MLB hoping to ditch short doubleheaders, extra-inning runner

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Athletics Nation 14 July, 2021 - 06:26pm 5 views

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MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said seven-inning DHs and starting extra innings with a runner on second are likely to be dropped by MLB in 2022.

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DENVER — Those seven-inning doubleheaders are going out the way of 10-cent beer and Disco Demolition nights, unceremoniously disappearing from the baseball landscape.

The extra-inning rules, with a runner starting on second base in the 10th inning, may be out too – or at least modified.

There also could be a ban of those shifts that have helped suffocate offenses.

And, yes, believe it or not, Major League Baseball and the players association aren’t nearly at odds as much as publicly perceived, with optimism that the 26-year streak without a work stoppage will continue.

“We have a very professional working relationship with the MLBPA,’’ Manfred said Tuesday. “More generally, this whole relationship thing gets overplayed and misinterpreted. The fact that you have a period of time, which we admittedly had last spring, where we had serious disagreements which became public, I don’t think that is an indicator of whether you’re going to get a new agreement. …

“Our No.1 priority is to get a new agreement without a work stoppage. Every single time that was our No. 1 priority. You know, it’s worked out pretty good so far.’’

Said Tony Clark, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association: “There are going to be disagreements along the way; there were disagreements last year, which unfortunately played out publicly.’’

This time, any disagreements have stayed behind closed doors, with neither side threatening a work stoppage, or insisting there’s even a hard deadline of Dec. 1.

Yet, the biggest news during the Q&A session Manfred and Clark had with the Baseball Writers' Association of America was that the rules implemented during the pandemic likely will be abolished before the 2022 season.

“These rules were adopted based on medical advice,’’ Manfred said. “Those are less likely they will become part of our permanent landscape. It was a COVID-related change.

“I don’t think seven-inning doubleheaders are going to be part of our future going forward.’’

Who knows, those drastic defensive shifts could also be banned in the future, and certainly will be discussed during the CBA talks.

“Let’s just say you regulated the shift by requiring two infielders on each side of second base,’’ Manfred said. “What does that do? It makes the game look like what it looked like when I was 12 years old.

“It’s not change. It’s kind of restoration. That’s why people are in favor of it. I’m hopeful that we will have productive conversations with the MLBPA about non-radical changes to the game that will restore it to being played in a way that is closer to what many of us enjoy historically.’’

It’s quite possible the game, no matter how it looks going forward, could be going on without a baseball team in Oakland. Manfred showed his strongest public support yet for the Athletics' potential plans to relocate to Las Vegas or elsewhere if they can’t reach an agreement for a new ballpark.

“The Oakland process is at the end,’’ Manfred said. “(Owner) John Fisher and (president) Dave Kaval have devoted literally millions of dollars to the effort to get a ballpark proposal that can be supported by the city of Oakland and Alameda County. That proposal is in front of the relevant government authorities. There are real crucial votes taking place over the next months, and that’s going to determine the fate of baseball. …

“So we’re going to know one way or another what’s going to happen in Oakland in the next couple of months. If you can’t get a ballpark, the relocation process, whether it’s Las Vegas or a broader array of cities that are considered, will take on more pace.’’

Las Vegas, which already took the Raiders out of Oakland, now are trying to poach the Athletics, too.

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“Las Vegas is a viable alternative for a major league club,’’ Manfred insists. “Thinking about this as a bluff is a mistake. This is the decision point for Oakland as to whether they want to have Major League Baseball going forward.’’

While Manfred threw down the gauntlet on Oakland, he asserted during his 30-minute briefing that he’s pleased with the direction of baseball’s future, citing the 16 million fans attending games in the first half with an average attendance of 29,000 during the final weekend before the All-Star break, the increase in TV ratings, the scouting combine and amateur draft being held one month apart, the incorporation of Negro League statistics and the celebration of their inaugural Lou Gehrig Day.

He just didn’t want to touch how politics could impact future All-Star Game sites, with this year’s game being moved from Atlanta to Denver in April because of voting right restrictions.

