Tagged: Rob Manfred

Les Rays? La Imbeciles?

If baseball bosses were given awards like players, there’s no chance that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred would win a Gold Glove. Clearly Mr. Manfred seems uniquely able to keep dropping the ball every time he gets to it. This month two more examples arise as the players blow the dust off their gloves and bats for Spring training.

First there’s the ongoing Astros debacle. Now, I will say that to me his reaction seemed reasonable. He suspended the Astros manager and GM for a year, he fined the club as much as he could with the limitations of the Collective Bargaining agreement and he took away draft picks. Houston should feel rebuked; Boston should be nervous since they too are apparently under investigation for the same thing and have a direct link through (now fired) manager Alex Cora.

I’m OK with that, as long as there are warnings all around that if it happens again, the punishment is going to be ramped up for players as well as coaches. I am not most fans – or most MLB players – however. Outrage is pouring out of every corner of the baseball world and at a time when the game should be getting an annual dose of positive press – baseball returns after a long winter with games in Florida and Arizona, optimistic projections for even lacklustre teams, players having fun and interacting with fans in small stadiums and so on – it seems story after story revolves around the Astros and their cheating. Apologies have been slow in coming and half-hearted at best from most of the Astros, and perhaps the most believable have been from pitchers (who didn’t benefit directly) and their fired manager AJ Hinch.

As I said to reader Badfinger20 in a comment to the last post, I am not a professional consultant or counselor. But there are such people. The types that companies hire when things go sideways for them – products get tampered with; bosses call minorities the “N” word, engineers falsify pollution tests and so forth. I’m not one of those spin doctors, and neither apparently is Manfred. Maybe he should have used one because this little scandal, now months old, is not only not going away it actually appears to be meta-sizing and snowballing.

Then we have the ongoing problem that is the Tampa Bay Rays. A feisty and usually over-achieving team set in one of the league’s smaller markets, one inhabited it might seem by people who don’t care much for baseball. This is not Manfred’s mistake in itself. The team existed for a couple of decades before he took the job running the league and, when it was awarded a franchise, Tampa seemed like a viable spot for a team. After all, it had an older population (typically more of the generations who love baseball) and has been a major, popular center for Spring training. The Rays should have done fine.

They haven’t. Now, on field, they’ve had some success and post a competitive team more often than not, so they’re A-OK in that department. However, off field things haven’t been so kind to the Rays. They have a stadium that almost everybody despises, in St. Petersburg which is across the bay from most of the metro area’s populace. And attendance is continually abysmal, at or near the bottom of the league year after year. TV ratings aren’t wildly exciting either which clouds the answer to whether the stadium is the problem itself.

Over twenty years in, one might think the answer would be to relocate the club. There are a number of cities of sufficient size and probably enthusiasm that could host a Major League club – Charlotte and Las Vegas come to mind quickly. But MLB has been reluctant to let them move away, and Manfred seemed to double down on that. Tampa it is, sink or swim. Until now.

Once again a ridiculous scheme has come forward and is getting a nod of approval from Manfred. that would be to have the Rays split their season between Tampa and… wait for it… Montreal!

Yes, the big idea is that the team could stay and play half the time in central Florida and play the other half of the season up in Francophone Canada. One team, two cities, two countries! What could go wrong?! they want to implement the plan in 2028.

This is flat out one of the dumbest ideas to come out of MLB’s offices yet… and there’ve been some doozies of late.

First off, neither city even has a suitable stadium right now. The plan necessitates both cities building fine new outdoors parks. Tampa’s, as noted, is poorly located and domed, lacking charm while in Montreal, the Olympic Stadium last used for baseball is equally charmless and actually cost the Expos home games in the past due to parts of it crumbling and being a hazard to fans and players alike. Oh yes, if you haven’t been keeping track, Montreal had a MLB team in the past. The Expos were not unlike the Rays… a team which produced many great players and had some good seasons but lagged in attendance before they moved to Washington DC in 2005.

So far, no one’s been able to come up with funding to make a suitable stadium in Tampa. Taxpayers have turned down additional taxes to fund one and big business hasn’t signed on to build one to profit from either. About the same is true in Montreal. Now up there, it’s not entirely implausible to think someone might pony up for a stadium. Bell comes to mind, the main competitor to Rogers in Canada’s tele-communications market. Rogers owns the Toronto Blue Jays and their stadium; one might imagine Bell wanting a piece of that action down the 401 in the country’s “second city.” It’s more difficult to foresee that happening for a team which would only play half a season per year there.

