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It’s All Fun and Games (‘Till Somebody Brings Up the Money…)

Beyond ways to speed up the game, baseball might be facing bigger challenges.

John Collins

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State of the League’s (dis)Unity

How apropos…as all focus was on President Trump in Washington delivering the State of the Union Address last week, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred was out in Los Angeles doing very much the same; discussing the state of the game at MLB’s Quarterly Owner’s Meetings.

The week began with a few widely accepted updates for the league in 2018, as well as an elucidation on some of the positive trends developing in the game. After far too many injuries from bats and balls flying into the stands, all 30 teams have announced they will be extending the protective netting this year.

Wahoo! Finally, a decision. (Image: Yahoo.com)

It was also reported that the Cleveland Indians will finally be removing their controversial Chief Wahoo logo from all elements of their uniforms by 2019.

Commissioner Manfred continued by celebrating the influx of young, exciting talent entering the game and their marketability, the success the MLB Advanced Media, and the health of a robust, growing economy for the game. Yet as in politics, not all is sunshine and rainbows…there were also many divisive issues afflicting the league that emerged.

Manfred, who has long advocated for shortening games and establishing rules to improve overall Pace of Play, brought up a few of the proposals that he and the owners have suggested recently. These include everything from the implementation of a pitch clock to a limit on the number of mound visits per game; financial incentives for faster play, establishing shorter commercial breaks, and even the idea of bringing back the bullpen cart was floated out there by some.

I Want One! (Photo: MLB.com)

Players have resisted the measures, although after proposing them over a year ago, Manfred now has the power to institute them unilaterally prior to the season in 2018. While he now has that ability, the Commissioner has long said that he would much prefer to have agreement from the Player’s Association with any changes made. That’s why the updated Pace of Play proposal delivered at the Owner’s Meetings was a much watered down version of previous iterations.

Instead of forcefully implementing the original proposal suggested- including the addition of a 20-second pitch clock for 2018- Manfred has tried to be responsive to the members of the players association that disagree. That’s what led to the updated plan announced at the meetings last week, which calls for:

  • The time-of-game goal for 2018 would be to play games in under 2 hours, 55 minutes; if 2:55 or longer then an 18-second pitch clock would be put into effect for the 2019 season. If the average game time was under 2:55 in 2018, then MLB would play in 2019 without a pitch clock, and the time-of-game goal would be 2 hours, 50 minutes. If that goal wasn’t met, the use of a pitch clock would be triggered for 2020.
  • MLB would implement a six-trip limitation to the number of mound-visits allows per game.
  • Specific times would be established for pitchers to warm up between innings and for hitters to approach home plate to promptly restart play; but no penalties would be attached for 2018 with a review at the end of the year.
  • MLB would withdraw its request for a between-batter timer if the union is willing to reach an agreement on the pace-of-play initiatives.

This attempt at collaboration was met by the Players’ Association with anger, animosity, and a declaration of their displeasure with the state of free agency and some of the other issues they see as much more troubling for the league. The association’s Executive Director, Tony Clark, actually responded to the Pace of Play proposal with a curt statement that read: “As we sit here today, the first week of February, our focus is on the 100-plus free agents still available.” Players like Dodgers pitcher Kenley Jansen brought up the idea of a potential strike in the future (and they’re not talking about pitch location…) with powerful agent Brodie Van Wagenen going as far as suggesting a holdout leading up to Spring Training in two weeks.

The always vocal Scott Boras has decried the situation as a “non-competitive cancer ruining the fabric of the sport.” He sees teams like the Pirates, Marlins, and Rays more focused on rebuilding than contending, and believes that the current system has a major flaw. Teams are being pushed to one of two poles: either making a concerted effort at contention or tearing the franchise apart and focusing on a full-blown rebuild. The lack of a middle ground has “removed hope and faith from the fan,” and is what Boras believes is responsible for the free-agent freeze. While the league as a whole is making plenty of money, the average team payroll is expected to drop for the first time in years.

How all of this gets resolved definitely merits watching, as it is going to be incredibly significant to the players, teams, and fans of Major League Baseball. Labor relations between the players and the league haven’t been this divisive for decades. The last time the situation was this contentious was 1994, and we all know what happened that year (a strike that ruined the season, disrupted the league, and is what some believe led to the steroid-era).

With spring training just a few weeks away, “it’s getting late early,” as the sagacious Yogi Berra would say. Will the 100+ free agents still available be signed with their teams? Which of Manfred’s proposed rule changes will actually be implemented to improve Pace of Play? All will definitely be addressed in the league’s next Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2021, if not sooner. Let’s just hope there’s not a bench-clearing brawl…

Break it Up! Break it Up! (Photo: NatsEnquirer.com)

A Communication major from the University of Southern California, with eclectic experience in the sports, business, and the entertainment industry, John Collins is the baseball writer at Front Office Sports. An avid sports fan and highly opinionated writer, John is of the firm belief that Bull Durham is far superior to Field of Dreams and looks forward to you telling him otherwise. Reach out: John@frntofficesport.com any time!

