The MLB Commissioner says he wants robotic umpires in MLB by 2024, and supports expansion to 32 teams – but no word on much-needed changes to the absurd blackout rules on television coverage that are killing the game's popularity and chance to keep up with other major sports
Major League Baseball has a ton of problems right now.
Scoring is down. Attendance is lagging. The competitive balance is preposterously tilted in favor of rich big market teams. And television ratings are in the tank. Oh, and the games are getting longer, not shorter.
Something needs to be done. Quick.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred to the rescue.
The commish hinted at multiple on-field reforms he would like to see reach the big leagues in the near future. He's apparently pushing for robotic umpires as well as an increased number of teams. But in his latest interview, he did essentially nothing to address baseball's biggest problems.
Manfred wants to see the robot empires go into effect by the 2024 season, with the possibility of giving managers several challenges for calls during a game.
As reported yesterday by ESPN.com:
In 2024, Manfred says, the automated ball-strike zone system, or as it's commonly called, "robot umpires," will likely be introduced. One possibility is for the automated system to call every pitch and transmit the balls and strikes to a home plate umpire via an ear piece. Another option is a replay review system of balls and strikes with each manager getting several challenges a game. The system is being tested in the minor leagues and has shaved nine additional minutes off the average game length this season, MLB data shows. "We have an automated strike zone system that works," Manfred says.
There's also the problem of longer games and too little action between pitches. In other interviews, Manfred has banged the drum of a pitch clock, in which pitchers would get 14 seconds between pitches with the bases empty and 18 or 19 seconds with runners on base. ESPN reported the current average between-pitch time to be 23.8 seconds, with MLB reportedly projecting an average of 30 minutes shaved off games.
The timeclocks have been used in the minor leagues for a while, with encouraging results according to MLB. However, there is also severe resistance to tampering with the game's traditions.
Manfred also hinted that MLB's often-criticized blackouts, in which streaming fans are forbidden from watching games involving teams from their local markets but offered no concrete solutions:
"Our No. 1 business priority right now is reach," Manfred says. The topic was a main discussion at an owners meeting in June. "Believe me," he says, "we hate blackouts as much as fans do." Manfred notes that the blackout clauses are written into broadcast deals — which he has overseen — but he says it's now a "top priority" for MLB to phase them out.
Okay, so how – and more importantly, when?
It's hard to get excited about a sport that forces fans to fork over $150 for a baseball package and then they can't watch their home teams. Like, what's the whole point?
Are they trying to kill baseball?
Nonetheless, the game could expand to 32 teams. Manfred hinted that "a number of billionaires are interested" in acquiring an expansion franchise.
Sorry, we can't get too excited about this, unless one of the teams is coming to Montreal or Vancouver.
Then, there's Pete Rose, who always seems to stink up any commissioner reign.
Manfred inherited Bud Selig's carryover decision, namely the ongoing ban of Pete Rose. The all-time MLB hits leader has reportedly submitted a third petition for reinstatement. His lawyers (wait--Pete Rose has lawyers?) are arguing that the lack of repercussions for the Houston Astros in their cheating scandal a few years ago demonstrates Rose has been treated unfairly.
Yeah right. Point a finger at the other guy. That's some great legal work by the Rose crack attorney staff.
In his defence, MLB has recently embraced gambling, which could be another boon for Rose's argument. Then again, it could be reason for enforcing an even stronger firewall between players and gambling. We'll have to wait and see about that.
Either way, Manfred is apparently willing to hear Rose out:
"Rule 21, the gambling prohibition, is regarded to be the most important rule in baseball," Manfred said. "It is the bedrock of ensuring that our fans see fair, all-out competition, unaffected by any outside forces, on the field."
He says he will hear Rose out. "Pete will be given an opportunity to come in and be heard, if that's what he wants to do, before I make a decision," Manfred says.
Like we said before....baseball has problems. Many problems. And Pete Rose is the least of them.
Note: The views expressed here are my own and do not reflect Pointspreads.ca or any other entity.