Rob Manfred: we must “manage change” as baseball evolves

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Commissioner Rob Manfred wrote a guest column at ESPN today. It can be seen as something of a followup to his recent comments in response to Buster Olney’s recent column about potential ways to “fix” baseball, complete with some radical rules changes, most of which were pretty dumb.

Manfred speaks broadly and contextualizes all of that, noting the difficult balance he and the rest of baseball has in making sure that one of baseball’s biggest attractions — its devotion to history and tradition — does not cause it to fail to address potential problems or fail to innovate when innovation is a good idea. I’d agree that’s the biggest and toughest job any commissioner has and likely always has been. On that score, I don’t have any disagreement with him.

Nor do I have any disagreement on the more specific matters he brings up regarding pace of play, pitcher usage and the lack of contact and action in today’s game. He’s right that it’s frustrating to see the best pitchers less, to see more strikeouts and fewer balls in play and for games to be longer now than they used to be. He’s also right that this is not the result of some “problem” with baseball as opposed to the choices front offices and managers have made which have led to this state of affairs. That the winning strategies these folks have identified don’t necessarily coincide with the most entertaining product on the field possible is a cause for concern, even if it’s understandable. Manfred says that it’s his job to “manage change” as baseball evolves. I don’t disagree.

The devil, of course, is in the details of how that change is managed. Sometimes baseball gets that right and sometimes baseball gets that wrong. The wild card, interleague play and many of baseball’s media and technological innovations have been excellent. The implementation of instant replay, on the other hand, has been clunky and ill-conceived, even if the idea of replay is a good one. Every situation is different and every decision baseball makes as it manages change could be a good one or a bad one. It’s our job as fans and the job of my counterparts in the media and myself to critique the way baseball manages change. We should be fair and we should keep an open mind as we do so, but we should not hesitate to be loud and, if need be, sharp in our criticisms when they’re warranted.

Which hasn’t always been easy when baseball has “managed change” in the past. Mostly because Major League Baseball hasn’t always been transparent or publicly accountable when changes are made. Obviously the game is a private business, not the government, and isn’t required to hold public hearings, but its method of announcing rules changes in the past has been annoying to say the least. Baseball has a habit of acting as if there is 100% consensus on any given change and acting as if addressing criticisms of the new rules is an unnecessary bother. I’m put in mind of a Joe Torre press conference when the replay challenge system was announced. There were lots of questions about why it, and not some fifth umpire scenario was chosen. Torre’s answer repeatedly asserted, erroneously, that “everyone agreed” it was the best, though he couldn’t or would’t, exactly, say why that was. We still don’t know what that was, actually. Sorry, if you’re going to “manage change” you have to do better than that. Especially when it comes to major change.

If you’re not going to do that you had, at the very least, best get used to baseball fans and a baseball media that sharply questions and sharply criticizes the change you manage. Baseball hasn’t always been great at that either, probably because baseball fans and most baseball media pull their punches and no one holds baseball’s feet to the fire. We should be better about that. Especially if the change Manfred intends to manage is significant.

Biden praises Braves’ ‘unstoppable, joyful run’ to 2021 win

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said the Atlanta Braves will be “forever known as the upset kings of October” for their improbable 2021 World Series win, as he welcomed the team to the White House for a victory celebration.

Biden called the Braves’ drive an “unstoppable, joyful run.” The team got its White House visit in with just over a week left before the 2022 regular season wraps up and the Major League Baseball playoffs begin again. The Braves trail the New York Mets by 1.5 games in the National League East but have clinched a wildcard spot for the MLB playoffs that begin Oct. 7. Chief Executive Officer Terry McGuirk said he hoped they’d be back to the White House again soon.

In August 2021, the Braves were a mess, playing barely at .500. But then they started winning. And they kept it up, taking the World Series in six games over the Houston Astros.

Biden called their performance of “history’s greatest turnarounds.”

“This team has literally been part of American history for over 150 years,” said Biden. “But none of it came easy … people counting you out. Heck, I know something about being counted out.”

Players lined up on risers behind Biden, grinning and waving to the crowd, but the player most discussed was one who hasn’t been on the team in nearly 50 years and who died last year: Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

Hammerin’ Hank was the home run king for 33 years, dethroning Babe Ruth with a shot to left field on April 8, 1974. He was one of the most famous players for Atlanta and in baseball history, a clear-eyed chronicler of the hardships thrown his way – from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America’s most hallowed records. He died in January at 86.

“This is team is defined by the courage of Hank Aaron,” Biden said.

McGuirk said Aaron, who held front office positions with the team and was one of Major League Baseball’s few Black executives, was watching over them.

“He’d have been there every step of the way with us if he was here,” McGuirk added.

The president often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically a nonpartisan affair in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.

Those visits were highly charged in the previous administration. Many athletes took issue with President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more. Trump, for his part, didn’t take kindly to criticism from athletes or their on-field expressions of political opinions.

Under Biden, the tradition appears to be back. He’s hosted the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the White House. On Monday he joked about first lady Jill Biden’s Philadelphia allegiances.

“Like every Philly fan, she’s convinced she knows more about everything in sports than anybody else,” he said. He added that he couldn’t be too nice to the Atlanta team because it had just beaten the Phillies the previous night in extra innings.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was later questioned about the team’s name, particularly as other professional sports teams have moved away from names – like the Cleveland Indians, now the Guardians, and the Washington Redskins, now the Commanders – following years of complaints from Native American groups over the images and symbols.

She said it was important for the country to have the conversation. “And Native American and Indigenous voices – they should be at the center of this conversation,” she said.

Biden supported MLB’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia’s sweeping new voting law, which critics contend is too restrictive.