Joel Sherman and Ken Davidoff | New York Post | November 10, 2015
BOCA RATON, Fla. – The Yankees are one of about 10 teams under consideration to play spring training games in Cuba before next season if the final hurdles can be cleared for such games.
Commissioner Rob Manfred said Tuesday, “I hope so,” when asked about being able to play spring games in Cuba in 2016. MLB has been working for months to finalize such games in the aftermath of the United States and Cuba renewing diplomatic ties earlier this year. Among other things, MLB will need the final blessing of the US government to have games played in the island country.
Many teams requested a chance to be considered for a game this spring, but as time has gone by and clubs have needed to lock in a firm exhibition schedule, many have dropped out. However, the Yankees are among those who are still open to going to Cuba. It is expected some kind of lottery system would be used to pick the two teams that go.
The Orioles ended a 40-year absence by MLB teams in Cuba by playing an exhibition game in Havana against the Cuban national team in 1999. No MLB teams have gone since. Before Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba, MLB teams often held spring training camps in the country.
Manfred touched on a number of other subjects at the news conference:
• Both this week at the GM meetings and next week at the owners’ quarterly meetings in Dallas, the topic of slides into middle infielders in an effort to break up double plays — a subject that become white-hot last month when the Dodgers’ Chase Utley broke the left leg of the Mets’ Ruben Tejada while executing such a slide in National League Division Series Game 2 — will be discussed. Furthermore, MLB will continue to dialogue with the Players Association about it.
“We see this as a player-safety issue,” Manfred said, “and we want to make sure we’re in the right place without committing to whether there’s going to be a change or not.”
• Manfred pointed out how much the league’s run-scoring went up from a 2014 drought, particularly in the second half, as validation for not trying to engineer more scoring (through rules changes) prior to 2015. MLB’s home-run count increased from 4,186 in 2014 to 4,909 in 2015, with the second-half production jumping from 1,661 homers to 2,388.
However, that statement prompted a question about Manfred’s concern whether such a jump resulted from an increase in successful usage of illegal performance-enhancing drugs.
“We are constantly vigilant on the issue of performance-enhancing drugs,” Manfred said. “[MLB chief legal officer] Dan Halem and his group spend an inordinate amount of time working with groups like USADA and WADA to make sure that we know what is the very latest developments that are going on with respect to performance-enhancing drugs. I don’t how to say it more clearly than whether or not we have an uptick in offense, we are constantly vigilant on this topic.”
• The decision on whether to reinstate Pete Rose will come by the end of the year, Manfred reiterated. Rose and his attorney met recently with Manfred. Baseball’s hit king, suspended in 1989 for betting on the Reds in games he managed, is not expected to be reinstated.
• The issue of making ballparks safer, in the wake of multiple fans suffering injuries from foul balls, will be discussed at next week’s owners’ meetings.