“I think the decision with respect to Atlanta was probably the hardest thing I’ve been asked to do so far,’’ Manfred said. “I’m kind of hoping it’s going to be the hardest thing I get asked to do, period. Having said that, I’m not going to speculate who’s going to pass a law and where we might take jewel events. It’s hard enough to deal with it in concrete real time.’’

Manfred and Clark also reverently spoke on the impact of Shohei Ohtani, saying that all players should be the face of baseball instead of one person, but not trying to hide the importance he has made to the game.

“I’ll honestly tell you,’’ Clark said, “I’ve never seen anything like it. I appreciate all of the great performances on the field, but I’ve never seen anything like it. I hope it continues.’’

Really, the only public difference of opinion between Clark and Manfred this day was their view on the 10 players who opted out of the All-Star Game, including the entire Houston Astros four-player contingent. MLB executives were livid with the massive bailout, while the union were understanding of their decisions.

“One thing I've learned is not to question someone's injuries," Clark said. "As players navigate this season, both themselves personally and their families, there's a realization that this is far from the norm.’’

Manfred pointed out that players selected to the All-Star Game are required to be in attendance unless they are dealing with injuries or pitched the last two days of the season before the break, which is part of the collective bargaining agreement.

“We have a basic agreement provision that with certain narrow exceptions,’’ Manfred said, “participation in the All-Star Game is mandatory. We will review with the union how all of the people that didn’t come fit within the exception to the rule. We bargained for that, and we intend on enforcing it.’’

New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole, who threw 129 pitches in his last start on Saturday, wasn’t available to pitch in Tuesday’s All-Star Game, but he still felt an obligation to attend the game and speak with the media.

“Even if I’m not going to pitch,’’ Cole said, “I think it’s part of our responsibility to come and answer questions, and perform if we’re able to, and represent the brand of the game.

“If you get elected to this by your peers, in my opinion you can show up. If you’re not injured, it’s something you should probably do.’’

There also was discussion of vaccination, with seven teams still not crossing the 85% threshold that’s required to loosen restrictions. While Clark is vaccinated, and has encouraged all players to get vaccinated, he’s not going to try to influence anyone into making a decision.

“When guys ask, we put players directly in touch with (our) experts and make sure they have access to that information,’’ Clark said. “We've seen the number continue to climb.’’

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Rob Manfred says defensive shifts might be banned in 2022

Bleed Cubbie Blue 15 July, 2021 - 12:33pm

Rob Manfred: “For example, things like eliminating shifts — I would be open to those sorts of ideas.”

Karl Ravech: “The forward-thinking, sabermetric defensive shifts?”

RM: “That’s what I’m talking about.”

KR: “So all of the work that the Cubs and/or Angels and/or whoever has done, you’re willing to say, ‘I appreciate that, good idea, but it’s killing the game in a sense’?”

RM: “Yeah ... I mean, we have really smart people working in the game. And they’re going to figure out way to get a competitive advantage. I think it’s incumbent on us in the commissioner’s office to look at the advantages that are produced and say, ‘Is this what we want to happen in the game?’”

My first reaction to this was “No”:

I really want to like Rob Manfred, but talking about banning defensive shifts on his 1st day in office isn't too smart.

About that “really want to like Rob Manfred” part of that tweet... uh, that hasn’t happened and probably won’t.

Back to the topic at hand: Defensive shifts have, over the last few years, been perceived to be even more of a drag on offenses, with players resorting to the launch-angle theory of defeating them: If you can’t hit a ball through the shift, hit it over the shift. This has resulted in more home runs — but also more strikeouts. This has created a game in which MLB felt it wise to hire former Cubs executive Theo Epstein to help bring more varied offense to the game — after Theo was one of the executives at the forefront of putting more shifts into baseball, to the point where fielders carry cards in their pockets noting their defensive positioning for each opposing hitter.

