Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke with reporters (including USA Today’s Bob Nightengale) today about the latest proposal he has presented to the players’ union in regards to reducing the average time of games. After the last plan was officially rejected by the MLBPA, Manfred’s latest offer removes the 20-second pitch clock — that previous proposal’s most controversial feature — from the equation as long as players adhere to other time-streamlining regulations and game-times fall as a result.
The on-field procedures would include hitters remaining in the batter’s box at all time, and both hitters and pitchers would have to be immediately ready once the commercial break in between innings comes to an end. (The commercial breaks themselves would also be shortened.) As well, each team would be limited to six total mound visits per game, whether it was a manager, pitching coach, catcher or another player making the trip. Should these changes result in an average game-time of two hours and 55 minutes in the coming season, Manfred said a pitch clock wouldn’t be implemented for the 2019 season. The pitch clock also wouldn’t be used in 2020 should game times in 2019 fall to two hours and 50 minutes.
Some of the rules in the new proposal are holdovers from Manfred’s previous proposal, though it was the pitch clock that particularly drew the ire of players, or rather the idea that the game itself would be influenced (via balls or strikes accessed to pitchers or hitters who took too long) by a strict countdown.
The players’ union has until roughly the opening of Spring Training camps to respond to this latest proposal, as though Manfred said that he didn’t have “a drop-dead day, firm” in regards to when a deal on rule changes could be finalized, “we need to make an agreement between now and when the players report.”
After Manfred’s statements today, MLBPA executive director Tony Clark’s response included a pointed comment about the slow-moving offseason transaction market:
“As we sit here today, the first week of February, our focus is on the 100-plus free agents still available. Players and the players association remain committed to the competitive integrity of the game on all fronts, including on-field rules.”
It should be noted that the collective bargaining agreement gives Manfred the power to unilaterally implement his plan, so he doesn’t officially require the MLBPA’s assent about the pitch clock or any other pace-of-play initiatives. The commissioner would naturally want all parties to agree to a plan, of course, since as Nightengale notes, “it could be a public relations nightmare if [rule changes are] implemented without the players’ cooperation.”