There are a number of minor issues that come to mind – what would the uniforms say, would there be different ones for the Montreal games than the Floridian ones? There are more major issues.

While a high-profile, high salary free agent (think Gerritt Cole type) might play anywhere at all if the paycheque is right, the arrangement might be a significant deterrent to ordinary free agents when picking a team. If you’re a utility player looking to make $1 million a year, do you want to have to rent a condo in one city or two cities out of your cheque? If you’re from say, Mississippi and have small kids, it might be a family upheaval if you play in California or Illinois… do the wife and kids stay at home until the school year ends, move full-time etc. Multiply that by two. I’m guessing the Bi-national Rays wouldn’t be a popular destination of choice for players who had a choice.

Worse yet, the fans. Announcing this dodo plan now is just dense. It’s not going to rev up fans in Quebec. Eight years away seems a lifetime in sport and the whole thing hinges on a stadium appearing out of the blue. And it seems to suggest that they could see mid-summer games (when the climate is nice there and Florida is humid and prone to thunderstorms most days) but if they make the post-season, the games would be in warm-weather Tampa. Yay! We could watch on TV! Even if a few ball fans there get excited, are they likely to cross a national border and travel 1500 miles to patronize Tropicana Field and “their” new team? Hardly.

On the other hand, one can well imagine that the small, but reasonably loyal, Tampa Bay fans will take this like a sucker-punch to the gut. You get to keep your team, but only halfway. You now have friends in another country, mes ami!

Tampa’s done very well on field the past two seasons; last year winning 96 and finishing second in a tough division. Yet attendance was steady at 1.178 million,or about 14 300 a game. that put them 29th out of 30 teams, ahead of only their counterparts further south in the state, Miami. In 2018, yep… the same. 29th out of 30.

The Rays almost always seem to exceed expectations on field. Still, I can’t envision them matching last year’s 96 win tally with Hunter Renfroe as the cleanup hitter, their top pitcher being 36 years old and a catcher who hit .165 last year. but maybe they’ll surprise. What I am more sure of is that they will be hard-pressed to lure even 14 300 fans out per game with this plan floating over them.

Lead Glove” Manfred strikes again.

Road To World Series; Viva Las Vegas?

It’s said that good pitching trumps good hitting. I don’t always subscribe to that theory but this year, it works for me. So with the Division Series done with, we’re left with 4 very good teams, any of whom could advance to the World Series. But I’ll go with the teams with the “Aces” and pick Houston and their home advantage over New York in 5 and the surprising Washington Nationals over St. Louis in 7.

In the AL, both teams have pretty solid, comparable hitting but you have to give the nod to the team with home advantage (where they won 60 games this season) and have Gerritt Cole (25 K, only 3 walks, 6 hits in 15 2/3 innings over his two starts vs Minnesota) and Justin Verlander (1 win, 1 loss in his two starts but still… Justin Verlander!) not to mention Zac Greinke.

In the NL, the Cards showed they can hit with the best of them (I had for several months thought Ozuna was under-rated and a good player for Toronto to target this off-season to upgrade their OF hitting and defense; alas, with 6 runs, 9 hits and an .857 slugging percentage in that first series, one must expect his cost just jumped) but then, so can Washington. The Cards don’t have Stephen Strasburg or Max Scherzer, so even with the home advantage, look for those two durable super tossers to tip the scales in the Nats favor.


The Nationals were the last team to relocate in MLB, as we remember, moving south from Montreal in 2005. But commissioner Rob Manfred suggested we might see another move soon. He issued a veiled threat to Oakland politicians that the Athletics could be moved to Las Vegas.

The issue is about the stadium the A’s use – now called Oakland Coliseum, previously MacAfee Coliseum, previously Oakland Alameda Coliseum – and fans and players alike abhor. It’s been in use right back to the green-and-yellows West Coast start, over 50 years back. The structure was never ideal, and now is disliked for its old look, uncomfortable seating, small clubhouses and frequent issues with sewage overflowing. The A’s obviously want a new stadium, but they don’t have the finances to come up with a new state-of-the-art facililty themselves and the city, and Alameda Co. haven’t been too warm to the idea of them picking up the tab. To make matters worse, both the city and county co-own the field and the lot it sits on, and right now the city is suing the county over a plan the county liked to sell the stadium to the team, which could redevelop it.