Experiments in modifying or banning shifts have been carried out in some minor leagues this year. And per this AP article, Manfred has suggested shifts might be banned in MLB in 2022:

“Let’s just say you regulated the shift by requiring two infielders each side of second base. What does that do? It makes the game look like what it looked like when I was 12 years old,” he said. “It’s not change. It’s kind of restoration, right? That’s why people are in favor of it. And they do believe, I think front offices in general believe it would have a positive effect on the play of the game.

“So I’m hopeful without going into the specifics of rule by rule, that we will have productive conversations with the MLBPA about — I want to use my words — non-radical changes to the game that will restore it to being played in a way that is closer to I think what many of us enjoy historically.

“Remember, the game evolves, right? What we play today don’t look all that much like 1971. And the question is, which version would you like to get to?”

Manfred is right (shocking, I know!). The game doesn’t look like it did in 1971, and the question is: Do we want to “restore” (Manfred’s word) baseball to closer to what it looked like 50 years ago, or keep the home-run friendly game the sport has evolved into?

I’d say a combination of that might work. Hitters are stronger and better than they were in 1971, but pitchers also throw much harder than they did back then. Simply banning the shift might not change a thing when hitters are facing a parade of pitchers who all throw 95-plus.

Personally, I have been opposed to banning the shift. We are getting away from a game where field managers have control. Managers now have to limit time visiting the mound and have to leave relief pitchers in for at least three batters. Now you want to take away their ability to position their fielders? I have long said that if the defense shifts against you, learn how to hit the other way.

But that doesn’t appear to be happening, and this is a cogent point:

If you didn’t already want to kill the extreme shift, its aggressive deployment in a summer exhibition game should be doing it for you.

Maybe it is time to kill the “extreme” shift, where a team sends its third baseman to play in short right field. How many times have we seen Cubs lefthanded hitters ground out into shifts like that, on balls that 20 or 30 or 50 years ago would have been base hits?

Give it a one-year experiment, see what happens. I hate to admit that Rob Manfred is right about anything, but it’s worth a try.

Manfred: A's fate in Oakland to be decided in coming months

FOX5 Las Vegas 15 July, 2021 - 12:33pm

MLB Might Be Headed Towards Ending Seven-Inning Doubleheaders and the Extra-Innings Rule

Dodgers Nation 15 July, 2021 - 12:33pm

The 2020 pandemic season brought a lot of changes to baseball. In order to make a season happen, MLB and the Player’s Union had to make sure that their players and staff were kept safe while also making a 60-game season happen. 

Part of that included drastic rule changes to MLB. They brought the universal designated hitter to the National League, and they instituted an extra-innings rule that placed a runner on second base. That one arguably was the least well-received. 

But MLB also threw in 7-inning doubleheaders to ensure that the full season could be played. It was also designed to ensure that players were able to stay healthy in the process. As it turns out, that rule might not be sticking around for too much longer. 

Speaking with media prior to the All-Star Game this week, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred tried to talk about the future of the game. That includes the upcoming labor negotiations that will require the league to get a deal done with the players. 

In that conversation, Manfred revealed that the 7-inning doubleheaders will likely be a thing of the past. He also said that the odd extra-innings rule could be done away with as well. Manfred noted that they were part of the pandemic plan and would not be part of the plan beyond this season. 

So baseball purists can relax. The game you love appears to be getting back to normal. Now they just have to make sure they can get a deal done and actually start the 2022 season on time. 

Brook is the Senior Editor of Dodgers Nation, with several years of experience in sports journalism. He is an avid Dodgers and Lakers fan, and can be spotted fairly often at Dodger Stadium and Staples Center.

Moving the deck chairs on the Titanic. Not sure those rules made that big of a difference, except they did increase the “urgency” which is lacking otherwise. Let’s see what they do about the universal DH and the infield shifts.

While they’re at it, how about nixing the minimum 3 batter rule for pitchers. Managers should be able to pull a pitcher any time they want. It’s up to the manager to use his available bullpen wisely. If MLB thinks the games are too long, shorten the amount of time between innings. Over the history of baseball, the elapsed time for games has gotten longer as television has been more involved.

