By Brad Kallet, WFAN.com
» More Columns
Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred assumed office just a little over two weeks ago, but it's already clear that Bud Selig's successor is going to be both progressive and aggressive in his approach.
MLB is still incredibly popular in America, and if attendance figures and free-agent contracts are indicators, the league is still a moneymaking machine.
But it's well-documented that the younger generation is continuing to lose interest in baseball. Little League participation is down -- man, that's depressing -- television metrics indicate that fewer and fewer teenagers and 20-somethings are watching MLB broadcasts, and African-Americans are still choosing basketball and football over the national pastime.
No, baseball is not dying, as many have pontificated. But an old fan base is a problem, and Manfred gets that. He understands that the game needs to speed up, and that it needs to have more action so kids with short attention spans don't tune out.
On his first day on the job, Manfred said that, among other things, he wants to increase youth participation, shorten games and figure out a way to "inject additional offense" in what has become a pitching-dominated league.
Manfred is strongly in favor of pitch clocks, which will be used at the Double-A and Triple-A levels in 2015.
As for his desire to see more runs? The Harvard Law School grad has said he's open to eliminating defensive shifts.
"Things like eliminating shifts, I would be open to those sorts of ideas," Manfred told ESPN. "We have really smart people working in the game. And they're going to figure out ways to get a competitive advantage. I think it's incumbent upon us in the commissioner's office to look at the advantages that are produced and say, 'Is this what we want to happen here?'"
Pitch clocks -- though they would bother me as a baseball purist -- make sense. If monitored properly, they would unquestionably speed up the game.
But as for eliminating defensive shifts, that's just plain asinine. You're going to take strategy out of the game to produce more runs? Baseball is at its best when managers are attempting to outduel one another, when it becomes a chess match. The fact that Manfred would even consider such nonsense is alarming.
Sure, we might be in a golden age of pitching, but I'm confident that the lack of offensive production in recent years directly correlates with the fact that not nearly as many players are taking steroids and performance-enhancing drugs. Fans -- especially casual ones -- love home runs and slugfests. But if the majority of players are clean, we're never again going to see run totals like we did in the late '90s and early 2000s.
If Manfred wants more scoring, he should implement the designated hitter in the National League. Although I would hate that -- I'm an NL fan through and through, and think that the pitcher hitting makes the game considerably more interesting for a number of reasons -- it makes much more sense than telling fielders where they can play.
The conundrum of it all is that more runs would lead to longer games. While NL games might be boring to some fans, they're also played at a significantly quicker pace than American League contests. You can't have your cake and eat it too.
Rob, if you're so determined to see more offense, why stop at eliminating shifts? There are many ways to consistently get 14-13 games. Here are some suggestions for you.
- Pitchers can only throw fastballs on 3-2 counts.
- If a team is up by five or more runs, it must surrender a fielder and play with eight.
- If a team is down by 10 runs, it can use aluminum bats.
- When a hitter falls behind 0-2, he gets to hit off a tee.
- The Mets' offense gets five outs to work with instead of three.
- No double plays allowed past the seventh inning.
- Pinch hitters can get up to three at-bats.
- If a team is up by eight runs, a fan has to pitch the eighth inning.
- Ace pitchers can't start more than twice a month.
- Closers can't pitch two days in a row.
Of course I'm being facetious. But the point is, where do you draw the line?
I've mostly liked what Manfred has had to say about the state of the game and what needs to be done moving forward, but the absurdity of eliminating shifts is just astounding.
I'm optimistic that he'll do an excellent job and make the league a better product, but he needs to make sure he doesn't get too outside the box with his thinking.
Shortly after making his initial statement about potentially eliminating shifts, Manfred backtracked a bit.
"You never know whether people are going to adjust," the commissioner told Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal. "Maybe a lot of hitters went home this winter and they figured out how to go the other way against the shift, and it's going to self-correct and we're not gonna need to make a change. But we look at these things.
"We think it's smart to pay attention. We think it's important to think about possible solutions, even if it turns out that we don't have a problem."
That's a fair statement. And it doesn't look like a ban on defensive shifts is coming, at least not in the near future.
Let's keep it that way.
Brad Kallet is an editor and columnist for CBSNewYork.com. He has written for TENNIS.com, MLB.com and SMASH Magazine, among others. You can follow him on Twitter @brad_kallet.
for more features.