Rob Manfred says he wants robotumps in MLB by 2024, hints at expanding to 32 teams

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred speaks with reporters after an owners meeting at MLB headquarters in New York, Thursday, June 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Rob Manfred has big plans for the coming years. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Just because MLB has a new collective bargaining agreement doesn’t mean MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is done tinkering with the sport he’s tasked with stewarding.

In an extended interview with ESPN’s Don Van Natta Jr., Manfred hinted at multiple on-field reforms he’d like to see reach the major leagues in the near future, from robot referees to a wider range of teams.

Such changes have been an outspoken intention of Manfred for years, but he presented some of them in more real terms than previously seen, most notably a potential timeline for the introduction of automated balls and strokes, or robotic umps.

Manfred apparently wants to see the change by the 2024 season, with the ability to give managers different challenges for calls during a match.

From ESPN:

In 2024, Manfred says, the automated ball-strike zone system, or as it’s commonly referred to as “robot referees,” will likely be introduced. One possibility is that the automated system calls up each throw and sends the balls and strokes through an earpiece to an umpire at home plate. Another option is a replay rating system of balls and strikes where each manager is given different challenges per game. The system is being tested in the minor leagues and has shaved nine extra minutes off the average playing time this season, MLB data shows. “We have an automated attack zone system that works,” Manfred says.

As in other interviews, Manfred again hit the drum of a pitch clock, in which pitchers would have 14 seconds between pitches with the bases empty and 18 or 19 seconds with runners on base. ESPN reports that the current average between-pitch time is 23.8 seconds, with MLB reportedly projecting an average of 30 minutes of shaved games.

The clocks have been used in the minor leagues for some time now, with encouraging results according to MLB. There are of course past opponents

MLB could end streaming blackouts

Manfred also hinted that MLBs often criticized blackouts, with streaming fans not allowed to watch games involving teams from their local markets. The commissioner claimed MLB would like to phase out the practice:

“Our #1 business priority right now is reach,” says Manfred. The topic was an important conversation at a owners’ meeting in June. “Believe me,” he says, “we hate blackouts as much as fans do.” Manfred notes that the blackout clauses have been included in broadcast deals – which he has overseen – but he says it is now a “top priority” for MLB to phase them out.

Such a sentiment may be related to: MLB’s reported plans to introduce a home game streaming service

There may also be more teams to stream in the future. Manfred hinted that a number of billionaires are interested in acquiring an expansion franchise, saying he “would like to reach 32 teams.”

Rob Manfred willing to listen to Pete Rose

These are topics that have been regularly discussed during Manfred’s tenure as a member of the Supervisory Board. He would also soon be able to address a major of his predecessor Bud Selig, namely the ban of Pete Rose. The all-time MLB hit leader has reportedly filed a third petition for reinstatement, and his attorneys argue that the lack of repercussions for the Houston Astros shows Rose was treated unfairly.

MLB has also recently embraced gambling, which could be another boon to Rose’s argument. On the other hand, it could be a reason to enforce an even stronger firewall between players and gambling.

Anyway, Manfred is apparently willing to listen to Rose:

“Rule 21, the gambling ban, is considered the most important rule in baseball,” Manfred said. “It’s the foundation for ensuring that our fans see fair, total competition, unaffected by outside forces, on the pitch.”

He says he will hear Rose. “Pete will have a chance to come in and be heard, if he wants to, before I make a decision,” Manfred says.

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