MLB now acknowledges that owners are discussing changes to the pension plan

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The other day, when Adam Rubin reported that MLB owners were considering eliminating the pension plan offered to non-uniformed employees like scouts, administrative staff and the like, MLB Vice President Rob Manfred said that there had been “no discussions” about eliminating the pension plans.

Rubin has updated his report:

MLB executive vice president Rob Manfred acknowledged that candid discussions on the topic have gone on for “several years,” but he disputed that pensions will go away entirely.

“No one is suggesting that pension plans are going to be eliminated,” he said. “What the conversation has been about is allowing individual clubs more flexibility as to what exactly their pension plan is going to look like. Nobody is suggesting there is going to be no plan … for anybody. The issue is in the current arrangement we essentially mandate a particular type of defined benefit pension plan. The question is whether the individual team should have more flexibility to design a program that is effective to them.”

Well, that is a discussion, actually. And, actually, teams were already able to opt out of the plan and institute their own as long as it conformed in certain respects to the existing plan.  It’s also worth noting that every company in the history of commerce who cut benefits to employees did so under the guise of “flexibility.” It’s the number on H.R. buzzword for “you guys are now going to be paying more for health insurance” or “you guys are now going to be paying for your own retirement” and the like.

There is a suggestion in the article that MLB may consider keeping things status quo for existing employees and simply not offer pensions to new hires. That would be a way, way better solution than the one Rubin first reported the other day. At least that gives potential hires notice as to what they’re getting into and does not change things for people in midstream.

But a larger lesson here: when Rob Manfred says that something is not so, wait a couple of days and that position may … evolve.

Major League Baseball orders balls stored in climate controlled rooms for some reason

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Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated reports that Major League Baseball will mandate that teams store baseballs in “an air-conditioned and enclosed room[s]” this season. He adds that the league will install climate sensors in each room to measure temperature and humidity during the 2018 season, with such data being used to determine if humidors — like the ones being used in Colorado and Arizona — are necessary for 2019.

This move comes a year after Major League Baseball’s single season, league-wide home run record was shattered, with 6,105 dingers being hit. It also comes after a year in which two different studies — one by Ben Lindbergh and Mitchel Lichtman for The Ringer, and another by FiveThirtyEight’s Rob Arthur — found evidence that baseballs were altered at some point around the middle of the 2015 season which coincided with home run numbers spiking in the middle of that year, quite suddenly.

Also coming last year: multiple player complaints about the baseball seeming different, with pitchers blaming a rash of blister problems stemming from what they believed to be lower seams on the baseballs currently in use than those in use in previous years. Players likewise complained about unusually smooth and/or juiced baseballs during the World Series, which some believe led to a spike of home runs in the Fall Classic.

To date, Major League Baseball has steadfastly denied that the balls are a problem, first issuing blatantly disingenuous denials,  and later using carefully chosen words to claim nothing was amiss. Specifically, Major League Baseball claimed that the balls were within league specifications but failed to acknowledge that league specifications are wide enough to encompass baseballs which could have radically different flight characteristics while still, technically, being within spec.

Based on Verducci’s report, it seems that MLB is at least past the denial stage and is attempting to understand and address the issues about which many players have complained and which have, without question, impacted offense in the game:

Commissioner Rob Manfred said Tuesday that MLB commissioned a research project after last season to study the composition, storage and handling of the baseballs. He said that investigation is not yet completed. “I’m not at the point to jump that gun right now,” he said about the findings.

The investigation is not yet completed, but the fact that the league is now ordering changes in the manner in which balls are handled before use suggests to me that the league has learned that there is at least something amiss about the composition or manufacture of the baseballs.

Major League Baseball is a lot of things, but quick to impose costs and changes of process on its clubs like this is not one of them. There is likely a good reason for it.