Commissioner foresees Classic as 'our best tournament ever'

February 10th, 2023

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Around the same time World Baseball Classic rosters were being announced on MLB Network Thursday night, Commissioner Rob Manfred opened his media availability at the conclusion of the quarterly Owners' Meetings by expressing his excitement for next month's tournament.

With superstars like Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani and Juan Soto set to participate, hype is building for the Classic, which will run from March 8-21. The global showcase hasn't taken place since 2017, and the field has since expanded from 16 to 20 teams.

"We've had a very busy three days already [at the Owners' Meetings]," Manfred said. "Big emphasis on the WBC. We see it as our best tournament ever. Our presale is really strong. Unbelievable group of players. We're just looking forward to it as a great beginning to our season."

This year's Classic features eight MVP winners -- Trout, Paul Goldschmidt, Mookie Betts and Clayton Kershaw for Team USA, as well as Miguel Cabrera and Jose Altuve for Venezuela, Ohtani for Japan and Freddie Freeman for Canada. Additionally, 16 of the top 18 finishers for the 2022 NL MVP and six of the top 10 finishers for the 2022 AL MVP are scheduled to participate, as well as the reigning MVPs of NPB, infielder Munetaka Murakami and pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto of Japan, and of the KBO, Korea's Jung-Hoo Lee.

Along with World Baseball Classic talk, much of the conversation among MLB's owners revolved around the upcoming rule changes: the pitch timer, larger bases and shift restrictions.

"This has been an eight-year effort for us, and I think people are very excited to see the rollout and how it's going to affect the way the game's being played on the field," Manfred said.

When asked whether the designated runner on second base in extra innings would return, Manfred noted that the clubs discussed the permanence of that rule and that it would have to go back to the On-Field Committee.

"I think it's fair to say that clubs have gotten used to the extra-innings rule," Manfred said. "I think it's generally well liked by players. I don't bet on anything, but if you're going to make a bet, I think it's a pretty good bet it's going to continue."

Manfred addressed a variety of other issues during the media session:

On initiatives targeting diversity, equity, and inclusion …

"We did talk about hiring a little bit, but the focus of the discussion this time was more on the player development side. [MLB Chief Baseball Development Officer] Tony Reagins gave a really nice update about the number of player development-focused programs, amateur programs, and how it's increasing the pipeline of diverse players in the game. The breadth of the pie -- I think he said since 2015, we started 25 distinct programs to encourage play. He gave a report on the good results we had in the Draft last year, in terms of African-Americans being drafted.

"It's interesting. [White Sox executive vice president] Kenny Williams is always a great voice on this. Kenny talked a little bit about being out in the amateur world, where he's always been active, and sort of the change in the dynamic out there in terms of multi-sport athletes and our ability to compete with them, that we're doing a lot better in that regard."

On the A's and Rays' stadium situations …

"I gave an update on the Oakland situation. We did not talk about the Rays' situation. Everything that's happened recently, [Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg] covered in great detail in the last Owners' Meeting. He had a nice layout of what was coming, so there was no real update.

"I said at the last Owners' Meeting, I think anybody who's read the Basic Agreement understands this year [the A's] have kind of got a deadline. They need to figure out -- they need to have an agreement in place by next January. It's really important from the perspective of the club."

On revenue disparity …

"I think people know what happened in the winter. I think that they understand that it happened within the confines of the system they negotiated, and beating your gums about it doesn't accomplish a lot."