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Five things for the new MLB commissioner to consider

By Steve Almasy, CNN
updated 10:22 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rob Manfred has been the lead on the past three negotiations between owners, players
  • Baseball has an exemption policy that allows some players to take banned drugs
  • Games last longer than ever, because some rules are ignored
  • Baseball's audience is skewing older and fewer kids are playing the game

(CNN) -- When Bud Selig leaves Major League Baseball's front office in January, he'll retire with baseball in pretty good shape.

But it's not like his replacement will be have nothing to do but oversee suspensions and promote the game.

MLB's next leader, Rob Manfred, said that while he was going through the interview process for his new job, owners impressed upon him that they were passionate about "moving the game forward."

He said one area of interest for the 30 teams is the modernization of the game -- the increased use of instant replay and other technological innovations.

But he didn't tip his hand any further.

"I really don't want to get too deeply today into agendas and areas we want to tackle," he said at a news conference Thursday announcing his selection.

But we're happy to list some things the new commish will have to tackle.

1. Collective bargaining agreement

Baseball's pact between owners and players expires on December 1, 2016. The last thing Manfred would want is a work stoppage after more than 20 years of labor peace. He was the owner's lead negotiator in 2011 when the last deal was struck without any acrimony and for the prior two successful deals.

"The most important part of good labor negotiations is ongoing communication," Manfred said. "You have to work at it day in, day out."

One of the discussions will focus on competitive balance, that is, giving teams in small cities a chance to compete with the teams in bigger markets where huge local TV contracts give them cash to go after the big free agents.

"Like commissioner Selig, I believe that competitive balance is the bedrock of the product we sell and it will always be a priority for baseball," Manfred said before again saying he wouldn't address specifics. Baseball has revenue-sharing but it seems like the teams capable of the biggest payrolls have a consistent advantage.

2. Performance enhancing drugs

Next year Alex Rodriguez will return from his season-long doping suspension, the longest in baseball history.

Baseball has harsh penalties for steroid use, rules that were toughened this year. A player who is caught using PEDs would get an 80-game ban. If he were caught again, he would get a full season without pay.

But the perception is that baseball doesn't do a good enough job catching the cheaters. Most of the players in the Biogenesis steroid scandal didn't fail drug tests.

Responding to an ESPN poll, a player identified as an American League slugger said he estimated about 10% of players take performance-enhancing drugs.

"If you included guys who are using Adderall, wow, that number would be through the roof."

That drug is banned by MLB, but many players have received an exemption to use it.

That exemption policy might be something baseball will have to re-evaluate.

3. Time of games

It's no secret that baseball games last longer than ever. The untimed nature of the game is a beautiful thing to some people. To others, it's a chore to watch a four-plus hour game even if it's between the Red Sox and Yankees.

There are some rules in place that MLB just needs to enforce. You ever see an umpire call a ball because the pitcher hasn't thrown the ball in 12 seconds (with the bases empty)?

Many people would love to see umpires keep hitters from constantly stepping out of the batter's box.

Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci wrote of a five-pitch at-bat that lasted three minutes because the hitter stepped out after each pitch (and the pitcher stepped off the rubber once).

There are other potential rules that need to be written in. The independent Atlantic League is experimenting with several. For one, if a team wants to issue an intentional walk, they just send the opponent's batter to first. No four, slow pitches.

The league also reduced the number of warmup pitches allowed before play begins again.

To keep -- or get -- young people interested in the game, you have to move away from three-hour contests.

4. Engaging young fans

Focusing on getting this group engaged in the game, as fans if not as players, could be the most important task of Manfred's job. If he doesn't get future generations to watch baseball, then the game's popularity will decline quickly and steeply.

Multiple reports indicate that youth baseball participation has dropped significantly in the past decade, meaning fewer kids have a chance to fall in love with the sport by playing it.

Then there's the scary possibility that baseball's hardcore fans could die out. According to Nielsen, baseball fans are getting older and older; half its regular-season viewers are age 55 or over, compared to 41% a decade ago.

So how do you get adolescents, teens and 20-somethings -- people who have grown up accustomed to a fast-moving media environment, rather than sitting for hours waiting for a few flashes of brilliance -- engaged in a game so steeped in tradition?

How do you get them to buy into the sport, figuratively and literally, as many of them have done with the likes of an athletic freak and proven winner like LeBron James or cool customers like Russell Wilson or Colin Kaepernick?

MLB needs to follow the NBA's lead and market its stars better. When you think of the NBA, you think of LeBron or Kevin Durant or Blake Griffin.

Baseball has some great players. It needs to do more to show them off.

5. Blackouts

With more types of devices to watch games, fans expect to be able to watch their favorite team wherever they are, even hundreds of miles away. But complex blackout rules apply -- fans in Iowa cannot watch six teams, for example -- and national broadcast rules deny fans the opportunity to watch their teams in certain weekend timeslots.

MLB is in a legal battle over blackouts (as is the National Hockey League). Baseball execs say if you end the blackouts then regional sports networks will quit broadcasting games for which they don't get territorial preference. And there goes a lot of money. A judge didn't agree, according to Yahoo Sports.

The case is moving toward a trial.

CNN's Greg Botelho contributed to this report.

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