Manfred referenced the NFL Radiers move out of Oakland and said “unless things change, Bay Area fans may be going to Las Vegas or elsewhere to watch the Athletics as well.” He later back-tracked on it, but the Oakland mayor is adamant that he suggested it to the council and specifically referenced “Las Vegas.”

To me, it would be a move which could make sense. Oakland’s stadium is apparently very outdated, and with sewage issues, not a desireable spot for a nice Sunday out. But even if they could get a new stadium, one wonders if that would be enough. While the Bay Area is a large metro area, baseball’s never been king there and the A’s always – always – seem to play second fiddle to the San Francisco Giants across the bay.

To whit, the Giants drew 2 708 000 fans this year, while winning 77 and coming in third in the NL West. The A’s, on the other hand, won 97, made it to the post-season via the Wild Card for the second year in a row, and brought in 1 662 000. that left them 18% below the AL average attendance.

Nor was that a “blip”. For Oakland, the attendance did rise a bit over 2018, and 2017 when their 1 476 000 left them 36% under league average, but still wasn’t good. A team with underdog personality makes the playoffs twice in a row and still draws about 5000 fewer fans a game than an “average” team. The last time they exceeded the league average was 2003. The Giants, on the other hand, have topped 3 million attendance 17 out of the 20 seasons this century, and winning or losing seems almost irrelevent to their fans. Granted a nice, new comfy stadium with plenty of boxes would probably appeal and help them draw more, but one has to question whether there is ever going to be enough interest in the team to bring out numbers, or enough interest in baseball to support two major league teams.

Las Vegas seems overdue, with a city population nearing 700 000 and a fast-growing metro area of 2 227 000, comparing decently at least to places like Kansas City and Minnesota. With its growing population and huge tourist trade, it would seem like a good spot for a team. And being in the far West, it wouldn’t require any shake up of the divsional structure. The A’s would still be a natural fit for the west.

The solution isn’t without problems though. Namely, no one seems to have come forward from Vegas to suggest they’d finance a team and its roster. More importantly, there isn’t a suitable stadium in the city. The AAA team, the 51s (or Aviators as they apparently have been renamed) play at Las Vegas Ballpark, a decent minor league facility with capacity of 10 000. Adequate for minors, not even close to major league ready. The move would necessitate a new stadium, and I dare say, with an average high of 100-degrees or more through most of the summer, a roofed one too (an opening roof would be ideal for those nice summer evenings or 75-degree desert April days). Who’s going to pony up for that, and how long would it take? Clark County isn’t likely to be much more accomodating than California’s Alameda County if they get asked to perhaps throw in half a billion dollars to help bring baseball to the city.

Bottom line. Baseball teams can move, and be successful. On the other hand, new owners and a new stadium can sometimes perform miracles for an existing one. Either way, I hope the A’s find a resolution soon. It’s too bad a team that has over-performed so much of late has so few fans and dollars to show for it.

More Men, Moving Mounds…Manfred’s New Ideas

One thing that can be said for baseball’s commissioner, Rob Manfred – he’s not afraid to tinker with the game. Or to royally ire the dedicated long-term fans who’ve made the sport the billion dollar industry it is these days. The latest examples of that have come down in the last week. A slew of rule changes are coming to MLB over the next two seasons, and being looked at for further down the road.

In the majors, the big change this year is making the July 31 Trade Deadline the trade deadline. No more asterisks, buts or unlesses like we have had up until now. Less significant changes involve cutting the number of trips to the mound by a catcher or coach from 6 to 5 (excepting pitching changes or injuries), a change to the All Star Game voting to make it a two-time sort of thing and offering a million dollars to the winner of the Home Run Derby at the game. About five seconds will be shaved off the break-time between innings also, saving a whopping minute-plus per game! Next year though, things really begin to look a little different.

