Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred met with a large group of media members on Monday February 23 at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix. I found the Commissioner’s comments refreshing, candid, uplifting and very hopeful.

It is important to remember that the Commissioner’s remarks come on the eve of preliminary discussions regarding the Basic Agreement between ownership and the Players Association. The Commissioner said informal talks will begin during Spring Training with negotiations taking place during the season.

I want to begin this piece with the question I asked Commissioner Manfred part way through his session. I stated that fans pay a great deal of money for tickets, hotels, food, parking, rental cars, etc. to watch Spring Training games. I stated that many fans feel it is very unfair and wrong for teams not to bring their starting lineup players to Spring Training games. In fact, there is an alleged understanding that regular roster players should be available at every spring game. Manfred was very sensitive to the issue. He said he has asked Joe Torre to monitor the matter this spring and assure teams bring their regular players to spring games. I was impressed. And pleased. It has always been an issue that I found troubling. Pay top dollar for a Spring Training game ticker and see maybe one or two familiar players known to fans. Not good.

Manfred indicated that competitive balance is crucial to the success of the game. He said that it would be much easier to schedule if there were 16 teams in each league. He said expansion is attractive because baseball is a “growth business.” However, there is no immediate timeline for expansion. He did indicate that games would be played in Puerto Rico, Mexico and maybe even Cuba if details can be worked out. In short, international growth is a high priority. He would like to see regular season games in places like Japan and London in the future.

Without naming the players, Manfred acknowledged there are three players currently being reviewed in the new domestic violence protocol. We know them to be Yasiel Puig of the Dodgers, Aroldis Chapman of the Yankees and Jose Reyes of the Rockies. He said decisions regarding two of the three will be announced this week. He said he wanted to be very thorough and complete in his review and that “control of the factual records is in the hands of law enforcement.” In my opinion, these three cases will likely set a precedent for the issue and that’s why the deliberations have taken so long.

I was most surprised at Manfred’s position regarding extending the designated hitter to the National League. Manfred feels the difference in the two leagues is crucial to success. He sees the DH as a factor separating the leagues and adding interest. He said he is a “status quo guy on the DH.” He thinks the DH debate is good for baseball.
He said he was “really, really reluctant to give up the differentiator.” However, we should keep in mind that perhaps this will be one of the give and take issues in the coming player/ownership negotiations. Time will tell.

Technology remains a crucial component of the Commissioner’s agenda. He indicated that we can look forward to more technology and constant refining of those systems in place. He said that older fans watch baseball on television while younger fans watch games on their devices. He is well aware of the need to grow the game with the type of technology that attracts younger fans.

Manfred was effusive in his praise of exciting young players that are taking the opportunity to bring the game to a new generation of fans. He named Kris Bryant, Carlos Correa, and Francisco Lindor as examples of players who enhance the game along with more veteran players like Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw and Andrew McCutchen. He views them all as the type of players that can take the game to the next levels.

The Commissioner was asked his thoughts about teams “tanking” games on purpose in an effort to get a higher draft pick. He felt that was not the case. He indicated he did not believe a team would lose a game on purpose. He said it was “not a problem in need of an answer.”

I believe the game is in very capable hands with Commissioner Manfred at the helm. His priorities include economic development, product enhancement and fan enrichment, in any order. I found him to be sensitive to the overall landscape of the game and to the entities impacted by the game.

Thank you for reading BERNIE’S BASEBALL WORLD. You can find my thoughts and opinions and player evaluations all throughout Spring Training right here at this site.
We will be taking a week off from the video cast of BBW this week. Join us again on video at YouTube and on March 4 for the next edition.

You can follow me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.


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