Just make it simple. Reverse every rule change that Manfred has ever made,and replace him with someone who has respect for the integrity of a game that has been around for a very, very long time.

that would do it!!! and then completely eliminate the DH and we’re back to real baseball played the same way in both Leagues!

Joe, the AL WILL NEVER go along with eliminating the DH. If the DH was in fact removed from the AL then fine. But let’s have EQUAL and fair playing rules for each league. Many fans of MLB don’t particularly care to see pitchers hit. Dodgers were very successful at using the DH in 2020. It allowed them to get guys like JT, Smith, Seager, Muncy and others off their feet on occasion while keeping their bat in the lineup as opposed to having the pitcher bat.

I am not going to repeat the pros of eliminating the DH completely. I love seeing great hitting pitchers. Dodgers actually have the best hitting pitchers in baseball at the moment so that’s a huge advantage over other teams. I also like that when pitchers have to hit, they know they can’t inadvertently throw at the other team without reprisal.

A strong Commissioner can convince AL to give up the DH, and restore baseball to its former glory

Joe… You have a great baseball mind, and a great baseball name!

My issue is to have equal playing rules for BOTH leagues, one way or the other. No other major sport operates with these separate rules. Besides if MLB is at all concerned about any decline in offense, then that having a DH in both leagues makes sense. However. I would be fine as I said if neither league had the DH.

Right on, Dodger106W! But let’s rid all of MLB from this Comissioner as well.

I would also do away with these excessive defensive shifts as well. Those are a big reason offense down over all in MLB. Especially these shifts are making it very difficult for LHB when teams are allowed to have infielders play in shallow right field taking hits away from lefties. No infielder should be allowed to position themselves beyond the dirt cutouts.

Agree. I love it when the batter burns the shift.

For what it’s worth, most pitchers would rather not have to hit. Not saying all, but my guess is managers and GM’s both would prefer the DH in both leagues. Someone said it best when they said pitchers are paid to pitch, not paid to hit.

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Smith: Rob Manfred should follow through and rid baseball of the shift

Houston Chronicle 15 July, 2021 - 12:33pm

Thankfully, I am not the commissioner of Major League Baseball.

Too many people across America would hate me, even though they’ve never met me. Everyone would offer an unrequested suggestion one minute into a two-minute conversation. Fans — especially Astros fans — would blame me for everything, players would blame me for almost everything, and even my best days on the job would be shadowed by constant social-media complaints and the gnawing realization that you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

But if I were Rob Manfred for one day?

I would take it one step further.

I would ban the shift and end this silly business of having three big league infielders on one side of the infield.

Or three outfielders on one side of the outfield.

Or the second baseman literally playing behind second base, leaving about 75 feet wide open between first and second.

Or six defenders on one side of the field, including five in the outfield, which the Astros famously toyed with while loading the grass against Rangers slugger Joey Gallo.

I know, I know. Ban the shift sounds a little strong.

It’s not a political talking point.

But the more and more we talk about what must be done to fix MLB in 2021 and move the sport forward in this new millennium, the more I believe banning the shift would bring baseball closer to what it used to be.

If only MLB’s real commish felt the same way.

“Let’s just say you regulated the shift by requiring two infielders on each side of second base,” Manfred said this week during the lead-up to Tuesday’s All-Star Game, according to ESPN. “What does that do? It makes the game look like what it looked like when I was 12 years old.”

I’m seeing and thinking the same things Manfred is?!

“It’s not change; it’s kind of restoration,” Manfred said. “That’s why people are in favor of it. Front offices, in general, believe it will have a positive effect on the play of the game. ... I’m hopeful that we will have productive conversations with the MLBPA about non-radical changes to the game that will restore it to being played in a way that is closer to what many of us enjoy historically.”

Rob, dude. You’re speaking my language.

Manfred also made it clear that silly seven-inning doubleheaders will likely soon be outdated. And that the Little League-esque rule of immediately placing a runner on second base to start extra innings should soon be a brief error officially confined to the past.

“Believe me, I understand it’s not perfect from a fan’s perspective, and we’re working on that,” Manfred said.

