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MLB officially approves pitch clock, ban on shifts, bigger bases

Potentially transformative new rules will be in place for the 2023 regular season, MLB announced Friday, after the majority of members on a joint competition committee voted in favor of implementing a pitch clock, a ban on shifts, and larger bases.

Potential transformation is coming to the minor leagues, too. After the Major League Baseball Players Association announced Wednesday it had joined the AFL-CIO, a week after the union indicated it would make a push to unionize the minors, Commissioner Rob Manfred said Friday MLB will voluntarily recognize a minor league players union — a surprising step given the long-standing tension between baseball's governing bodies.

"We, I believe, notified the MLBPA today that we are prepared to execute an agreement on voluntary recognition. I think they're working on the language as we speak," Manfred said in response to a question at the end of the news conference at which he announced the rule changes.

The union declined to comment on the process, which has moved quickly to this point but could slow as the sides delve into the details of that agreement. MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark told The Washington Post on Wednesday that he hopes the union can negotiate a collective bargaining agreement for its minor leaguers by next year's spring trainingalthough the process of recognition is the first hurdle in what could be a winding road to minor leaguers' first CBA.

The journey to implementing Friday's rule changes — most notably banning shifts and implementing the pitch clock — was grueling. Both rules were discussed for years before finally being tested in the minor leagues, then reaching the desk of that joint committee, which the union agreed would consist of six MLB representatives, four players and one umpire.

The MLBPA released a statement making it clear that none of the four players on the committee voted in favor of the pitch clock or the shifts ban, explaining that MLB officials had not taken player feedback into consideration when finalizing their rule proposals. But the union agreed to the joint committee in this spring's contentious collective bargaining process, signing off on a committee format that virtually guaranteed MLB could push through any rule changes regardless of what the players involved thought about them.

"Player leaders from across the league were engaged in on-field rules negotiations through the Competition Committee, and they provided specific and actionable feedback on the changes proposed by the Commissioner's Office," the union said in a statement Friday. "Major League Baseball was unwilling to meaningfully address the areas of concern that Players raised, and as a result, Players on the Competition Committee voted unanimously against the implementation of the rules covering defensive shifts and the use of a pitch timer."

Manfred acknowledged the rules were not and will not be universally accepted by all factions of major league players — some of whom benefit from the shifts more than others and some of whom will find themselves and their between-pitch routines affected far more by the pitch clock than others.

"It's hard to get consensus among a group of players on changing the game, taking a stance that we should change the game," Manfred said. "I think that at the end of the day, what we did here was about giving fans the kind of game they want to see after giving careful consideration to all those constituents."

Manfred, sitting alongside consultant Theo Epstein and MLB executive vice president Morgan Sword, made the announcement during a news conference that was shown on East Coast clubhouse televisions just as players began trickling in for Friday night games. The news did not come as a surprise. But at least in the New York Yankees' clubhouse, the announcement sparked discussions among executives, players and managers as they glanced up at the screens.

"I'm on board with it. I think they're things that have a chance to have a positive impact on our game. We'll see, right?” Yankees Manager Aaron Boone said. "... Hopefully these are things that can be small things that lead to a more entertaining and better product overall. I'm at least hopeful that these things will be positive."

San Francisco Giants Manager Gabe Kapler called the changes "major" and processed them from his team's perspective: He told NBC Sports and others the pitch clock could help the Giants' pitching staff, which has been taught to "push the pace" and will not have to adjust.

Chicago Cubs Manager David Ross chuckled when asked about the bigger bases, which will grow from 15 inches square to 18 inches square in accordance with the committee's only unanimous vote. Some have posited they will induce more stolen bases. Others have suggested the greatest benefit will be player safety, providing more room for fielders and runners to avoid collisions at the base.

Tampa Bay Rays Manager Kevin Cash told MLB Network Radio that if fans want the changes these rules could create, he and his players should listen. His organization will take the winter to figure out exactly how to operate within the new regulations, he added.

"We'll work hard this offseason to wrap our heads around the best ways to communicate it to the players, work on it in spring training and see if there are some advantages we can pick up on," Cash said.

That the rules became official Friday means everyone will have plenty of time to alter rosters, strategies and approaches to account for the changes, which will be implemented in spring training. Change has been a constant in MLB since the start of the pandemic as players have adjusted to the health and safety protocols, a universal designated hitter, new sticky stuff checks and more.

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