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Rob Manfred says he wants robot umps in MLB by 2024, hints at expansion to 32 teams

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Just because MLB has a new collective bargaining agreement doesn’t mean MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is done with the sport he was assigned to manage.

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In an extensive interview with ESPN correspondent Don Van Natta Jr., Manfred hinted at the many on-field reforms he would like to see in the major leagues in the near future, from robot umpires to more teams.

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Such changes have been Manfred’s stated intent for years, but he has presented some of them in more real terms than previously seen, most notably pointing out the potential timetable for the introduction of automatic balls and kicks or robotic pumps.

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Manfred apparently wants to see changes for the 2024 season, with the ability to give managers multiple calls for challenges during a game.

From ESPN:

In 2024, according to Manfred, an automated system of ball impact zones, or, as it is commonly called, “robot referees”, will probably be introduced. One possibility is for an automated system to call each pitch and transmit balls and shots to the home court official via a headset. Another option is a ball and shot re-view system where each manager receives multiple challenges per game. The system is being tested in the minor leagues and has reduced the average game length by nine extra minutes this season, MLB data shows. “We have a working automated impact zone system,” says Manfred.

As in other interviews, Manfred again drummed the pitching clock, in which pitchers got 14 seconds between pitches with empty bases and 18 or 19 seconds with runners on base. ESPN reports that the current average time between innings is 23.8 seconds, and MLB is reportedly predicting a 30-minute reduction in games on average.

The watch has been used in the minor leagues for a while, and according to MLB, it has shown encouraging results. Of course, there were detractors before.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred speaks to 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 next few years. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

MLB may end streaming shutdown

Manfred also hinted that MLB often criticizes blackouts where streaming fans are prevented from watching games featuring teams from their local markets. The Commissioner stated that MLB is looking to phase out the practice:

“Right now our #1 business priority is reach,” says Manfred. The topic was the main discussion at the owners’ meeting in June. “Trust me,” he says, “we hate blackouts as much as the fans.” Manfred notes that the shutdown clauses are written into the broadcast deals he oversaw, but he says it’s now “a top priority” for MLB to phase them out.

This mood may be related to MLB announced plans to introduce a streaming service for home games..

There may also be more streaming teams in the future. Manfred hinted that a number of billionaires were interested in acquiring an expansion franchise and said that he “would like to get to 32 teams”.

Rob Manfred is ready to listen to Pete Rose

These are topics that came up often during Manfred’s tenure as Commissioner. He may also soon solve one of his predecessor Bud Selig’s major problems, which is the Pete Rose ban. The MLB all-time leader is reported to have filed a third reinstatement petition, with his attorneys arguing that the lack of repercussions for the Houston Astros demonstrates that Rose was treated unfairly.

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

In any case, Manfred clearly wants to listen to Rose:

“Rule 21, no gambling, is considered the most important rule in baseball,” Manfred said. “This is the basis for our fans to see a fair, total fight on the field, which is not influenced by any external forces.”

He says he will listen to Rose. “Pete will be given the opportunity to come in and be heard if he wants to before I make a decision,” says Manfred.


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