In 2020, major league rosters can expand for most of the season by one, to 26 players. However, come September, only two additions will be allowed, meaning 28 player teams rather than the max of 40 currently employed down the stretch. There will, however, be a limit (to be determined still) on how many of those 26 can be pitchers. And with Shohei Ohtani and now Cinci’s Michael Lorenzen wanting to pitch and play infield, there’ll be rules requiring teams to designate certain players as “two-way” for them to be allowed to do so. But wait, there’s more… Continue reading

Does Rob Manfred Understand The Fans?

The good news for fans is that the gates to training camps will creak open in just a week and in less than three weeks there’ll actually be games (of dubious quality mind you, as is always the case early in Spring training) taking place. For the Jays fans, the good news is that most pundits see the team as middling but one having the potential to make a run for the glory, should everything fall into place. Those things mostly consisting of Aaron Sanchez not getting blisters after every dozenth pitch again, Marco Estrada sleeping well (he says his terrible stretch in the middle of last season was a result of insomnia), Josh Donaldson being healthy and wanting to show off his talents for potential free agent suitors in 2019 and the bullpen being as good as it was last year.

The bad news of course is that some of the most prominent players in the game don’t have a team yet, and there’s even going to be a separate camp for unsigned free agents, with them being so numerous. Hostilities between players and owners are at their worst since the bad ol’ 90s and some hotheads (LA’s Kenley Jansen for instance) are urging a wildcat strike just when most fans are either too young to remember, or old enough to have forgotten the fiasco that was the last, World Series-canceling,1994 strike.

Now I’ve made the point here recently that I don’t think there is collusion taking place. The unsigned free agents largely have to look in the mirror and around their old clubhouses to see why the offers aren’t rolling in like they once did. I think by this time in the Off Season, fans probably don’t care if JD Martinez plays or not in 2018 – he’s got a 5 year, $125M offer from the Red Sox, seems to have stated that he refuses to play for any of the other 29 teams but he’s holding out for more nonetheless. Or take Eric Hosmer, by common agreement a decent enough hitter and teammate. He’s got a lot going for him. He was a 2015 World Series champ; he’s durable (missing only 8 games over the past 3 years) and is still just 28. He’s coming off a very good .318/25/94 year with a .882 OPS – career high on the average and OPS- and has averaged 23 homers and over 90 RBI per year since 2015. On the other hand, he plays first base, and not very well at that. For the second year in a row, he had a negative defensive WAR, meaning that he likely cost his team wins by his poor defence compared to just an “average” player.

Hosmer has, its reported, two offers for 7-year deals, at or above $140M. One might think he’d jump at it, but of course the opposite is true. He’s balking and feeling insulted and wants either more per year and/or a much longer deal. It’s not hard to see why he may not be on the field when teams come out and play on March 29. It is however,hard to feel sorry for him.

All that said, it still is worrisome that the players and their bosses are so antagonistic towards each other. A strike would be the last thing anyone would, or should want. The second-last thing would be for the year to get going with a large number of stars like Yu Darvish, Lance Lynn, Hosmer, Martinez and about 100 others sitting out. The fans lose out with either and if we lose, the teams lose out to at the turnstile, at the concession stands and when it comes time to renew their TV contracts.

One would think this would concern the game’s Commissioner, Rob Manfred. But instead, all indications are that he is pleased as punch at his personal successes with the minutia he’s obsessed with – game length and what hat Cleveland players don.

Ever since he took his position, his main priority seems to be to speed up games. So far, he’s failed,as last year the length of an average game rose to a record 3 hours, 5 minutes.It rose to over 3 hours for the first time in 2014; in 1975 remarkably the game was typically under 2 and a half hours. Of course, much of this results from changes to the way the game is played these days, particularly the use of bullpens. In ’75, teams used an average of 2.4 pitchers per game . Nowadays the average is 4.2/game ( a starter and 3 or 4 relievers). Complete games are Whooping Crane rare. What’s more, the number of pitches per plate appearance keep rising, to 3.9 last season, up from 3.7 in 2001 when they started keeping tabs on that. More strikeouts, more foul balls…more windups, more batters stepping out. It adds minutes to the game.

