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Manfred says PEDs aren’t behind increase in HRs

Associated Press

San Diego — With home runs up to a level not seen since the height of the Steroids Era, baseball commissioner Rob Manfred says he is not worried performance-enhancing drugs are a reason for the increase.

There was an average of nearly 2.32 home runs per game before the All-Star break, up from 1.90 in the first half of last season and the most before the break since 2.56 in 2000.

“The increase in the number of home runs takes place against a very, very different backdrop,” Manfred told the Baseball Writers’ Association of America on Tuesday. “It takes place against the backdrop where Major League Baseball does 22,000 drug tests a year.”

Thirteen players have been suspended this year under the big league drug program, including National League batting champion Dee Gordon of the Marlins, nearly double the seven suspensions issued in all of 2015.

Offense started perking up during the second half of last season, and last year’s home run average ended at 2.02.

“If it was performance-enhancing drugs, you’d be much more likely to see it begin at the beginning of the season, right, with the offseason being a period of temptation,” Manfred said. “So we think it has to do with the way pitchers pitch, the way hitters are being taught to play the game. We’ve seen some unusual developments in terms of what you traditionally thought of as home-run hitters being moved up in the lineup, just to get them more at-bats.”

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons at times pushed Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion to the top of his batting order.

Manfred rejected the notion baseballs might be juiced and referred to the resignation in 2013 of Nippon Professional Baseball commissioner Ryozo Kato after a change in the manufacturing of balls for the Japanese leagues.

“There are certain mistakes in life that if you pay attention to what’s going on around you, you are not inclined to make,” Manfred said. “I like my current gig. So I think you can rest assured … the baseball’s the same as it was last year.”

Shorter season? Pay cut

If baseball players want to shorten the schedule, management says they should accept a reduction in pay.

Tired from travel in an era that frequently has quick turnarounds following overnight flights, players are seeking changes in collective bargaining.

The regular-season schedule increased from 154 games to 162 in the American League in 1961 and the National League the following year, and playing 162 games in 183 days has left little flexibility.

“There are ways to produce more off days in the schedule. Some of those have very significant economic ramifications,” Manfred said. “If in fact we are going to go down those roads, those economic ramifications are going to have to be shared by all of the relevant parties. You want to work less, usually you get paid less.”

Union head Tony Clark, a former All-Star and Tigers first baseman, says the sport currently is “not putting players or giving the clubs and their players the best opportunity to play every day at a high level throughout the course of the season.”

He said the grind is so difficult that players need to take days off to give their bodies time to recover.

“I don’t agree that there would need to be a discussion about a loss of salary or a rollback of salaries,” Clark said. “If there is a lessening of the games and we put players in the position where playing whatever number of games are in that season, they’re able to play, the value of every game goes up as well.”

Lack of diversity

The firing of Fredi Gonzalez by the Braves in May has left Major League Baseball sensitive to the lack of Latino managers.

“The absence of a Latino manager is glaring,’” Manfred said. “There are 30 jobs and there are 30 high-turnover jobs when you’re talking about field managers, and you’re going to have an ebb and flow in terms of diversity, given that there is no central authority sitting above the 30 clubs saying, look, we want to have this makeup among these employees.”

Among 864 players on opening day rosters, disabled lists and the restricted list, 82 were born in the Dominican Republic, 63 in Venezuela, 23 in Cuba and 17 in Puerto Rico.

“I firmly believe that having as diverse a system as possible from top to bottom is beneficial to the industry, so not just on the field, off it as well,” Clark said. “And to be in a position where we don’t have those that reflect our membership in positions of leadership is disappointing.”

Detroit slugger Miguel Cabrera, a two-time AL MVP, was surprised when the lack of Latin managers was pointed out to him Monday.

“How can it be possible?” he said. “It appears strange to me that there are so many Latino players and not a single manager. Maybe something needs to be done in order to give them more opportunities.”

In addition, there are two black managers: Dusty Baker of the Nationals and Dave Roberts of the Dodgers, whose mother is Japanese.

There were 10 minority managers in 2009, according to Richard Lapchick of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at Central Florida.

Manfred said engaging the African-American community is a priority for MLB, both for developing players and fans.

“It’s not just we want to do the right thing because of Jackie Robinson’s legacy,” he said. “It is an economic imperative for us because our country is becoming more and more diverse, and we have to put a playing complement on the field that reflects the United States.”