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HOUSTON -- There has been no pressure placed on Atlanta towards changing its nickname or banning the Tomahawk Chop by its fans, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said Tuesday, supporting Atlanta’s stance.
“I think it’s important to understand that we have 30 markets in the country,’’ Manfred said. “Not all are the same. The Braves have done a phenomenal job with the Native American community. The Native American community in that region is fully supportive of the Braves’ program, including the chop.
“For me, that’s kind of the end of the story.’’
Well, the story may be only beginning considering that Atlanta is now on baseball’s biggest stage, with the tomahawk chop expected to draw heavy criticism.
“Atlanta, as I’ve said before,’’ Manfred said, “they’ve done a great job with the Native Americans. I think the Native American community is the most important group to decide whether it’s appropriate or not and they have been unwaveringly supportive of the Braves.’’
Yet, it’s hardly as if every Native American group supports the chop, with several tribal communities vigorously opposed to it, believing it flaunts racism.
“I don’t know how every Native American group around the country feels,’’ Manfred said. “I am 100% certain that the Braves understand what the Native American community in their region believes and that they’ve acted in accordance with that understanding.’’
And if Native American groups outside of Atlanta vigorously oppose the Tomahawk Chop?
“We don’t market our game on a nationwide basis,’’ Manfred said. “You got to sell tickets every single day to the fans in that market. And there are all sorts of differences between the regions in terms of how the teams are marketed."
Tony Clark, executive director of the MLB Players’ Association, also met with the news media befor Game 1, and says the tomahawk chop is of some concern to his membership and revisiting it is worthy of discussion.
“I know there are certain things that, as a Black man, resonate with me,” Clark said Tuesday before Game 1. “And I would assume there are instances that resonate with others as well. To the extent that’s one of them, it’s worthy of some dialogue.”
Manfred still is loathed in Georgia for moving the All-Star Game to Denver in protest of its voting rights bill, which experts believe discriminates against African American and other minority voters, and hopes that MLB will be able to stay out of the political arena.
“We always have tried to be apolitical,’’ Manfred said. “Obviously, there was a notable exception this year. Our desire is to avoid another exception to that general rule. We have a fan base that’s diverse, has different points of view, and we’d like to keep the focus on the field, on the game.
“It’s harder than it used be.’’
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Major League Baseball and the union have a scheduled negotiating session Friday with five weeks remaining before the Dec. 1 deadline to strike an agreement, and Manfred remains cautiously optimistic there won’t be a work stoppage.
“I am a believer in the process,’’ Manfred said “We’re meeting on a regular basis and I’m hopeful we find a way to get an agreement by December 1.’’
Is there progress?
“It’s hard to characterize progress,’’ Manfred said. “Progress is you’re going into a room, you’re having conversations, people are continuing to talk. They don’t move in any measurable way that I’ve been able to figure out, and I’ve been doing it a long time.
"The most important point is, I know our clubs are 100% committed to having an agreement in place by Dec. 1. The most important thing is not one paragraph. The most important thing with a collective bargaining agreement is to make an agreement.’’
Clark said negotiating sessions are occurring "formally and informally," but refused to characterize the state of talks, only to say that he remains a "glass-half-full guy." He says the union will continue to insist on competitive integrity among all 30 franchises after a decade in which tanking touched a significant number of teams.
'The desire is to have any and all teams playing to win every game, every night. That’s the focus. We’ll highlight that.
Everyone wins when we’re in a world where all 30 teams on a given night are doing everything they can to field the best possible ballclub and win that night’s game.
The time of games were a record 3 hours, 10 minutes this past season, and Manfred once again expressed his desire to reduce the game-times to less than three hours, with a pitch clock among other rules under consideration.
“The length of game is a funny number for me,’’ Manfred said. “I will say this: We are at a point with time to make every effort to put the best baseball on the field for the fans.’’
Manfred will once again push for a pitch clock, hoping the players union agrees, but if not, has the authority to unilaterally implement new rules.
“We have rights under the agreement to do certain things,’’ Manfred said, “with a certain process followed. There’s going to come a point in time where the pressure to make change is going to be sufficient. I prefer to do it by reaching an agreement with the players.’’
MLB has been experimenting with a pitch clock, larger bases and limiting pickoff throws in the Arizona Fall League and the minor leagues, which has resulted in a significant reduction in game times.
“The data is certainly encouraging,’’ Manfred said, “game times in the 2:40’s, which is a nice number compared to where we have been. I think maybe more important than that is the people who go watch the game feel the pace of the game, the action of the game, has really been improved. It actually alters the requirement of moving along pitching, kind of changes the way the game is played a little bit.
“That would be a useful change.’’
Manfred said that MLB still lost money this past season, but certainly not to the tune of $3 billion like a year ago during the pandemic.
“Our losses will be much, much, much, smaller than last year,’’ Manfred said. “I’m not going to put a number out there right now. I will say this, the return of fans to the ballpark was faster and more dramatic than we had forecast going into this season. We will have losses this season, but they will be much, much, much smaller.’’
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred won’t restrict Atlanta’s tomahawk chop