Manfred has thus threatened players- speed up or else! He’s promised to bring in a pitch clock by 2019 if they don’t change the pace on their own. This would have a clock ticking off 20 seconds from when the pitcher gets the ball. If they don’t start their pitching windup, a ball would be called. Easy to see some slow pitchers issuing a whole lot more walks with that in place! Furthermore, he wants to limit the number of trips to the mound , by catchers as well as managers or coaches , to two per inning. Any more than that and the pitcher is removed (leading to a new pitcher coming in and wasting time running to the mound, warming up etc!). Players hate the proposal; Manfred essentially sticks his tongue out at them and says “try to stop me!”

Would it speed up the games? Possibly, although in all likelihood only by a minute or two. Until we bring in the DH rule to the NL to reduce pitching changes and change teams’ attitudes that a different reliever is called for every time a decent hitter comes to the plate late in the game, we’re not going back to 2 and a half hour g


ames. But wait- is that a bad thing?

Consider that for all the slagging the game gets

Continue reading

Rob Manfred wants the year to speed by…

Spring has sprung at least here in the south…as I write this I watch a thundercloud passing by to the north, see flowers up in gardens around me and , and most importantly, the Blue Jays have taken the field again, even if only in rather insignificant spring training games. With opening day now only a tad over a month away, I’ll soon be looking at my prognosis for Toronto’s ’17 season, and the coming year in baseball in general. First though let’s start by looking a bit at what’s transpired since the Cubbies proved anything really is possible last fall.

There’s a new CBA in place, which is good news all around whether or not all the terms are ideal. At very least it means no strikes or lockouts this decade and suggests those who matter in the game, on the field and in the offices, have learned from the debacle that was 1994. A standing ovation for that!

Not so though for Commissioner Rob Manfred’s recent blustering. He’s still all about games being too long and obsessed with changing the sport to put a Fast Forward button on the games. Now, at a little over 3 hours for an average 9 inning game, Manfred’s not absolutely wrong. There are times when games can drag a little and speeding up the pace in places would be widely appreciated. For the last decade the sport has been trying to encourage pitchers to deliver more quickly and batters not to step out of the box so frequently, and the results have made a minor, but positive impact on speeding up at bats. thankfully we see far fewer Nomar Garciaparra-style rituals at the plate with batters taking off then putting back on their gloves between every pitch these days.

Still, it’s hard to see long games really harming the sport when attendance has been at alltime highs in the past decade and last fall’s World Series ratings were up on TV. some of the very appeal of the game is its bucolic nature and lack of a clock. It offers a little piece of a time gone by and of where one can sit back and relax a little while living in the moment. And no one’s moaning about the almost identical length of an NFL game – about 3 hours, 12 minutes (of which the ball is actually in motion an average of 11 minutes!). Even that “fastest game on ice”, hockey, averages a shade over 2 and a half hours to play its 60-minute game, thanks to intermissions and an average of 81 stoppages per game! Personally I’ve not met many fans who complain they hate how long 9 innings take and the youth that Manfred covets, the video game generation, typically have the attention span of ferrets and find the whole concept of baseball old-fashioned. Knocking ten minutes off the length of the game isn’t going to win over fans who find a 6-minute long song too tedious.

So I find it mildly irksome Manfred is spending so much time and energy and is posturing like an MMA fighter in order to speed up pitches and change the nature of the game. Slowly working toward implementing a pitch clock, now in use in the minors, may make sense once old-timers used to working on their own timetable have been phased out (which is to say, like when or if Bartolo Colon ever retires) but isn’t going to pack an extra 10 000 butts into the stadium in Tampa or Oakland each night. Worse yet his proposal to have teams start extra innings start with a phantom runner on second base for no reason. Where the hell did that idea come from and what is it going to achieve? One worries next he’ll be proposing a soccer-style kick off (or perhaps bat-off with hitters knocking balls off tees) to decide the game instead of playing til it’s over.

Almost as odd and unwarranted is his ramming through a change to make intentional walks happen without pitches, something the players’ association has apparently disagreed with but accepted anyway, knowing when to pick your battles. It really won’t make a huge difference after all, which is the argument both for and against it. On the one hand, certainly having the pitcher not need to lob 4 balloons up there when wanting to avoid the batter will save 45 seconds, maybe a minute. On the other hand, only 932 of them were issued all last season, in over 2400 games. Thus, the majority of games don’t ever have an intentional walk anyway, so the overall time saving will be microscopic. And the change eliminates the chance of a wild pitch getting away from the bored catcher, which of course can alter the game entirely should there be a runner on 2nd or 3rd at the time. One might suggest that if Manfred is eager to push this through and change this element of the game, he should compensate by having all runners move along a base when an IBB is issued, not just a runner on first. This would add to the strategy involved and create a spot more offense, which is something he’s apparently determined to do anyway.

