SEATTLE – Don’t plan on buying tickets just yet, but MLB commissioner Rob Manfred confirmed the possibility of the All-Star Game returning to Seattle during a news conference Wednesday at Safeco Field.
Manfred said Mariners chairman and chief executive officer John Stanton “has made me aware that Seattle is interested in an All-Star Game. I was here the last time we had an All-Star Game.
“It was a great host city for an All-Star Game. I’d love to do it again.”
Seattle twice previously served as the host city for the game: in 1979 at the Kingdome and 2001 at Safeco Field.
When could it happen again?
Even a possible timeline is a lot murkier, and there is little to suggest the Mariners have done more at this point than express interest. All-Star activities now cover roughly a full week and represent a significant logistical challenge.
“The timing of announcements,” Manfred said “is largely driven by making sure we have commitments in place that allow us to stage all of the events and host all of the people who want to attend it in a way that we think is first class.”
The All-Star Game is booked next year for Nationals Park in Washington and in 2019 for Progressive Field in Cleveland, but Manfred said: “I’m hopeful that I may be able to make two and maybe three (announcements) during this offseason.”
Competition is stiff.
“We have unprecedented levels of interest in All-Star Games right now,” Manfred said. “It’s really become a fantastic event. I think the reinvigoration of the Home Run Derby, the addition of the clock, has made what’s always been a great event an even better event.
“We have a lot of teams interested, but Seattle certainly would be one of the ones that’s in the mix.”
Manfred’s visit to Safeco Field, which included an afternoon news conference, was not tied to any specific news event or announcement but rather simply in keeping with his effort to visit various franchises.
On other topics:
Manfred again rejected any link between the World Baseball Classic and injuries to players. It’s a sore subject with the Mariners, who saw several players who participated either return with injuries or suffer subsequent problems.
“I know what the data shows in terms of participation in the WBC,” he said. “In summary, it shows that players who play in the WBC are no more likely to be injured than players who don’t. That’s a fact.
“The Seattle situation was unfortunate because I think it was sort of an outlier in terms of that overall statistical picture. They had a number of players who were affected.”
On concerns that club might bend the rules in pursuit of Japanese two-way star Shohei Otani, who is expected to be posted this winter by the Nippon Ham Fighters of the Pacific League:
“If you’re talking about doing something with a 14-year-old kid in the Dominican Republic who nobody has ever heard of,” Manfred said, “you might get past us.
“Given the focus on Otani, not only by our office but by clubs as a group, I think it’s very unlikely that a club is going to be able to avoid the rules and not be caught.”
Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto and other club officials recently went to Japan to make a personal evaluation on Otani. The Mariners are expected to make a hard push to sign him.
Regarding expansion, Manfred reiterated MLB must resolve franchise stadium issues in Oakland and Tampa Bay before adding any new clubs – but then teased Portland as a future expansion possibility.
“Portland would be on a list,” he said. “If we were to go to 32 teams, we would need a western time zone team. We’d need at least one more. You can think about the prospects on the West Coast probably as effectively as I can.”
The Mariners view Portland as part of their fan base and would likely oppose any efforts to place an expansion franchise in that city.
On efforts to improve the pace of play, Manfred said emphasis should center on “dead time in the game…without making changes that alter the fundamental competition on the field.”
He cited the possible adoption of a pitch clock, which is currently in use throughout the minor leagues.
“I think over half of the pitchers who are now in the major leagues,” he said, “pitched in the minor leagues with a pitch clock and pitched well enough that they became major-leaguers.”
But Manfred said clubs need to do their part, too.
“We sell about 90 seconds of time,” he said, “yet it takes us 2 minutes and 26 seconds on average to get through an inning break. There’s really room for improvement there.”
On the expansion of rosters in September, which permit clubs to carry up to 40 players for each game instead of the usual 25. Discussions with the union to limit that number fell through in negotiations that produce the last labor pact.
“One of the good things about the maturation of our labor relations,” he said, “is we don’t have to wait five years to talk about topics. The conversations I’ve had with players, I think there’s some continuing interest in addressing this issue.
“I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to revisit it maybe as soon as this offseason.”
Manfred rejected any suggestion that anything improper is responsible for this season’s record number of home runs. He cited the sport’s drug-testing policy and ongoing tests to ensure baseballs continue to meet specifications.
“Our athletes are bigger, stronger, faster just like athletes in all professional sports,” he said. “When you have bigger, stronger, faster athletes, the fact you have more home runs is not all that shocking.”
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