- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 14, 2015

CINCINNATI | Major League Baseball remains hopeful the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland Athletics will be able to obtain new ballparks without relocating yet will examine other markets in case a team needs to move or the sport decides to expand.

Tampa Bay is last in the major leagues in average home attendance, drawing 14,731 fans per game, while Oakland is 26th at 22,369. Twenty-two of the 30 clubs have opened new stadiums since 1990, and the Rays and A’s are the only teams currently seeking new homes.

Oakland owner Lew Wolff hoped for a new ballpark in nearby San Jose, but has been thwarted by the San Francisco Giants, whose territory includes Santa Clara County. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against San Jose in its antitrust suit against MLB, and the city has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

Manfred has been speaking with Libby Schaaf, who became Oakland’s mayor in January, and representatives of Alameda County, where the city is located.

“I am encouraged by the attitude of the mayor,” Manfred said Tuesday during a meeting of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. “I am hopeful that the process is moving toward giving the A’s a concrete alternative for a new stadium in Oakland.”

The A’s are based in the Oakland Coliseum, which opened in 1966 and is the only venue still shared by MLB and NFL teams. The Rays play in St. Petersburg’s Tropicana Field, which opened in 1990.

While the club has been in Pinellas County since starting play in 1998 and the club’s lease expires in 2027, Rays owner Stu Sternberg would like to explore other sites in the area.

The St. Petersburg City Council in December rejected an agreement reached by Mayor Rick Kriseman that would have allowed to Rays to evaluate sites on the east side of the bay in Hillsborough County, where Tampa is located.

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre met with Manfred in May and hopes to regain a club for his city. The Expos joined the National League as an expansion team for the 1969 season and remained in the big leagues through 2004 before moving to Washington and becoming the Nationals.

MLB has not expanded since adding the Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks for the 1998 season, which raised the league’s total to 30 teams.

Earlier this year, Manfred said Portland, Oregon, and Charlotte, North Carolina, “have all checked in recently” regarding potential expansion.

“Because of the nagging threat of a need to relocate and because of expansion, or the possibility of expansion, I think it’s really important for us to look at markets that are out there that are interested in baseball,” Manfred said.

Regular-season cut tied to playoffs

Cutting the length of the regular-season schedule could be tied to reconfiguring the postseason.

Players are increasingly complaining of the toll of playing 162 games in 183 days. The schedule was 154 games before the American League added eight games when it expanded in 1961, and the National League adopted the new format when it added two teams for the 1962 season.

“A shortened schedule is a major, major economic issue,” Manfred said. “We sell out in a lot of markets in terms of gates. The gates are really valuable to us. We have television commitments. Each local contract varies, but there are game guarantees that could be affected by a shortened season.”

Fan safety worth studying

Manfred said MLB is likely to wait until next season before making any changes to improve fan safety.

A fan was hospitalized after she was hit by a broken bat while sitting along the third-base line at Fenway Park on June 5, and an Athletics season ticket-holder sued MLB in federal court in California this week, asking that safety netting be installed for the entire length of the foul lines.

“I don’t like to be reactive. Obviously, we had a very serious injury. It concerns us,” Manfred said. “But making a major change in the game in a reactive mode I believe is a mistake. I think the most likely course for us is that the evaluation will continue this season and whatever change, if we decide to make one, will be something that will be a new regulation applicable to the clubs for next year.”

Domestic violence policy coming ‘shortly’

Manfred and players union chief Tony Clark each said they are nearing agreement on a new domestic violence policy. The sides have been talking since last year, following a series of high-profile domestic violence cases involving NFL players.

The collective bargaining agreement includes a voluntary treatment program for certain alcohol-related and off-field violent conduct.

“I am certain that we will have [a policy] that we will announce shortly,” Manfred said.

While MLB open to pitch clocks, players’ union opposed

Baseball management is intrigued with the idea of using pitch clocks to speed play in the major leagues. The players’ association thinks it is a horrible idea.

Adopting rules requiring hitters to keep at least one foot in the batter’s box and to put up clocks timing between-innings breaks led to the average time of a nine-inning game dropping to 2 hours, 53 minutes so far this season. That is down from 3:02 for the first half of 2014.

“We decided that we would undertake a rather modest set of changes this year,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said Tuesday during a meeting with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

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