There’s an even better way to make the game more exciting and limit the “dull” intentional walks. HAve the NL join the 21st Century and use a DH like other pro leagues have for years. After all, twice as many IBBs were issued in the National as American, largely due to situations where a walk will bring up a pitcher with two outs. Having a DH in the lineup will eliminate that, and add offense. Not to mention save jobs for 15 aging hitters, ala David Ortiz or Edwin Encarnacion who are usually fan faves. the player’s union would be all for that and how many fans would be upset to see, an Ortiz or Encarnacion, or their peers, come up in a pressure situation rather than a Julio teheran or Jeremy hellickson? Owners would like it too, benefitting from ending the base-running injury risk to prize investments like Clayton Kershaw or Jake Arrieta.

There are things to address in baseball. Manfred could take a hard look at why two rising superstars – Alex Fernandez and Yordano Ventura- have died in the last 6 months off the field in accidents seemingly caused through reckless behaviour. How do the young players with infinite funds but less-than-fully-developed-maturity get the guidance they need off the diamond? While at it, rather than obsess over the Cleveland Indians popular but likely-racist logo, why not look at the ridiculous rants of their pitcher Trevor Bauer (who lately was in the news for blaming Apple and Twitter for anti-Trump news he didn’t like and has at various times wished a short, miserable life to fans he’s interacted with while declaring he’s widely known as intelligent) and other players who bring disrespect on the sport and insult, if not bite, the hand that feeds them, namely the fans’.

Baseball isn’t broken, but methinks helping its stars act in more civil and responsible fashion would go further in winning over new fans than knocking 45 seconds off every other game will ever do.

Looking ahead to the season ahead next ….

Why the DH is a NB (No Brainer)

While it’s been a bit of a quiet month in baseball, especially for the “Stand pat” Jays, it’s not been without things to comment upon. In particular new commish Rob Manfred marked his one year anniversary on the job by having some Q&As which are telling as to how the game may look different soon. Possibly as soon as next year after the new Collective Bargaining Agreement is reached (we hope!) next winter. First and foremost on the agenda – the DH.

Says Manfred, in an Associated Press interview, “Twenty years ago when you talked to National League owners about the DH, you’d think you were talking some sort of heretical comment… there has been turnover and I think our owners in general have demonstrated a willingness to change.” Sounds a lot like “like it or lump it”, you traditionalists from Wrigley, St. Louis, along the Ohio River, your team’s going to have the DH in 2017. I say you should like it anyway.

First off, the numbers don’t lie. The last time the NL won the interleague competition over the course of the season was 2003. Last year the AL took 167 of 300 total interleague games, a solid .566 percentage. The overall balance of talent comes into play here, but the DH also seemingly plays a role (as much as our AL teams are at a disadvantage in NL parks). While the National teams have the upper hand at home, since their starting pitchers are used to getting a few ABs and the visiting American Leaguers aren’t (Marco Estrada was the hitting star among Blue Jays pitchers last year going all of 2 for 6) . But given how few solid hitters there are among the NLers, the advantage is marginal. Our American League teams have a solid advantage at home of course, being able to use the DH. Few NL teams have players of the calibre of Edwin Encarnacion or David Ortiz riding the pines. Why would they, with the expectation of using them for only ten games a year?

That considered, it might seem odd that this Blue Jays fan would want to alter the status quo. After all, Toronto were 12-8 against the NL last year, and in fact every AL East team posted a winning interleague record. However, I’m first and foremost a baseball fan and – yes, I’m going to say it – the AL model is more fun to watch. Nothing kills excitement more than a pitcher coming to the plate with runners on and two outs. Hell, even the few pitchers who can hit are sometimes told to waste their at bat because the management is worried about injuries with the pitcher running. Among NL pitchers last year, Taylor Jungmann of Milwaukee led (among those with 25 or more at bats) with a .270 average. However he managed to drive in exactly zero runs in his 37 times up. Madison Bumgarner might be the cream of the crop with a .247 average, five homers and respectable .743 OPS. But for every Bumgarner or Tyler Ross (.250/1/6) there are a ton of John Lackeys out there. Lackey hit .113 last year and sports a career .108 average with 5 RBI in 120 at bats.