As I said at the start, it’s easy from afar to pick apart everything Manfred does. The same for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (whose image has significantly improved in recent years) and NBA commissioner Adam Silver (who’s gone from perfect to vulnerable to human the last two seasons).

Manfred obviously doesn’t care what you or I think, big picture. He’s got much bigger problems to deal with, including fixing those horrendous uniforms MLB chose to wear for an All-Star Game that was missing some of baseball’s biggest names. But Manfred should know that I believe, overall, he’s had good intentions that have been dragged down by poor execution.

I, like the majority of you, have been insisting for years that the game must be sped up.

That robot umpires are an intriguing idea worth exploring.

That sticky stuff was becoming a serious problem.

And that you either need the designated hitter in both leagues or none.

Manfred still has work to do on addressing that last complaint.

But with the shift, the commissioner you love to hate (Goodell used to own that dented crown, by the way) is ahead of the curve.

He appears to understand that hitting suffers and on-field action suffers and that, as brilliant as the modern shift can be, it ultimately detracts from what still makes baseball so special and unique.

Do I wish incredibly talented professional hitters went the opposite way (or, gasp, bunted) more against the shift?

Do I sit in the press box or stare at the TV and often find myself wondering why so-and-so doesn’t just hit it that way when five defenders are intentionally positioned the other way?

I also regularly recall a conversation I once participated in behind the batting cage inside Minute Maid Park, when a Hall of Famer was adamant that the only thing that would stop all the darned shifting was MLB players making it stop — with their bats.

Several years later, the lopsided infield holes remain open inning after inning, half of the sport’s teams are hitting .237 or below, and baseball is increasingly dominated by a few outcomes: home run, strikeout, walk.

Shifts work. So well, in fact, that teams are silly to not regularly employ them during this analytics-driven age.

Which brings me back to the big job I’ll never have.

Manfred sounds like he’s close to pushing hard for this huge change.

So I’m giving the commish my public support in 2021.

You might make some people on the internet mad. Some will criticize; others will scream.

But it’ll be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make as commissioner, and you’ll gain a few more fans in Houston for having the guts to make it.

Commentary: After a year’s absence, All-Star Game brings back a baseball celebration

The Spokesman-Review 15 July, 2021 - 12:12pm

DENVER – The All-Star Game is designed, above all, to be a showcase of the sport.

Oh, in the good old days, when there was no interleague play to intermingle the players, the results clearly meant more, exemplified by Pete Rose infamously bowling over Cleveland catcher Ray Fosse in 1970. Humiliated by the All-Star tie in 2002, MLB tried to manufacture some midsummer gravitas by awarding home-field advantage in the World Series to the winning league. But the concept never really took hold and was quietly dropped a few years ago, lamented by no one.

Now the All-Star Game, returning after a year’s COVID-19 absence, is back to doing what it does best – pomp and ceremony, honoring the connection between stars of the past and present, and, for those willing to absorb it, providing a fun interlude in the long slog of a season.

On Tuesday at Coors Field, only the hardest of hearts weren’t moved to tears by the magnificent pregame tribute to the late Henry Aaron, which included an appearance by his widow, Billye. I’ve always loved this part of the All-Star Game as much or more than the game itself – the player introductions, the former stars of the home team returning to throw out the ceremonial first pitch (in this case, Larry Walker and Todd Helton) and all the other attendant hoopla. I won’t apologize for being moved by the thunderous ovation the Denver fans gave their departed favorite son, Nolan Arenado. The All-Star Game never fails to provide such moments.

I used to also love the fact that players wore the uniform tops and hats of their own team, a unique tradition that provided a splash of color to the proceedings while also giving a nod to all the disparate fans watching from home. For instance, in the olden days (1933 through 2019), Mariners fans would have seen their home threads on display at least when Yusei Kikuchi was introduced, since he wasn’t playing. Before the game, Kikuchi confirmed that he approached AL manager Kevin Cash on Monday to ask to be removed from the active roster. Speaking through interpreter Kevin Ando, Kikuchi told me he wasn’t able to properly throw for two days in a row, and so his body “just wasn’t ready to pitch in a game today.”

