The new commissioner of Major League Baseball, Rob Manfred, showed up at Safeco Field on Wednesday evening displaying some personality, a sense of humor, and a lawyer’s vocabulary (citing studies of “fan avidity”).
He had one other thing going for him that had been problematic in our view of his predecessor, Bud Selig: Manfred never stole a baseball team from Seattle.
OK, Selig always pointed out that he bought the Seattle Pilots out of bankruptcy court and relocated them to Milwaukee rather than actually absconding with the team before the 1970 season, a la Clay Bennett and the Sonics.
Still, few of us have great avidity (n: eagerness, enthusiasm) to absolve franchise-movers.
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As commissioner, Selig built consensus among owners, and introduced progressive changes such as the wild card and interleague play, even if it took him too long to recognize the PED avidity of many of the players.
Manfred got his first shot at meeting the Mariners before Wednesday’s game against the Angels, and opened the floor for their questions. They eagerly supplied them.
“The Mariners lead the league in one category: the number of questions,” Manfred said. Their inquisitions were typical of what Manfred has faced from players.
“The questions this spring have focused on the pace-of-game initiatives, the mechanics, how hard we’re going to press, how fast we’re going to go in terms of implementing the changes.”
The biggest change requires batters to keep at least one foot in the box between pitches to halt the traditional endless parade of cleat kicking and equipment adjustments that have slowed the game. Violators can be fined.
Manfred has been telling the players that they’re trying to “ease into the changes.” He doesn’t want to press too hard initially, trying to avoid alienating players loath to alter their routines.
But the fact remains — fans want the game played at a faster pace.
Fans also tend to want more offense than they’re seeing in the MLB these days, and Manfred said the league is studying the matter, but are in no hurry to make changes until they can see if the pitching dominance is a short-term aberration or something more demanding of their attention.
He took questions on some of the topics he’s already cited as his focus: how to strengthen the game’s connection to young fans, and how to ensure a good relationship with the players.
Manfred didn’t just show up with that new-commissioner smell — you know, being well-intended and addressing the obvious. He seems willing from the start to address issues.
Manfred was elected to the position in August, and officially took over in January. His background was as legal counsel to the owners and MLB, and he had been involved with shaping recent collective-bargaining agreements.
After he was elected, he was struck by how fortunate he was to take over an enterprise with relatively few major concerns.
“We have a level of competitive balance in this game that is absolutely fantastic,” Manfred said. “Our live attendance is amazingly strong and stable. The 10 best-attended years in baseball history are the last 10.”
M’s manager Lloyd McClendon gave Manfred high marks after chatting Wednesday afternoon.
“I think he’s doing a tremendous job,” McClendon said. “He’s been on the job since August and really hit the ground running and is implementing some things I think are going to move the game forward … and trying to connect more with the young fans of baseball. I think that’s a good thing. He’s bringing some innovative things to the game.”
McClendon said he’s been working on his guys regarding pace of play, but it hasn’t taken much work.
“We play fast games,” McClendon said. “We throw strikes, for the most part. We don’t have long innings. We had the best defense in baseball last year. We throw strikes and catch the ball, so our games should be fast.”
During their chat Wednesday, McClendon reminded Manfred that the Mariners were the quickest team in baseball last season.
“So, when those fines come around,” he asked of Manfred, “take it easy on us.”