Adding the DH will add a little offense to the game, which let’s face it, fans like. Last year there was an average of 8.5 runs/game, up from the previous year but still way below the 10 per game at the height of the steroid era. Likewise, last year’s overall batting average of .254 was up a couple of points but well below the .271 clip set in 1999. Perhaps then it’s no coincidence that attendance has stabilized at about 30 400 per game in the last few years, decent but about 2300 fewer butts in the seats per game than in 2007. A run or two more per game might reverse that trend; likewise a little quicker pace. And the DH will deliver that as well. In 2015, MLB set a record high of 8.2 pitchers used per game on average. That’s a lot of pitchers and a lot of warmup pitches, a lot of minutes lost while hurlers jog across the field. Part of that of course is the extreme specialization of many bullpens in this day and age but part too is from NL teams pulling the plug on pitchers prematurely in order to bring a pinch hitter to the plate. If adding the DH to the National results in even one less pitcher used per game there, you get a savings of a couple of minutes on the games which we’re always being told drag on too long.

And of course, the main reason to implement the DH across the board now is continuity. Young pitchers coming through the minors aren’t taught to hit, they live and die by the DH. Even most Japanese pitchers don’t hit, although their situation mirrors North America with one league Nippon Central, using pitchers hitting while another one, Pacific League, using the DH. The interleague Japan series works like our World series, with DH used in parks of teams that normally use it. It hardly seems wise therefore, to expect young pitchers coming to Atlanta or Phoenix to suddenly perfect a skill they weren’t taught in the minors and wouldn’t need if they ended up in Toronto or Boston.

Players will like the expansion of the DH; it will lengthen careers of weak-fielding, hot hitting veterans (can anyone say “Ryan Howard”?) . As well, with 30 teams bidding for the services of their like, instead of 15, it should drive up salaries based on supply and demand. Owners might not like that aspect, but will be relieved not to worry about their stud investments like Adam Wainwright injuring themselves running out grounders or trying to steal bases. Fans should like the increased offense and potentially quicker-paced NL games as well as getting to see aging favorites for a season or two more. Think back if you will, to the impact Dave Winfield and Paul Molitor had on the championship teams for Toronto… two players who’d have been out of the game by the time the Jays got them, were it not for the DH.

Manfred’s first year has had a few blips but has been reasonably good for baseball. Installing the DH across the board in 2017 will be a great start for his legacy in the game.

Maybe if Pete Rose went back to Montreal…

Rob Manfred marked his first All Star Game as MLB’s Commissioner by holding a “state of the union” type press conference prior to the big game. A few thoughts on the main topics he touched on, with my suggestions, Mr. Commish. Feel free to make them your own!

The game was held in the home of the oldest professional franchise, the Cincinnati Reds, 146 years young. It was great for the fans to see their hometown third-baseman star, Todd Frazier blast his way to the Home Run Derby championship on Monday, but the real buzz was all about their third-baseman star from four decades back- Pete Rose. Rose received a hero’s welcome when he took the field (in the stadium located on Pete Rose Way) as one of Cinci’s “Franchise Four”- their alltime four greats, as chosen by fans. It was a rare chance for baseball fans to see Rose in a Major League event given his total ban from baseball imposed by Bart Giametti back in ’89 and rigidly enforced by his successor, Bud Selig. The bending of the rules to allow Rose to show up for his fans at the Mid Summer Classic seems to suggest a softening of the position, something hinted at by Manfred. “Mr. Rose deserves an opportunity to tell me in whatever format he feels most comfortable, whatever he wants me to know about the issues.” (The issues being his gambling problem when he was a manager.)

Sounds reasonable. Few people condone betting by people involved in the game and not many people who have known him suggest that “Charlie Hustle” is a wonderful, magnanimous fellow. However, the same could be said of many of the game’s alltime greats (Ty Cobb, anybody?) Rose should be allowed back into the game, with a few reservations. First he must admit that his gambling was wrong and bad for the game. Second, there must be some sort of limitations on what role he can play in the sport. Having him be a PR person for Cincinnati or a color commentator on Fox is fine; having him be a manager is not. Perception is as good as reality, and the perception of Rose is one of a gambler; the sport can’t risk having him look like he’s in position to throw games. One can imagine the twitterverse and headlines the day after a team he was running blew a five run lead in a Game 7 whether or not Pete had actually bet even a dollar on either team.

