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Manfred looking to improve baseball, not overhaul it

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 29: Robert D. Manfred Jr., commissioner, looks on during the Reliever of the Year award presentation prior to the 2016 World Series Game 4 between the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Cubs on October 29, 2016, at the Wrigley Field in Chicago, IL. Indians won 7-2. (Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire)
(Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire)

LAKELAND, Fla. — Rob Manfred wants to clear up what he feels is a misperception as he enters his third season as Major League Baseball’s Commissioner.

“The game doesn’t need to be fixed,” he said Thursday during Major League Baseball’s Grapefruit League Media Day at the Detroit Tigers’ spring training facility. “It’s the greatest game ever invented and it will always stay that way. We’re just looking for ways to make a few improvements, do some things that will make it better.”

Manfred’s idea of making it better, which he has made clear since the day he succeeded the retired Bud Selig, is to improve the pace of play.

“I think a lot of people have the idea that our biggest concern is time of game, but that’s not it,” Manfred said. “We talk with our fans. We have focus groups. The one thing they dislike is the amount of dead time in the game. They don’t mind how long the games last if they are action-packed games.

“What we would like to do it cut out as much dead time as possible. I think it would make a difference to our fans, especially the younger demographics.”

MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association are negotiating a potential rule change that would raise the strike a few inches to the top of the knee.

While making the strike zone smaller seemed counterintuitive as it would seemingly lead to more walks, Manfred said MLB’s data shows that raising the zone would result in more balls put into play, which would mean shorter plate appearances and more action.

“The strike zone has been gradually getting lower over the years,” Manfred said. “Raising it would be restoring the natural order, getting it back to where it was for a very long time.”

The sides will need to reach an agreement soon if the new strike zone is going into effect this season as the first exhibition games are scheduled for the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues next Friday. Manfred believes the exhibition season would give players and umpires sufficient time to adapt prior to the start of the regular season April 2.

Manfred also reiterated what he told FanRag Sports last October, saying he would like to put a time limit on how long the umpires in the control center at MLB’s headquarters in New York can review video of challenged calls.

“I think it you’ve looked at a play for three-and-a-half minutes, it’s pretty obvious at that point that it’s probably (inclusive) and you go with the call made on the field,” Manfred said, though he didn’t specify a potential limit on video reviews.

One idea that has met with nearly universal scorn from both players and fans is the experimental rule that will go into effect this summer during extra-inning games in the rookie-level Gulf Coast and Arizona leagues in which each team’s turn at bat in extra innings will begin with runners on first and second base.

“It’s just something we’re going to look at,” Manfred said. “If it ever comes to the major leagues, it won’t be for a long time. The games at that level are basically about development, so we feel it’s a good place to try this. There is no need to play an 18-inning game in rookie ball.

“We’ll see what comes from it. Maybe there will a few elements that make sense in the long run and maybe there will be none. We’re just looking at every different way we can to make improvements.”

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