2023 has marked the start of a new era for Major League Baseball with the addition of the pitch clock. Baseball has been seen as a sport that is dying in terms of popularity due to games being drawn out and not enough action taking place, and while it may look like the same game that has been played for more than 150 years, the changes that have been made in recent history are moves that had to be made to keep a high interest in the sport.
Commissioner Rob Manfred has been one of the biggest driving factors behind the changes being made to baseball, and he will continue to look to grow the game after being re-elected as commissioner through January of 2029. Manfred was given an extension after a vote by team owners that will keep him as a guide for the owners through another round of collective bargaining, with the current agreement set to end after the 2026 season.
Manfred took over for Bud Selig as commissioner in January of 2015, during which the league regained some of its popularity. His efforts to grow the game have been headlined by his “let the kids play” slogan in an attempt to gain interest from a younger audience.
The level of young talent that has reached the majors in 2023 showcases some of the most exciting players that have taken the league by storm. The skills that these players possess have set a new standard of metrics for players entering MLB, giving the game a different feel that gives fans a taste of electrifying styles of play.
Like every other commissioner in sports, Manfred’s tenure has come with its fair share of shortcomings. Players as well as the MLB Players’ Association have made their position clear against Manfred’s decisions in punishing the Houston Astros for their sign-stealing scandal and inability to come to a new CBA before the 2022 season, resulting in a nearly 100-day lockout. His downsizing of the minor leagues was a move that was faced with criticism from not only the players, but also from fans.
Fans have voiced their displeasure for Manfred’s actions regarding the Athletics’ potential move from Oakland to Las Vegas and have said that he has not made enough of an effort to keep the team from relocating.
Under Manfred’s lead, MLB has bounced back from the COVID-19 pandemic in a major way, setting a record in 2022 with a $10.8 billion revenue mark. The previous mark was set in 2019 when the league brought in $10.7 billion.
Manfred has made it clear that he wants games to move at a faster pace, much to the delight of newer fans. The rule changes and policies that he has put in place have started to make an impact on the product put on the field, which has made the 2023 season possibly the most important during his tenure.
Prior to being used in the major leagues, Manfred first tested out the pitch clock in the Arizona Fall League in 2014. After finding success with the system, the clock was then implemented in the AA and AAA levels of the minors in 2015. The success that the league saw from the start encouraged them to pursue it further, making its debut to the majors in 2023 and already leaving a lasting impact on games, cutting the average game length down by nearly 30 minutes.
With the extension, Manfred will look to continue to grow the game to the youth and build on the innovation that has created a brand new culture around the league. Faced with the issue of losing popularity and interest in the sport, Manfred has worked with players and officials to improve the game to a point where there could be room for expansion.
Dating back to 2018, Manfred noted 6 possible cities that could host the league's first expansion team since 1998. Based on factors such as population and market size, there have been talks of potentially growing MLB from 30 to 32 teams.
Manfred named Nashville, Charlotte, Portland, Las Vegas, Montreal, and Mexico City as potential homes for new ballclubs. With Las Vegas seemingly out of contention with Oakland’s plans of relocation, five of his 6 original landing spots are still available, which may come down to location and ability to support a fanbase going into the decision.
Once the league is able to sort out the stadium situations for both Oakland and the Tampa Bay Rays, their eyes will be set on expanding to new locations.
Expansion would come with economic issues that would further divide the revenue of the league, as well as expansion fees that could cost around $2 billion for each team.
If the moves are made to grow to 32 teams, the competitive balance of the league could shift and force the league to make divisional changes. Finding a balance between resolving issues before the teams are added and becoming a sustainable franchise is the goal for Manfred and the expansion committee to grow the game into new markets.
The process in which the league still must go through in order to expand is in the early days, but Manfred will continue to make progress in growing baseball into new markets. He hopes that the stadium discussions will be solved “pretty soon”, then turning his attention to expansion and resolving all of the problems that will arise throughout the process. The details of the most likely cities to be selected are currently unknown, but as the process unfolds, the finalists will be selected and eventually will be given their teams.