This year, though, all the players wore the same hideous thing, something resembling a softball uniform with pajama bottoms for pants, a regrettable marketing decision that unnecessarily degraded a quaint and much-loved custom.

When it comes to a celebration of baseball, which is the other way to phrase the All-Star Game purpose, these are in many ways heady times. It’s been many years since the sport has had a figure as compelling as Shohei Ohtani, who is somehow performing at an elite level both as a pitcher and hitter. Every All-Star here in Denver who was asked about Ohtani expressed nothing but awe and wonderment, as we all should.

You can’t help but be riveted by Ohtani’s accomplishment, and the All-Star Game has allowed him to show it off to maximum theater. After a breathtaking power display Monday in the Home Run Derby (albeit not enough to advance past the first round), Ohtani started for the AL at both designated hitter and pitcher Tuesday, which is Ruthian stuff. Except I feel confident the Babe never threw back-to-back 100 mph pitches, as Ohtani did to close out his scoreless inning. Ohtani grounded out in his two at-bats. He’s not Superman after all, though he often plays him on TV.

Throw in a cavalcade of engaging young stars, especially the trio whom commissioner Rob Manfred and union chief Tony Clark, in separate Q-and-A’s on Tuesday with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, each referred to as “The Juniors” - Fernando Tatis Jr., Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and (the regrettably injured) Ronald Acuna Jr. – and baseball is well-positioned for the future. At least in the most important area: talent. Game MVP Guerrero flashed his prodigious skills with a 468-foot home run to left to become, at 22, the youngest player to homer in the All-Star Game since Johnny Bench in 1969.

Yet it also can’t be denied this is a highly troubled juncture for the grand old game. It seems like crises are afoot in all directions, with the ominous backdrop of a labor agreement that expires after the season. Manfred told the BBWAA that his goal is to avoid a work stoppage, and he has a track record of doing just that numerous times as the owners’ lead negotiator before he became commissioner. MLB has had labor peace since the strike of 1994, but the current rancor between the two sides is reminiscent of the more turbulent 1970s through ’94.

But the real crisis for baseball is an existential one: How can they coax more on-field action out of a game that has become far too bogged down in a maelstrom of strikeouts, home runs and walks, the proverbial “three true outcomes.” Manfred’s decision to enforce the prohibition of foreign substances on the ball, though clumsily executed, has already served the purpose of elevating offense. But more needs to be done, as a cursory glance at the ungodly whiff totals - and dwindling batting averages - attests.

The problem, as is always the case with baseball, is that few agree on how to do it. The divergence of opinion is actually a good thing, the byproduct of the passion the sport still engenders, as well as its historical heft. The result is that any proposed rule change or philosophical turn is practically an engraved invitation to a culture war.

Many will be pleased to hear that Manfred told the BBWAA Tuesday that the seven-inning doubleheaders and extra-inning zombie runner are likely to fade away once COVID does. I was even more pleased to hear from him – though I’m sure it will be fighting words to many – that the owners are united in the belief that it’s time to legislate against shifts.

“I think the reason for that is really simple, right?” Manfred said. “If you think about it, let’s just say you regulate the shift by requiring two infielders on each side of second base. What does that do? It makes the game look like what it looked like when I was 12 years old watching the All-Star Game. So it’s not a change. It’s kind of a restoration.”

Maybe it’s the nostalgia in me coming out, but I still expect a shot to the hole between first and second to be a base hit, not gobbled up by the third baseman stationed in shallow right field.

Despite that, I consider myself a progressive when it comes to baseball, open to changes, even radical ones, that will move things forward. I think the players are better than ever and the game is still wonderful; it just needs to be tweaked a little bit so the players are allowed to show off their skills again.

Which brings us back to the All-Star Game, a 5-2 American League victory in which shifts were not quite as plentiful, strikeouts didn’t run quite so rampant, and the wondrous skills of the players were displayed in all their glory.

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