Commissioner Rob Manfred granted an interview to the Associated Press Tuesday, on the day the World Series began, and noted that two changes in baseball in 2020 that were somewhat controversial might remain in 2021:
“I like the idea of, and I’m choosing my words carefully here, an expanded playoff format,” Manfred said. “I don’t think we would do 16 like we did this year. I think we do have to be cognizant of making sure that we preserve the importance of our regular season. But I think something beyond the 10 that we were at would be a good change.”
He’s right that a 16-team field would diminish the importance of the regular season. Doing that would make it difficult for some teams to sell tickets, as September matchups would have much less meaning if 16 of 30 teams would play in October.
Back in February, before everything got upended by the novel coronavirus pandemic, MLB was considering a 14-team postseason plan:
MLB is considering a move in which each league would have three division winners and four wild-card teams making the postseason starting in 2022, sources said. The best team in the league would receive a bye into the division series. The two remaining division winners and the wild-card team with the best record of the four would each host all games of a best-of-three series in the opening round.
The best-of-three wild card series this year were popular, although fans of the teams who lost those (like the Cubs) might disagree. MLB would be looking at more TV dates and thus, likely, more money from TV partners, and that’s what drives this entire thing.
Fourteen teams still seems like a lot. I would rather MLB waited to do this until expansion to 32 teams comes. I could live with it at that point.
However, MLB appears to be dead-set on increasing the number of postseason teams and so it seems likely to happen in some form in 2021.
Manfred also addressed the placed runner in extra innings rule:
“I think the players like it,” Manfred said. “I think it’s really good from a safety and health perspective that keeps us from putting players in situations where they’re out there too long or in positions they’re not used to playing.”
As I have noted previously, once you get past 12 innings we are talking about 1.5 percent of all games. This seems a solution in search of a problem. However, as the AP article points out:
With the added runner rule, the longest of 68 games of 10 innings or longer were a pair of 13-inning contests, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
That’s not even that many games that went to any extra inning. 898 games were played in 2020. That’s 7.6 percent of all games. Over the last 20 seasons prior to 2020, a little less than nine percent of all games went 10 innings or more, so this year was down a bit. Whether that’s because of the smaller sample size of a 60-game season or because perhaps strategies changed due to the placed-runner rule is unclear.
Given that only two of the 68 extra-inning games went 13 innings in 2020, if they insist on having the placed-runner rule, why not limit it to games of 13 innings or longer, and play by normal rules for the 10th, 11th and 12th? I could live with that, and as noted above, beyond that we are talking about 1.5 percent of all games, or about one per team per year on average.
Regarding the universal DH:
He would not say whether he favors keeping the expansion of the designated hitter to the National League, citing the need to bargain on the topic with the players’ union. The expansion of active rosters from 26 to 28 players was specific to the stop of spring training in March and resumption in the summer.
I would think players would be in favor of the universal DH. I’ve long been on record as favoring it, and I hope it’s made permanent.
Lest this article turn into Manfred-bashing, it does appear he was correct about not wanting the regular season to go into October with playoff games in November:
“We did not want to extend the season beyond Oct. 27. Just think about it, put it in some perspective, if we were still playing in the regular season, just 15 games a day in different cities, given where the virus is right now, it would be a really, really difficult situation, and then still having to get through the playoffs in November. Given what everybody’s saying about the virus, the trends we’re seeing, it was crucial that we stick to that Oct. 27.”
He’s right, considering the uptick in COVID-19 cases that’s happening now. If the postseason had not yet begun, it might be in jeopardy.
The entire AP article is worth reading. We are not out of the woods yet regarding COVID-19, playing in 2021 or any sort of labor dispute after next year. And in another part of the interview, reported by SportsBusiness, Manfred said there’s still uncertainty as to whether fans will be at games in 2021:
“We understand what happens with fans [in 2021] is going to be a product of what happens with the virus, what decisions public health authorities make in terms of mass gatherings,” Manfred said. “It’s a huge issue for us in terms of the economics of the game. The losses [for 2020]…were basically set in stone when we started the season because we knew about 40 per cent of our revenue is gate-related and we knew we weren’t going to have it.
“The clubs have done a really good job locally and we tried to do a good job centrally. The [financial] liquidity is sufficient to get us through 2020. I think if we’re faced with limited activity next year and the kind of losses that we suffered this year again it will become more of a problem,” he said.
Manfred’s comments mirror those made last week on ESPN Radio by Hal Steinbrenner, New York Yankees managing general partner, in which he said regarding fans next year, “I have no idea and neither do you.”
I do believe the 2021 season will be played as scheduled — both spring training and regular season games. Whether any fans will be permitted at any of those games remains to be seen.