“We, I believe, notified the MLBPA today that we are prepared to implement a voluntary recognition agreement. I think they are working on the language as we speak,” Manfred said in response to a question at the end of the news conference at which he announced the rule changes.
The union declined to comment on the process, which has moved quickly to this point but could slow as the sides delve into the details of that deal. MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark told The Washington Post on Wednesday that he hopes the union can negotiate collective bargaining agreement for its minor leaguers before next year’s spring trainingalthough the process of recognition is the first hurdle in what could be a winding road to the first CBA of minor leaguers.
The journey to implement Friday’s rule changes – particularly banning substitutions and implementing the pitch clock – was a grueling one. Both rules were debated for years before finally being tested in the minor leagues, then reaching the desk of that joint commission, which the union agreed would consist of six MLB representatives, four players and one umpire.
The MLBPA released a statement explaining that none of the four players on the committee voted in favor of the pitch clock or the changeup ban, explaining that MLB officials did not consider player feedback when finalizing their rule proposals. But the union agreed to the joint committee in this spring’s contentious collective bargaining, signing off on a committee format that virtually guaranteed MLB could push through any rule changes regardless of what the players involved thought about them.
“Player leaders from across the league have been engaged in on-field rules negotiations through the Competition Committee, and they have provided specific and actionable feedback on the changes proposed by the Commissioner,” the union said in a statement on Friday. “Major League Baseball was unwilling to meaningfully address the areas of concern that Players raised, and as a result, Players on the Competition Committee voted unanimously against implementing the rules covering defensive changes and the use of a pitch timer.”
Manfred acknowledged that the rules have not been and will not be universally accepted by all factions of major leaguers — some of whom benefit from the changes more than others and some of whom will find themselves and their inter-pitch routines much more affected by the pitch clock. than others.
“It’s hard to get a consensus among a group of players about changing the game, taking a stance that we should change the game,” Manfred said. “I think at the end of the day what we did here was about giving fans the kind of game they want to see after carefully considering all those items.”
Manfred, sitting alongside consultant Theo Epstein and MLB executive vice president Morgan Sword, made the announcement during a news conference that was shown on East Coast clubhouse televisions just as players began trickling in for Friday night games. The news did not come as a surprise. But at least in the New York Yankees clubhouse, the announcement sparked discussions among executives, players and managers as they stared at the screens.
“I’m on board with it. I think they are things that have a chance to have a positive impact on our game. We’ll see, shall we?” Yankees Manager Aaron Boone said. “… Hopefully these are things that can be small things that lead to a more fun and better product overall. I at least hope these things will be positive.”
San Francisco Giants Manager Gabe Kapler called the changes “major” and processed them from his team’s perspective: He said NBC Sports and others the pitch clock could help the Giants’ pitching staff, which has been taught to “push the pace” and won’t have to adjust.
Manager of Chicago Cubs David Ross laughed when asked about the larger bases, which will grow from 15 inches square to 18 inches square in accordance with the only unanimous vote of the committee. Some claimed they would try for more stolen bases. Others have suggested that the biggest benefit will be player safety, providing more room for fielders and runners to avoid collisions at the base.
Manager of Tampa Bay Rays Kevin Cash told MLB Network Radio that if fans want the changes these rules could create, he and his players should listen. His organization will take the winter to figure out exactly how to operate within the new regulations, he added.
“We’re going to work hard this offseason to figure out the best ways to communicate it to the players, work on it in spring training and see if there are any benefits we can get,” Cash said.
That the rules became official Friday means everyone will have plenty of time to tweak rosters, strategies and approaches to account for the changes that will be implemented in spring training. Change has been constant in MLB since the start of the pandemic, as players have adapted to health and safety protocols, a universal designated hitter, new set pieces and more.