SBD/April 4, 2017/MLB Season Preview

MLB Reporters Discuss Rays/A's Ballpark Situations, League Diversity, Uniform Patches

After yesterday discussing pace of play and grading the performance of MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, a roundtable of MLB writers -- Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan, ESPN's Buster Olney and SI’s Tom Verducci -- return today to discuss the ballpark dilemma facing the Rays and A's, diversity in MLB and whether a jersey patch would work in baseball.

Q: Will the Rays and A’s have local ballpark solutions by the end of '17? (Question was asked before NFL’s vote to move Raiders to Las Vegas)
Rosenthal: It certainly sounds like there is momentum for the A’s to get a new ballpark in downtown Oakland. The Rays’ predicament appears further away from resolution, and perhaps never will be resolved. I certainly don’t expect resolution by the end of 2017, and it’s impossible to predict whether they will stay in the Tampa Bay area long-term.

Passan
: I'm looking forward to asking my grandchildren someday where they think the Rays and A's will end up. I wouldn't say I'm optimistic about either, because history has proven optimists in both scenarios fools, but based on the progress both teams internally seem to believe they're making, I'd categorize both staying in their current markets likelier than it's been in years. That said, Rob Manfred did say he considers Las Vegas a viable market. Montreal seems a moderate-to-fair bet to, at some point, get a franchise. And there are old standbys in Portland and San Antonio and Charlotte. The darkhorse: Mexico City. I don't sense Manfred is willing at this point to make that splash, but some in his office love the idea.

Verducci
: I don't believe answers are coming this year for Oakland and Tampa Bay. I don't believe either team will leave their market -- but eventually may relocate within that market. That said, I've always believed Montreal -- given a downtown retractable roof "destination" ballpark -- is the sleeper destination that once was Washington.

Olney
: No, they will not have solutions. These problems will linger.

Q: Is MLB doing enough to increase diversity, both on the field and in the front office?
Rosenthal: The question that matters is this: Is baseball satisfied with its diversity in every aspect - racial, gender, etc.? The answer cannot possibly be yes, which means that more work needs to be done. It would be wrong to say that the sport isn’t trying -- there are programs in place, efforts being made. But the results speak for themselves.

Passan: Considering the mess that was the Korn Ferry diversity effort, the inclination is to say no. But MLB did recognize the issue there and rid itself of that without letting the problem fester. Still, there is a deep perception among minorities at so many levels of the game -- front office jobs, managing and coaching jobs, even players -- that baseball is rigged. MLB's task, then, is two-fold. First, they need to show those within the game that they're serious about the effort, and whether that's a Rooney Rule or something to that effect, it needs to have teeth and show progress. That way, the league doesn't find itself with a vacuum of minorities in position of power when it ramps up its efforts to groom them at lower levels. 

Verducci: Baseball is incredibly diverse but can do more. I believe it needs a complement to the RBI program -- less structured and more grass roots. I'm thinking about using former players and coaches to oversee loosely organized pickup games and clinics in urban areas. Put an equipment shed in public parks and get these "ambassadors" to run Saturday morning "fun" games. RBI relies on getting players to the complex. Many kids don't have the means to get there. The key is to bring the game to the kids - without the uniforms, scorekeeping and parental pressure. Let kids fall in love with the game. Also, more tickets should be given to youth organizations. MLB's own research shows the strongest influence to becoming a baseball fan is to get kids to the ballpark early -- nothing like a tangible connection to MLB. As for front offices, the way forward now is highly educated and analytically inclined. Like hires like. Baseball needs to make sure a diverse population is included in this pipeline.

Olney: They are making an earnest effort to make it better, but without knowing the field of candidates available for their consideration and how they generate that list, it's hard to say whether they are doing enough. The next round of managerial and GM hirings will be important to alter perception.

Q: Would a jersey patch -- similar to what the NBA is trying -- work in MLB?
Rosenthal: Traditionalists would howl the way they do every time baseball adopts change, but I hardly think the republic would crumble if players wore patches like the ones you’re suggesting.

Passan: It's 2017. The fact major American sports have lasted this long without one is shocking. Fans will holler, because they're fans, and just like everything else, they'll get used to it. Anyway, it gives them another thing to complain about when ticket prices rise.

Verducci: Baseball isn't ready for a jersey patch. No sport has a richer, more important tradition than baseball. When baseball takes its cues from other sports it devalues one of its greatest assets: the history of the game.

Olney: Yes. Welcome to 2017, when this sort of thing is just a reality.
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