This year, Clark and the union have won out. There will be no major changes to the rules for the 2017 season. Manfred has suggested several changes, but almost all have been shot down by the players’ union. However, baseball’s collective bargaining agreement allows management to make changes to the rules without player consent as long as they give one year’s notice. So more rules adjustments are likely to come in the 2018 season forward.
The one change to this year’s rules that the union agreed to was regarding intentional walks. Instead of requiring the pitcher to throw four balls, the dugout can now simply signal for an intentional walk and allow the batter to take his base. Even this change has been criticized by fans and players, who point out that it’s possible for an intentional walk to be interrupted by a wild pitch or a lucky hit by the batter. Making the walk automatic removes the chance for these unusual plays to happen. And intentional walks happen rarely enough that this change’s effect on game length will be negligible.
Since taking office, Manfred’s major focus has been on increasing the pace of play. He has expressed concern that long games with too many delays are at fault for declining interest in baseball. While Manfred has said he’s unwilling to discuss specifics of his negotiations with the players, some of the proposals floated this year include:
– A twenty-second pitch clock, similar to that used in AA and AAA leagues.
– A limit on the number of mound conferences allowed per game.
– A larger strike zone, with the bottom at the base of the hitter’s kneecap instead of above it. This would be a return to the dimensions used before 1996.
– Starting extra innings with a runner on second base.
Manfred has declined to pursue the last of those, saying its use will be restricted to developmental leagues, but the others may possibly be implemented in 2018 or later. In a press conference on Tuesday, February 21, Manfred expressed clear frustration with what he termed the union’s “lack of cooperation” on rules changes. Clark responded, “Unless your definition of cooperation is blanket approval, I don’t agree that we’ve failed to cooperate with the commissioner’s office on these issues.”
One possible wrinkle may be the new collective bargaining agreement that is still being worked on. While players and management announced they had come to an agreement in December, the details of the agreement have not yet been formalized. “From time to time there are small adjustments that may need to happen, but everything has been agreed to with respect to the big moving pieces,” Clark said.