Decades after the Cleveland Indians used a defensive shift against the slugger Ted Williams, Major League Baseball is inching closer to legislating against that stratagem. Rob Manfred, the sport’s commissioner, signaled on Thursday that there is growing momentum to regulate the shift, which has become the norm in baseball in recent years, in some fashion.
In a wide-ranging discussion during a break in this week’s owners’ meetings, Manfred said the competition committee, which regularly convenes during the meetings, discussed whether the time had come to “aggressively” move on managing defensive shifts. But he said the matter was still in the analysis and discussion stage and no changes are imminent.
“I think we want to proceed judiciously, but I also think we want to proceed,” he said at M.L.B. headquarters in Manhattan.
Many in baseball fear that defensive shifts have simply made it too difficult to get hits, even as home runs increased in recent years. Currently, there are no rules dictating the placement of defenders other than the pitcher and catcher. But in the future, new rules could restrict the movement of defenders on either side of second base.
Manfred had previously indicated his willingness to consider other rule changes, like pace-of-game initiatives. One implemented this year is a restriction on the number of times that coaches and players can visit the mound. Manfred was pleased to report that mound visits are down 47 percent, without incident, he said, and that limiting time between innings has had a positive impact on pace of play, as well.
The owners also engaged in a lengthy discussion about sports gambling in the wake of the recent Supreme Court ruling that opened the door for states to legalize the practice. Manfred said it was vital that steps be taken to ensure the integrity of the game, but he also indicated baseball would like to share in the profits from betting on the sport.
“From our perspective, we see revenue opportunities, but most important, we see it as an opportunity for fan engagement,” he said, adding that baseball wants it done in a way that, “first and foremost protects the integrity of the game — b ut, equally important, protects our intellectual property.”
Manfred criticized New Jersey, in particular, for plunging ahead without first working with sports leagues to come up with an agreement of how to proceed.
“It’s disappointing that some states, New Jersey in particular, went down a very shortsighted path with respect to gaming,” he said, “and I think that shortsighted path will make New Jersey not as competitive as some other states who adopt a better, more integrity-focused approached to the betting landscape.”
As for baseball’s ultimate goal of expanding from 30 to 32 teams, Manfred indicated that was not a hot topic at these meetings. He said it was not discussed by the full group of owners. When asked about the success of the N.H.L.’s Golden Knights in Las Vegas, he noted that he had never been opposed to expansion in Nevada.
“When a franchise goes in and does really well, it has to catch your attention,” he said.
He did say that fans could expect at least one scheduling change that would allow for a handful of two-game series on Saturdays and Sundays next year, instead of the traditional Friday-through-Sunday three-game series.
Aside from baseball’s more central issues, Manfred also expressed dismay that a video of an argument between former Mets manager Terry Collins and game umpires from last year had leaked out. M.L.B. had the video taken down shortly after its existence was widely shared on Wednesday, citing copyright infringement to expedite the process. But Manfred said M.L.B.’s concern was that the video had violated an agreement the league had made with the umpires about in-game recordings.
“We made a commitment to the umpires that if they wore microphones, certain types of interactions, that we all know go on on the field, would not be aired publicly,” Manfred explained. “We promised them that. It’s in the collective bargaining agreement. We have no choice in a situation like that than to do everything possible to live up to our agreement. It’s kind of labor relations 101. To not do that is the kind of breach of trust that puts you in a bad spot over the long haul.”