Drellich: Since Manfred recognizes the risk in new rules, MLB is trying to reduce the uncertainty
DUNEDIN, Fla. — Let’s say a center infielder positioned himself too close to second base. Of course, his team would be punished with the new postponement that is prohibited in sport.
But could an umpire warn a player, “Hey, you’re too close” before the pitch is thrown?
“You can,” said Joe Martinez, an ex-Big League turned MLB official. “Honestly, I don’t think they would because you certainly should if you see this. They will try to make sure it’s the same for everyone.”
It was one question among dozens that Martinez, MLB vice president of on-field strategy, patiently answered on the field at the Blue Jays’ spring complex on Wednesday. The league held two lengthy rules presentations this week, one in Florida and the other in Arizona. Not only did the officials speak in a conference room, supported by slide shows, but they also gave reporters ample time to ask all their questions about the sport’s new look after an on-pitch demonstration.
From a media perspective, the transparency has been great, an effort that can only help the fans and our own understanding of all the rule changes. It’s both what MLB obviously should be doing — given how significant these changes are — and deserves credit for actually doing it.
As #spring workout This week is in full swing, let’s take a look at the new pitch rules starting this season.
— MLB (@MLB) February 14, 2023
The fact that MLB held the presentations at all was noticeable in a different way.
MLB doesn’t work The. The Commissioner’s office rarely offers hour-long press conferences with extended question-and-answer time. Can you imagine the League holding equivalent seminars on television outages, not once but twice in two different parts of the country to maximize the number of reporters attending? Didn’t think so.
That leads to a question: Why is MLB so communicative on this topic?
Presumably because the league sees uncertainty. There is uncertainty about how fans and players will deal with the rules, there is at least a little uncertainty about how they will actually work in the big leagues and the commissioner’s office recognizes that it must do everything it can to support the process . Because the stakes are pretty big. The league modifies a recipe that people know and expect, a recipe that’s cooked every night, 162 times a year.
We already know that there is a degree of controversy going on. Nobody has any concerns about that.
“There is a risk,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said. “You can’t change without taking a risk. I would say two things. #1, I appreciate the fact that playing in the major leagues is different than playing in minor league baseball. We experimented there because it was the best proxy we had. That’s certainly a risk it plays a little differently at the major league level.
“And look, there will be a period of adjustment. We all understand that. And you know, you don’t want that period of adjustment to be gross in the sense that you have scores that change because people get used to the rules. In the long term, we believe the benefit we will derive from these changes is worth the risk.”
At first, casual fans might tune in to a game and just be confused as to what’s going on. So the presentations were all about getting buy-in, right? Chris Marinak, MLB’s chief operations and strategy officer, preferred to call it “education.”
“We think we’re digging into some of the data you’ve seen here and the feedback we’ve had from the people who’ve seen it in action,” Marinak said. “What we’re talking about here is really providing education and information to the media and our fans about what we think is one of the biggest changes on the pitch that we’ve seen in the last few years. So it’s less about trying to achieve any kind of result. Rather, it’s about making sure we’re managing the change process, which we think is really important to the overall success of the initiative.”
But “managing the change process” is about creating consent. When you know controversy is coming, you want to minimize it. They want to prevent the noise from getting so loud that it dominates the game’s narrative and, in extreme cases, forces a rule overhaul.
It is in the league’s interest to influence and convince various stakeholders of the merits of the rule changes. This includes making sure that reporters – and by extension some fans or even players they reach – simply understand how they work. People who misinterpret the rules or write angry articles about rules they don’t understand aren’t going to help.
The commissioner also made an interesting point: Recent springs have been marked by electronic tag theft, the pandemic and the lockout.
“This is the first time since 2019 that we’re going back to spring training where the focus is on the field,” said Manfred. “I mean, we’ve had a variety of other issues that have taken center stage over the past few years. And we always do our best when the media and our fans focus on what’s happening on the pitch.”
What’s happening on the field this year could go really well and end up changing the game for the better. A couple of two-hour presentations the league put together underscored that this is an open-ended question.
(Photo by Joe Martinez: Daniel Shirey / MLB Photos via Getty Images)
https://theathletic.com/4220775/2023/02/17/mlb-rules-changes-rob-manfred/ Drellich: Since Manfred recognizes the risk in new rules, MLB is trying to reduce the uncertainty