OVERTIME – Rob Manfred: Man on a Mission

MATTHEW VANTRYON | MANAGING EDITOR

Robert Manfred has an opportunity to make an immediate— and long-lasting—impact on the game of baseball. The new MLB commissioner is just weeks into his role after replacing longtime commissioner Bud Selig, and spoke to Cactus League general managers in Arizona yesterday on a wide variety of topics concerning the state of the game, including the length of the baseball season, the speed of the game, and what future — if any — Pete Rose has in the baseball. Here’s my take on some of his key points.

LENGTH OF SEASON UP FOR DEBATE

“I don’t think length of season is a topic that can’t ever be discussed,” he told ESPN.com. “I don’t think it would be impossible to go back to 154 [games].”

He didn’t expound on his reasoning for suggesting this idea, so it is up to the audience to come to its own conclusion. There are a few things this would do. One, it would make the season shorter. Thank you, Captain Obvious. But even for the most avid baseball fan, the season is just too darn long.

In 2014, pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training in the middle of February and the World Series went seven games — meaning that the baseball season ended on Oct. 29. This year, the Fall Classic will likely end in November, since the regular season won’t begin until April 5.

One of the beauties of baseball is that is a marathon rather than a sprint. Unlike the NBA, where 16 teams make the postseason, only 10 MLB teams make the playoffs — and two of those teams are eliminated after losing in the Wild Card round. Therefore, the long season separates the “contenders” from the “pretenders.” That being said, shortening the season to 154 games would mean the regular season would end Sept. 25 instead of Oct. 4.

The sooner the regular season ends, the sooner the postseason can end, which means less competition with the NFL and more interest from the casual fan.

A shortened schedule would also mean less strain on players — especially important for pitchers, and of utmost importance for relievers — meaning managers could be more liberal with how they use their roster down the stretch, especially during a potential late playoff push for a team on the edge.

FASTER GAME…YOUNGER FANS?

Manfred made headlines by announcing various rules changes in hopes to speed up the pace of play during games this season. The major rule changes include forcing players to keep one foot in the batter’s box at all times and preventing managers from coming onto the field during replay challenges. Manfred also emphasized getting gameplay underway promptly after commercial breaks. One of the main reasons for the changes? Luring in a younger generation of fans — mainly young adults in their 20s. “I have a passing familiarity with that generation,” he said. “One thing I can say for sure is their attention span seems to be shorter than the rest of ours.” This, commissioner is true. The average length of an MLB game last season was 3 hours and 2 minutes. Baseball, by nature, is a slow game. That is fine, and part of the game’s charm. However, making simple changes to speed up the game is a positive. Now, will young adults be more likely to watch a game that is 2 hours and 45 minutes instead of three hours long? Debatable. But it certainly won’t turn anyone away. And heck, maybe the Yankees vs. Red Sox games take less than four hours with these rules in place…but I won’t hold my breath.

EVERY ROSE HAS ITS THORNS

When asked whether or not he would consider reinstating former Cincinnati Reds’ player and manager Pete Rose into baseball — Rose was banned in 1989 for betting on his own team — Manfred was noncommittal.

“I have not, and what happens with respect to the status of Pete Rose will depend on whether – and when – I receive a request from Mr. Rose,” he said. “I’m not going to comment on Mr. Rose’s situation, since ultimately I’ll have to make that decision. The process will be set as a result of private communications between Mr. Rose and my office.”

I have no problem with what Manfred said. He’s right, that is a conversation for himself and Rose to have behind closed doors. But if ever there was a time for Rose to make a request to meet with the commissioner, and a time for the commissioner to let baseball’s all-time hits leader into the game, it is now. It is a new chapter in baseball’s history, and Rose likewise deserves a clean sheet.

He has served his time and then some — both literally and figuratively. Yes, what he did was wrong, there is no doubt about that. He has acknowledged this, has said he is sorry, and clearly wants to move on. So baseball is going to punish a man for something he did that had zero impact on the game itself while doing substantially less to punish those who directly impact the integrity of the game by using performance-enhancing drugs? In what logical world does that make sense?

One could make an argument for Rose being one of the best to ever play the game. His 4,256 hits are good for most all-time. He was a 17-time All-Star, a three-time Gold Glove winner and a three-time batting champion. He deserved to be a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, although he missed that chance after falling off the ballot in 1994 after receiving less than 5 percent of the vote. The least baseball can do is to let him be a part of the game on which he made such a significant impact.

Manfred could make a bold statement — not to mention endearing himself to plenty of Reds fans and baseball fans in general — by allowing Rose back into the game. In fact, Rose has been cleared to participate in the All-Star game festivities in Cincinnati this summer. What better time to make an announcement that he is back in the game…for good?

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