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Kyrie Irving Expected to Sign with Roc Nation

Kyrie Irving is expected to sign with Roc Nation, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation.

Michael McCarthy

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Photo Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Kyrie Irving is expected to sign with Roc Nation, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation.

Irving, who was most recently repped by Jeffrey Wechsler of 24/7 Sports Management, joins an NBA client roster at Roc Nation that includes the likes of Kevin Durant, Josh Hart, Justise Winslow, Danny Green and Caris LeVert.

The switch in representation comes on the same day that Irving took the first step toward his prospective free agency this summer.

According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, Irving is not opting into his $21.3 million contract for the 2019-20 season and will become an unrestricted free agent.

By not opting into his contract, Irving can sign with any NBA team when free agency opens on Sunday, June 30th.

If he signs with a team other than the Celtics, he will be eligible to sign a max deal worth $139 million over four years.

If he were to stay with the Celtics, Irving can sign a five-year deal worth $188 million.

An industry source speculated that Roc Nation could be waiving the fees on Irving’s contract in order to retain his marketing rights.

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Meet the WNBA’s New Boss

Deloitte CEO Cathy Engelbert will become the first commissioner of the WNBA and the first woman to lead a Big Four professional services firm in the U.S.

Front Office Sports

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Photo Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else.

For the first time ever, the WNBA will have a commissioner. Before now, all of the league’s previous leaders like Val Ackerman and Lisa Borders were given the title of president. 

Cathy Engelbert, the current CEO of Deloitte, will take control of the role on July 17th and will report directly to Adam Silver. 

What should you know?

1. By the time she is done at Deloitte, Engelbert will have spent more time at the company (33 years) than the WNBA has been a league (23 years)

2. Engelbert is the first female to lead a Big Four professional services firm in the U.S.

3. She is the fifth person to lead the league after Val Ackerman (1997-2005), Donna Orender (2005-10), Laurel Richie (2011-15) and Lisa Borders (2016-2018)

4. Engelbert has spent the past four years in charge of Deloitte’s U.S. operation.

Basketball is in her blood…

Although she might be an accountant by trade, Engelbert is no stranger to the game of basketball. 

According to Bob Hille of Sporting News, she played at Lehigh for Hall of Fame coach Muffet McGraw and was a team captain as a senior. Her father Kurt also played and was drafted in 1957 by the Pistons.

What are they saying?

“Cathy is a world-class business leader with a deep connection to women’s basketball, which makes her the ideal person to lead the WNBA into its next phase of growth. The WNBA will benefit significantly from her more than 30 years of business and operational experience including revenue generation, sharp entrepreneurial instincts and proven management abilities.” – Adam Silver on the hiring of Engelbert

“I think that’s probably one of the reasons I was selected for this role, to come in and bring a business plan to build the WNBA into a real business and a thriving business, quite frankly.” – Engelbert to ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel

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Adam Silver Wants More Gender Diversity

The NBA commissioner states his desire to get more women into the sports industry. The NBA currently has a 31.6 percent ratio of women in team management.

Front Office Sports

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Photo Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else. 

If Adam Silver has his way, 50 percent of the new incoming NBA officials will be women.

That number applies to coaches too, Silver said speaking at the Economic Club of Washington.

How do the leagues stack up?

The following numbers, outside of MLB, come from 2018 reports put together by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida. MLB is the first league to have a report done on it this year.

1. NBA – 31.6% of team management are women / 37.2% of team professional admins are women

2. NFL – 22.1% of team senior admins are women / 35% of team professional admins are women

3. MLB – 28.6% of team senior admins are women / 26% of team professional admins are women

4. MLS – 26.5% of team senior admins are women / 31.6% of team professional admins are women

5. WNBA – 48.6% of team VPs and above are women / 58% of team managers to senior directors are women

6. NHL – No report done

Quotes from Silver… 

“It’s an area, frankly, where I’ve acknowledged that I’m not sure how it was that it remained so male-dominated for so long. Because it’s an area of the game where physically, certainly, there’s no benefit to being a man, as opposed to a woman, when it comes to refereeing.”

“The goal is going forward, it should be roughly 50-50 of new officials entering in the league. Same for coaches, by the way. We have a program, too. There’s no reason why women shouldn’t be coaching men’s basketball.”

That’s not all Silver wants to see change…

Silver, who has been adamant about getting rid of the one-and-done rule, provided some clarity as to when that might be achieved.

According to the commissioner, the 2022 NBA Draft will likely be the first one since the 2005 NBA Draft to allow high school players to go straight into the league rather than playing a season in college first.

Citing “active discussions” with the NBPA, Silver noted that they are still “a few years away.”

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