Those criteria met, Pete Rose should have a chance to be honored in Cooperstown. It’s crazy that the all-time hits leader, a player who epitomized hard work on the field and played at a high level for over two full decades isn’t in the Hall of Fame. He should be on the ballot. The writers could then decide if his misdemeanors were forgivable just as they will have to do with Steroid-era stars like Clemens and Bonds.

If Pete Rose excited Cincinnati this week, many Canadians were excited by another comment of Manfred’s. He left the door open to baseball returning to Montreal down the road, complimenting the city, it’s ball history and noting the large crowds in the past couple of years for Blue Jays exhibition games held there. He did throw a bit of cold water on it as well, explaining that crowds of 45 000 or so for an exhibition don’t necessarily equate to a good attendance for a full season and that the city lacks a suitable MLB facility.

My thoughts on expansion (which he hinted at) and a new team in la Belle Province. MLB is enjoying good attendance, good TV ratings and could possibly expand again. Two new teams could mean two 16-team leagues, which would make for a problem with divisional reallignment but would allow for reduced interleague play, which almost no one likes. Sure, a weekend where the Mets go crosstown to Yankee Stadium or a series between the two Missouri teams is fun for fans, but few get ramped up to see Arizona roll into the Rogers Centre or the Mets go cross-country to play in Oakland. What’s more, with more and more Asian stars coming to MLB and Cuban-American relations warming (which one would imagine would make it easier for more Cespedes’ and Puigs to cross the gulf) it could be done without watering down the talent pool too much.

So, if the game decided to expand, it’s time to dust off your Expos caps, n’est pas? Not so fast. Let’s remember, baseball was tried and eventually failed in Montreal. True enough that it might have succeeded if the club was run better and the star power was allowed to stick around and develop, but still it ultimately failed. Other cities would be quick to jump at the chance and probably be better options. Charlotte and Las Vegas come to mind, so too does the idea of a third team in Texas. With 24 million people and a substantial proportion of the MLB roster, the Lone Star State could support more than two franchises. San Antonio, or maybe Austin, could be there, as could Sacremento, California.

Consider that the Charlotte area, in a baseball-loving state, has grown by over 7% this decade to about 2.4 million people. That makes it bigger than Pittsburgh, and it’s AAA team leads the International League in attendance, at about 9500 per game. It has a stadium that has Major League-ready facilities, other than a too small seating capacity of just over 10 000. However, the 72 500 seat Bank of America football stadium could probably be adapted to baseball, if only for a year or two while the Knights Stadium (AAA baseball) had new grandstands and boxes added.

Likewise, San Antonio, Las Vegas and Sacremento have all grown to over 2 million people recently, comparable to Cleveland or Kansas City, and have strong baseball fan bases. Which do you think ESPN or Fox Sports would prefer to have added in – a city in California, Texas or a “foreign” country?

The Blue Jays have enough trouble attracting free agent stars or veterans on the trading block. (This year Cole Hamels has reportedly vetoed any trade to Toronto, although to be fair, he also quashed a trade to Houston according to numerous reports.) If the Jays have trouble getting players to go north of the border to a city that’s New York-lite, how much difficulty would the “new Expos” have getting a good ol’ boy pitcher from Alabama signing on to play in a city where they speak another language?

My guess- the Expos cap will remain a cool archive and reminder of days of yore. By 2020, there could be 32 teams in baseball, but the newbies will be in North Carolina and Texas. The only way Canada might gain a new team would be for Tampa to move to Charlotte ( a good idea), Oakland moving inland to Sacremento and a new franchise going to San Antonio and Vegas not building a new stadium in the meantime.

If all those things came to pass, the Blue Jays might have to give up their sole possession of the Canadian market. To a new team in Vancouver. BC’s big city would make more sense than Montreal, with its fast growth, large number of pro players from the area and proximity to Seattle which would make for a good rivalry.

So, sorry Montreal. Guess you’ll have to keep looking for the next Stanley Cup… and cheer on the Jays in October!