Rob Manfred not too concerned with health of Atlantic League players

Getty Images
34 Comments

Rob Manfred was interviewed by Michael Kay at a public event yesterday and raised some eyebrows with several of his comments. Most of those were about labor and salaries and stuff and we may get to that later today. In the meantime, the most eyebrow-raising for me was his view on how cheaply he values the health of players in the independent leagues.

As you’re likely aware, Major League Baseball and the independent Atlantic League have entered into an agreement in which the Atlantic League will implement a number of rules changes which MLB is considering to see how they play out in real game situations. Basically, MLB is giving the Atlantic League some money in order to create a laboratory with the Atlantic League players as guinea pigs.

The most notable experiment will involve the pitchers’ mound. Specifically, the pitching rubber will be moved back two feet from 60’6″ to 62’6″. The idea: today’s high-velocity pitchers need a bit of a handicap, and perhaps doing this will cut down on strikeouts and increase offense. The concern, though, is that pitchers will try to compensate for this by trying to throw harder or by altering their pitching mechanics in order to change when and where balls break and slide and stuff. It may be an even bigger concern in the Atlantic League, where pitchers are already trying to work extra hard with, perhaps, lesser skills, in order to impress someone enough to get a contract in affiliated baseball.

Here was Manfred’s response to that concern yesterday:

Baseball also is using the independent Atlantic League for experiments, such as increasing the distance from the mound to home plate to 62½ feet from 60 feet, 6 inches. When Kay suggested pitchers would get injured, Manfred quipped: “That’s why we’re doing it in the Atlantic League.”

I can’t decide if the answer is more callous or more stupid on Manfred’s part.

I mean, obviously, suggesting that it matters far less if an Atlantic League pitcher’s elbow gets shredded is a bad look on its face. It just comes off terribly. But it’s also dumb, because he is now building in a stronger means of objection for the MLB Player’s Association to fight him on the implementation of this and any other rules changes he wants to bring to MLB following the Atlantic League experiment.

A simple fact of life in pitching is that pitchers get injured. Every year at every level, guys blow out their elbows and shoulders. It’s an inherently risky job. Someone in the Atlantic League, pitching at 62’6″ is going to do it too. It may be difficult, as a matter of medicine, to say whether the guy would’ve hurt himself at the old pitching distance or only did so because of the new one, but you know very well those opposed to the pitching distance — which I presume will be the entire MLBPA — will claim any and all pitching injuries occurred because of the two extra feet.

If it comes to a fight over the mound distance, this quote is going to be thrown back in Manfred’s face to suggest he knew very well that moving the mound created an injury risk. Right or wrong, the injuries which occur will be attributed to the distance and Manfred will have a very difficult time claiming that, no, the move is totally safe and will not create problems. If he tries to, people will say he knew damn well that guys would get injured, thus doing it in the Atlantic League. It’ll fire up player opposition more so than it might’ve and it’ll bring more fans around to the player side on the issue than might’ve otherwise cared.

Personally, I take greater issue with just how crappy a comment this on its face. It’s telling that Manfred didn’t even attempt to craft an answer about how pitching is a risky endeavor at 60’6″ and how he is confident that the change will not create any more risk and about how he and Major League Baseball take any matters involving the health of baseball players seriously and would never place them at greater risk all willy-nilly. He’s a lawyer. He could craft such statements in his sleep if he wanted to.

My only conclusion is that he didn’t because he doesn’t really believe it, even at the most basic level. And that he doesn’t really care.