Major League Baseball’s wild-card game is in its fifth year, and it doesn’t sound as if it’s going away. Speaking to reporters before Tuesday’s single-elimination matchup between Toronto and Baltimore, commissioner Rob Manfred expressed support for the format. “In terms of the games themselves, I understand that baseball doesn’t usually have one-game knockouts, but I do believe these two games get our playoff season off to a really exciting start,” said Manfred. “I’ve gone to the wild card games, each of them, the last two seasons. The atmospheres in the ballparks are phenomenal, and I think it gives a great jump start to our playoff season.”
Manfred also touched on several other pertinent topics as the league and the players’ association continue working toward a new collective bargaining agreement. Here’s a roundup (courtesy of the Associated Press and Jim Caple of ESPN.com):
- For the first five months of the regular season, all major league teams play with a 25-man active roster. When Sept. 1 rolls around, that number increases to 40. September doesn’t quite resemble the rest of the regular season as a result, and Manfred isn’t a fan. “I don’t think 18 pitchers in a game is a good thing,” Manfred said of the increase in pitching changes that September brings. “I do believe in a reform of those rules, again protecting the benefits that are available to players, I’m not looking to take away service time or anything like that, but I do think it would make sense to get to a situation where we played out September games closer to the rules that we play with the rest of the year.”
- Home runs have skyrocketed across the majors in recent seasons, leading to questions about whether the ball is juiced. Manfred shot down that idea, saying, “We are absolutely convinced this issue is not driven by a difference in the baseball. My own view is the spike is related to the way the game is being played now, the way we are training hitters from a very young age. We have not been able to find any external cause that explains the spike in home runs.” Whatever the reason, batters hit nearly 1,500 more HRs this season than they did in 2014 (5,610 to 4,186), while the league’s homer-to-fly ball rate was at 9.5 percent two years ago compared to 12.8 percent in 2016.
- In terms of putting together a schedule, 32 teams would be better than the current total of 30, according to Manfred. However, he’s not on board with expansion until the stadium situations with the Athletics and Rays are figured out.
- Manfred left open the possibility of eventually introducing an award to honor former Marlins ace Jose Fernandez, who died in a boating accident Sept. 25. “I understand there’s some strong feelings on this topic,” Manfred stated. “It’s not the right time of year to be thinking about additional awards. But it’s an issue we’ll talk about during the offseason. Obviously, we recognize the significance of Jose in terms of his importance to the Marlins franchise, and the fact that he was symbolic of the next generation of players.”
- MLB has come out in support of the Save America’s Pastime Act, a piece of legislation that limits the pay and benefits of minor league players. When Brendan Kennedy of the Toronto Star (Twitter link) pressed Manfred on that Tuesday, the commissioner commented, “We’re not opposed to paying minor league players any particular wage. What we are opposed to is the imposition of administrative requirements in terms of keeping track of hours and overtime.” Manfred also referred to those requirements as “impractical” and wondered aloud whether extra batting practice or going to the gym would qualify as overtime. “For us it’s really not about the money so much as the burden that would be imposed,” he added.