the sport. I do think the role of the designated hitter has evolved in the American League, but I don't think the National League owners are quite ready to adopt that rule."
That was followed by two more radio interviews, one with Stephen A. Smith and one with Mike Lupica. Manfred then capped off his day by sitting down with Bob Ley for a segment on "Outside the Lines."
On "OTL," Manfred discussed the political situation involving bringing Cuban players to the United States, and he predicted that a worldwide Draft would be part of the negotiations for the next Collective Bargaining Agreement. And he was asked about his relationship with Tony Clark, the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association.
"I've known Tony for a long time," Manfred said. "People forget that he was a very important part of the negotiations when he was a player. I'm very comfortable with Tony. We have a good rapport. And I'm confident looking forward [that we'll] be able to find a way to make agreements."