New MLB Commissioner vows to speed up game

February 1, 2015 not only can be remembered for the worst offensive play in Super Bowl history but also for the day that Rob Manfred took over the reins of Commissioner of major league baseball from Bud Selig.

It was a relatively smooth transition mainly because Manfred had been working with the commissioner’s office for the past two decades.

Selig, who owned the Milwaukee Brewers’ franchise, apparently is satisfied with the job he has done since he was installed at the insistence of other fellow owners in 1992, according to this week’s issue of USA Today Sports Weekly. 

Under Selig, MLB has flourished into a $9 billion industry and is run at the top like a Fortune 500 company.

“Closer to the field is a world invaded by brainiacs who dissect every aspect from the bio-mechanics of the pitching motion to metrics to access and predict performances,” the article stated. 

“Statistics, technology and acronyms that didn’t exist two decades ago are requirements merely to keep up with the innovative franchises looking for the next market inefficiency to leverage,” the article continued.

But one item that Selig was unable to improve was the pace of a major league baseball game, which saw the average time of games grow from 2 hours, 33 minutes in 1981 to 3 hours and 8 minutes last season.

And according to this week’s edition of ESPN The Magazine, MLB apparently is open to any and all options. 

The most recent proposal from the Commissioner’s office is that pitchers and batters must be ready to go shortly after the end of radio or TV commercial breaks.

Although most baseball fans believe that the lengthier games are caused by using relief pitchers earlier in a game, MLB statistics reveal that relievers are not throwing more innings these days.

In 2014, relievers threw 33.5 per cent of all innings and 16 years ago they threw 32.2 per cent. But in 1998 a total of 431 relievers were used during that season while last year 538 relievers were utilized, contributing in a 14-minute increase in the time of a game since 1998.

Manfred believes that if the number of mound visits and mid-inning pitching changes were limited, games should end somewhat sooner.

Another reason for longer games is because of strikeouts. “Strikeouts are boring,” this week’s edition of ESPN The Magazine wrote. 

“And for seven straight seasons the rate of K’s has increased. One big reason is that the bottom of the strike zone has increased by 40 square inches since 2009 and the length of games increased by 11 minutes during the same time period,” the article concluded.

Not only are strikeouts boring, but they also are very time-consuming. In 2014, more than half of all plate appearances reached two strikes. So if MLB fixes the strike zone, it should speed up the games.

The magazine pointed out that the average nine-inning MLB game (at 3:02:21) was only eight minutes shorter than the NFL’s average in 2013 and 20 minutes shorter than a college football game.

The NFL average 128 offensive plays per game and college football averages 148. In 2014 an MLB game averaged just 52 balls in play. Consequently, baseball at 3.5 minutes per play lags far behind the NFL (1.48) and the NCAA (1.37).

Although MLB can’t match those numbers, the new commissioner believes that cutting 15 minutes (eliminating a few mid-inning work stoppages might do it) and adding four balls in play per game (which should come from a smaller strike zone) would get the game below three minutes per play, which would be acceptable.

However, Commissioner Manfred cannot address this problem single-handedly, because any changes to working conditions must be approved by the player’s association.

And another problem bugging baseball purists all over America is the fact we have two leagues playing by different rules when it comes to the designated hitter.

For more than four decades these purists have been upset that the sport is supposed to have nine players on each side, not 10.

The players union would love to see the DH expand to the National League because those are usually highly-paid positions and often lengthen the careers of veterans.

Plus the game desperately needs more offense instead of the pitcher’s spot in the lineup almost always being an automatic out.

KWICKIES…Although the Kentucky Derby is more than 10 weeks away, the Louisville Courier-Journal polled a panel of racing media experts and came up with this Top Ten Kentucky Derby contenders for the 2015 event: 1. Texas Red 2. Dortmund 3. Upstart 4. American Pharoah 5. Carpe Diem 6. Imperia 7. El Kabeir 8. Ocho Ocho Ocho 9. Calculator 10. Frosted.

The Dallas Cowboys may be facing a huge dilemma when it comes to playing the 2015 NFL season with both wide receiver Dez Bryant and running back DeMarco Murray. The money under the salary cap just isn’t there to pay either of those star players their market value. And if the Cowboys have to make a choice, five will get you ten they’ll keep Dez Bryant, who may be the best playmaker in the NFL. Besides Murray has said that he wants to be paid what he’s worth, so money is more important than any loyalty to his team. And if he signs with another team for more money, he had better be prepared to have to learn an entire new offense with different terminology and an entirely different blocking scheme in front of him. Then he’ll wonder why he will struggle to gain 1,000 yards with his new team.

And the other Lone Star State franchise—the Houston Texans—came a long way in a short time last season by improving by seven wins to better the horrid 2-14 record of 2013 with a 9-7 record last season. But in order to reach the playoffs and even the Super Bowl in the very near future, the Texans will need a “real” quarterback either via the free agent market, by trade or even drafting one.

UCLA head coach Jim Mora, Jr. last week signed four-star recruit Cordell Broadus of Las Vegas, who is the son of rapper Snoop Dogg.

The college basketball world is mourning the passing of North Carolina basketball coaching legend Dean Smith who died last weekend at age 83. Smith took the Tar Heels to 11 Final Fours, won two national championships and a 1976 Olympic gold medal. His four corners offense led the college basketball brain-trust to install the shot clock used today. He retired in 1997 with a Division I record of 879 victories, a total that ranks No. 4 today and won at least 20 games for a record 27 consecutive seasons, making the NCAA 23 consecutive times. 

JUST BETWEEN US…Tiger Woods’ golfing career appears to be going in a reverse vicious circle. When he’s playing badly his back is aching and when his back is aching it makes him play badly. He keeps changing his swing and it doesn’t seem to help. In his last six tournaments since returning from back surgery a week before the Masters, Tiger has missed the cut three times, withdrawn twice and finished 69th in the British Open, his lowest 72-hole finish in a major tournament. We may have seen the best of Tiger Woods 10-20 years ago.