CLEVELAND — Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred and Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark disagree on much, and even disagree on some issues they are in phase.
One area in which they share a feeling: baseball isn’t working the way it usually does.
The question: where to go from here?
Tuesday night, Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander will start for the American League in the 90th All-Star Game at Progressive Field, a day after once again lamented the rabbit ball it helps achieve a record home run ratewhile insisting that MLB had a hidden hand in improving it.
Earlier Tuesday, during back-to-back press briefings with the Baseball Writers’ Assn. of America, Clark and Manfred addressed the ball issue, with Manfred denying intentional tampering, but noted this: The league is considering changing ball specifications.
HOT STOVE UPDATES: MLB free agency: ranking and monitoring of the best players available.
“Topic under discussion,” Manfred said. “I can’t go any further.”
He was more expansive in pushing back Verlander.
“If we make the decision to change baseball,” he insisted, “you will know before you change baseball.”
DOPING QUESTION: Decades later, we can’t help but wonder
STAR GAME: How Five Unlikely Players Got to Cleveland
The issue is coming under increased scrutiny due to MLB’s purchase of ball manufacturer Rawlings for $395 million in 2018, a deal that Manfred said was intended to ensure the company’s viability producing an essential product – while maintaining control of its development.
This could be interpreted – as Verlander did – as a decision to feed or cushion the ball at MLB’s discretion. This season, 2.74 home runs are hit in the average championship game, a rate that will demolish the record of 2.52 set in 2017.
And so for the launchers, the an improved outcome seems more likely. Clark just knows the results are bad.
“I think things have changed,” he says. “And I do not know why.
“The game has changed. The ball is different. Nobody has presented the why yet. This difference produces different results on the field. The question becomes: what are we going to do about it?”
A 2018 study commissioned by MLB identified a decrease in the drag coefficient as one of the main reasons why bullets were flying farther. Home run rates normalized a bit in 2018, but have increased again this year, as three players arrive at the All-Star break with at least 30 homers and previously happy infielders have surpassed the 20 mark .
And now ?
Three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer stopped short Tuesday of insinuating that MLB intentionally changed baseball. But he also put the onus almost entirely on MLB to do something about it.
“I don’t necessarily want to go down that road,” he said of Verlander’s comments, “but it’s hard for players not to go down that road. We’re really trying to take MLB to its face value. We would like to see MLB take ownership of it.
“I don’t care what the ball is. I’m going to go out there and compete and the hitters on my team can hit with the same ball I’m pitching with. I’m not going to cry about it. But in the end Today, the ball is different and that needs to be addressed from the MLB side, what they plan to do about it and how they view the future of baseball and its role in the home run.
The veiled and direct shots between pitchers and management will likely continue, but resolving trust issues would likely go a long way toward reaching a conclusion.
The simple answer is to tighten the manufacturing specifications of the ball, to allow for less variance and, apparently, less jump. Clark seems more willing to explore creative avenues to restore sanity to the longball.
“We get the data, we get the analyses, we get the scientists who studied it,” he says. “The next step, which we have not yet taken, is the finer details.
“There was magically a cigar humidor in Colorado (in 2002). That, too, tampers with the ball. I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t concerned, both as a player and as a person who watches the match played on the field. field.”