Today’s guest columnist is Robert D. Manfred Jr., commissioner of Major League Baseball.
Major League Baseball’s 2022 season will be remembered forever. As I have traveled across the country watching games this season, our ballparks have been filled with excitement as our players demonstrated the magic of baseball. We witnessed amazing feats by Aaron Judge, Shohei Ohtani, Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, batterymates Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright, and more. Our rookie class showed us the exceptional caliber of talent that will carry our game into the future. And the debut of our new playoff system brought postseason baseball back to cities with extraordinary fan bases, providing thrills from start to finish.
The enthusiasm for the new postseason format makes me even more excited about the road ahead for the best sport in the world. This postseason has been a great example of how change and a new approach can be good for our fans.
ESPN’s distinguished MLB analyst Tim Kurkjian called this postseason a “stunning success” and “one of the best of all time.” This fall, our players are showcasing the most exciting aspects of our game to the sports world at large. A record 11 clubs hosted playoff action with exhilaration, tension and an unpredictability that is unique to baseball.
Early round ratings gains and the crowds in 11 of our ballparks prove that fans embraced the new system. The drama of this month—including the upsets by teams that had harder paths by design—has undoubtedly created new fans and lured others back to the game. Strong attendance down the stretch of the regular season illustrated that fans welcomed the additional chances to compete. And home runs by Bryce Harper, Yordan Alvarez, Rhys Hoskins, Jeremy Peña and J.T. Realmuto now belong to October lore.
The skill of our players and the success of the new playoff format are also good for business. This season, we will approach $11 billion in league revenues, surpassing pre-pandemic levels.
We are fortunate that the game’s history and traditions provide a foundation that has stood the test of time. But the game is always evolving on its own, and we should be unafraid of encouraging those trends that fans love and managing those that are less favorable. For example, in recent decades, our clubs have been aggressive in deploying highly effective competitive strategies on the field, as they should in their quest to win. Some of those same strategies, however, have not enhanced the entertainment value that our fans deserve. It’s incumbent upon us to strike a balance between honoring our history and implementing well-considered change that benefits our fans.
I am a firm believer that we should make our great game even better by listening to our fans. Our goal has been to evaluate the ways in which we could nudge the game in the direction that our fans consistently tell us they prefer.
Through thorough research, common themes emerge. Fans want to see more balls in play, athleticism, defense and base running. They don’t want unnecessary delays that prevent them from enjoying the late innings and conclusions of our games. MLB has conducted more than 8,000 games of experimentation in the minor leagues and has established a joint process with our players for evaluating rules changes. This careful and thorough work took time, demanded a willingness to undergo scrutiny and gave consideration to the views of dozens of stakeholders. I want to specifically commend the major league players who were a part of our new joint competition committee: Jack Flaherty, Tyler Glasnow, Whit Merrifield and Austin Slater. I also want to thank our owners, players, umpires and advocates for this enormous effort.
Next year, pitch timers will facilitate a pace of play that an overwhelming number of our fans want. Shift restrictions will restore more traditional positioning of defensive players, resulting in more action from balls in play. And larger bases will keep players healthier on the field, with the added benefit of a slight incentive to be more aggressive on the base paths.
Since our September rules changes announcement, I have been delighted by supportive comments from players. Perhaps most poignantly, one of the best Reds of all-time, Joey Votto, said: “I think we’re about to approach a very fun version of our sport where it’s very athletic, there’s more balls in play, and we get to see the athleticism of certainly the infielders and outfielders. I think we have a great sport, and we’re about to showcase it at its very best.”
It is our duty to deliver the best version of the game to our fans. That’s what our players have done throughout the regular season and a memorable month of playoff baseball. Thanks to them, we will leave the 2022 season with great momentum. Couple the excitement of this postseason with the promise of a new path in 2023, and you’ll understand why we have boundless optimism for our game’s future.
Manfred, Major League Baseball’s 10th commissioner, has held the position since 2015.