2023 Major League Baseball
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The 2023 Major League Baseball season was the twenty-fourth season in which the two major leagues, the National League and the American League, were consolidated into a single entity under the authority of the Commissioner, Rob Manfred.
The major topic of interest coming into the 2023 season were the rule changes adopted the previous summer and which went into effect that season:
- The first was the pitch clock, discussed for a long time, and now introduced at the top level following successful implementation in the minor leagues. Pitchers were now expected to pitch the ball within 15 seconds with the bases empty and 20 seconds with men on base, with a visible timer advising umpires on when the rule was being violated. In addition,s a 30-second limit was set for a batter to take his place in the batter's box.
- Limits on defensive shifts were imposed for the first time: defensive teams must have a minimum of four players in the infield, with its outer boundary being formally indicated, and two players on each side of second base. An additional infielder can be brought in by playing an outfielder at shallow depth, but a four-outfielder configuration is prohibited.
- A limit on pick-off attempts or other disengagements from the mound (i.e. stepping off) to twice per at-bat. Any further such gesture will advance the runner unless the pick-off attempt is successful.
- Bigger bases were used (18 square inches instead of 15).
In addition to these rule changes, the scheduled was re-jiggered as a result of the Collective Bargaining Agreement reached after the 2021-2022 lockout. A more balanced schedule was implemented, with each team playing at least two games against every other team in the major leagues. Rules pertaining to the use of position players as pitchers (so-called "mystery pitchers") were also made more strict, and the ghost runner in extra innings was made a permanent rule (it had simply been reintroduced for one year at a time since first being introduced in 2020). One change that was not yet implemented but was on everyone's minds was that of "robot umpires" as the automatic strike zone would now be in effect throughout the minor leagues and its eventual adoption in MLB only a matter of time.
All 30 teams were scheduled to be active on Opening Day, March 30th. In terms of international outreach, the season was preceded by the 2023 World Baseball Classic, the fifth edition of the tournament, but first since 2017 given the 2021 edition fell victim to the COVID-19 pandemic. The tournament was a huge success in terms of audience and media buzz, as Japan won its third title, defeating Team USA in a thrilling finale with Shohei Ohtani conforming his status as the best player on the planet by being named the tournament MVP. MLB also decided to return to Europe, with a series played in London, England starting on June 24th between the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals, and to play a two-game series in Mexico City for the first time, on April 29-30, featuring the San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres. In both cases, these games had been scheduled for previous seasons but had had to be pushed back by a year or more due to the pandemic.
Just as spring training was getting under way, on February 15th, a major crisis hit MLB (as well as other sports leagues such as the NHL and NBA) when the parent company of Bally Sports, holder of the local cable broadcast rights for 14 MLB teams, failed to make an interest payment, making it very likely it would file for bankruptcy. Cable broadcasting rights had been a cash cow for MLB in recent years, but the industry was facing major upheaval due to a fall in the number of consumers, and increased competition for broadcast properties driving up their cost. While Commissioner Manfred said that baseball had a contingency pan to terminate the broadcast deals should Bally be unable to meet their terms, by taking over production and making the games available to consumers via streaming or other local cable providers, in the longer term this development was likely to require a complete restructuring of the business model that had been successfully put in place in recent years, bringing in unprecedented revenues.
There was a large turnover in the umpiring crews prior to the season, with ten veteran umpires retiring before the start of the season, and ten younger ones - all with significant major league experience - being promoted to full-time status. In addition, the changeover led to seven new crew chiefs being appointed, and further down the line, would open the door to a number of minor league umpires getting their first chance to work major league games on "call-up" status. Only one such umpire had made his debut in the last two years, after a large number had been required to help out under the very particular circumstances of the 2020 season.
- "Game times for 2023 regular-season schedule announced", mlb.com, January 31, 2023. 
- Jack Baer: "Rob Manfred says MLB will handle team broadcasts if Bally Sports networks miss payments", Yahoo! Sports, February 15, 2023. 
- Jorge Castillo (Los Angeles Times): "How four rule changes will impact Major League Baseball in 2023", Yahoo! News, December 16, 2022. 
- Anthony Castrovince: "MLB schedule is out, and there's a twist for '23", mlb.com, August 24, 2022. 
- Anthony Castrovince: "Here are 7 early predictions for 2023: Anthony Castrovince looks at how the upcoming season might play out", mlb.com, January 1, 2023. 
- Anthony Castrovince: "Pitch timer, shift restrictions among announced rule changes for '23", mlb.com February 1, 2023. 
- Anthony Castrovince: "MLB promotes 10 umpires ahead of 2023 season", mlb.com, January 19, 2023. 
- Anthony Castrovince: "An inside look at how the new rules will work", mlb.com, February 15, 2023. 
- Anthony Castrovince: "8 changes fans need to know for the '23 season", mlb.com, March 28, 2023. 
- Chris Cwik: "MLB 2023 regular season schedule: 5 things to know about the upcoming season", Yahoo! Sports, August 24, 2022. 
- Mark Feinsand: "Rule changes strive for 'very best version of baseball'", mlb.com, September 9, 2023. 
- Mike Petriello: "How 2023 balanced schedule could affect playoff races", mlb.com, January 19, 2023. 
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