Last winter, after the CBA negotiations failed to address pace-of-play in a broader sense, the Commissioner introduced a series of initiatives he’s prepared to implement during the 2018 season – something he’s allowed to do unilaterally as long as he gives one season of advance notice.
In recent weeks, however, the league and the Players Association met on these initiatives in an attempt to find a middle ground between the Commissioner’s proposal (which includes a pitch clock and limitations on mound visits) and what the players want (arguably nothing changed at all). In this negotiated proposal, the pitch clock was turned off in certain circumstances, more trips to the mound were allotted, and none of the associated penalties would’ve kicked in until May.
Unfortunately – perhaps due to the rising free agent market tensions and fears of collusion – the Players Association decided to leave the table, effectively removing their negotiated proposal as an option, and resigning themselves to the stricter, originally-crafted Commissioner proposal from last year. It was not a win for either side, and it certainly seems like things risk getting even uglier between the two sides in the coming weeks.
When this compromise was abandoned, the players lost everything they negotiated into the deal, which means the changes will be more dramatic, immediate, and penalizing, and the league lost the public support of the players, which means selling these changes to the public got a whole lot more difficult.
Needless to say, both sides were unhappy, and, so, Commissioner Rob Manfred met with Players Association Head Tony Clark yesterday, five days after the compromise was rejected. Not much is known about what was discussed, as Clark revealed only that the two “discussed a wide range of topics” that he’d be bringing back to the player leadership, while the Commissioner declined to comment. You can read what little more info there is there in the link.
If you’ll allow me to speculate, I’m guessing the two are trying hard to come to another agreement that would get the players back in on the public support side of things, at the expense of some stricter rules. However, based on many of the comments I’ve seen so far, getting the players on board will be tough.
How, for example, can the game ever be changed when you see comments like this from Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon: “It would be nicer to have the games move a little quicker. At the same time, you’re asking guys who’ve been playing at a high level their whole life to do something completely differently than they normally do,” Blackmon said last weekend via ESPN. “I’m going to be resistant to change right out of the gate, no matter what it is.”
That’s a maddening, nearly unbelievable stance to take on almost anything, let alone something that’s specifically designed to improve the very sport/industry that pays you. And frankly, an attitude like that isn’t deserving of a seat at the table. If you’re preemptively signaling that you are going to be inflexible no matter what, why would the Commissioner waste his time?
Another Rockies star, Nolan Arenado, jumped into the fold, too, and while his comments aren’t nearly as dismissive, I think they’re misguided: “When you go to the ballpark, you go to spend the day and the night at the ballpark,” Arenado said via ESPN. “I don’t think you want to spend a night at the ballpark for hour-and-a-half or two hours. Think you want to be there for a little longer than that. I don’t get it.”
It’s either hyperbole or plain wrong. First of all, the game will literally never be an hour-and-a-half to two hours, because it just won’t. Getting games under three hours is something of a goal right now. Moreover, and I swore I was never going to say this again, but here we are: pace-of-play is not strictly about limiting the overall length of baseball games. It’s about eliminating the dead time between actual baseball being played. I stand by my earlier assertions that the league would be fine with games staying at three hours … so long as those three hours were filled with more actual baseball.
So, again, comments like these lead me to believe that at least some players either don’t understand the focus (which would be the fault not necessarily of those players, but the league and the union), or they’re purposefully spinning the narrative in the public so the league feels pressure not to make changes. A good old fashioned public relations battle.
I won’t linger on this much more for today – I’m sure there’ll be many more updates as the weeks drag on – but for now, know that the Commissioner and Players Association head met once more and could – *fingers crossed* – be working on a compromise for this season.