Manfred: Younger players will lead the way

Commissioner says they will set standards regarding on-field celebrating

Manfred: Younger players will lead the way

Since he became Commissioner 15 months ago, Rob Manfred has stressed the importance of keeping the younger generation involved in baseball.

So it probably wasn't a surprise that, while speaking with The Associated Press Sports Editors at Major League Baseball's headquarters on Thursday, Manfred said he had no problem with bat flips and other outward displays of emotion that are becoming more common in the game.

Answering a question about recent criticism of Toronto's Jose Bautista and Washington's Bryce Harper by Hall of Famer Rich "Goose" Gossage, the Commissioner came down firmly on the side of current players.

"I think to the extent that you believe, and I actually do, that Bryce Harper is a spokesman for this generation, I suspect that you will see more exuberance from our players on the field," Manfred said.

"I think it's a good thing. I think that to the extent that you're trying to market to a younger audience, our younger players taking control of the definition of those unwritten rules is a lot better than some guy who's 67 years old saying, 'I did it that way and you ought do it the same way.'"

Bautista made a memorable bat flip after hitting a three-run home run to put the Blue Jays ahead in the decisive Game 5 of last year's American League Division Series victory against the Rangers. Harper has been outspoken in his opinion that showmanship is good for baseball.

Manfred noted that each generation of players must decide for itself what constitutes acceptable behavior and that the unwritten rules are always subject to change.

Manfred was also pleased to note that baseball itself is getting younger, pointing out that players under the age of 25 have hit 30 percent of the home runs so far this season, compared to 18 percent in 2010. He mentioned players such as Harper, Astros shortstop Carlos Correa, Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant and Angels center fielder Mike Trout among those leading the way for setting new standards.

Harper, 23, personifies the change, Manfred said.

"I actually believe that a player of his stature starting a dialogue about what the sport's going to look like -- and I think that dialogue involves mostly his peers, the players on the field -- will produce a positive result for the game," the Commissioner said. "They're young. They see the world different. My kids see the world different than I do, and I think if we want young people to take the game forward, we have to be tolerant of that dialogue while things change.

"It's sort of like the designated hitter. People have strong views, they express them strongly, but they're out there talking about the game, so amen, good for us. I think this is in the same category. The game is important enough to people that the press and the fans seize on this topic and they're passionate about it? Great. I'm having a good day, not a bad day."

Harper said Thursday that he appreciated what Manfred said.

"I think having the generation of talent that we do right now -- whether it's (Manny) Machado or Trout or (Matt) Harvey or (Jacob) DeGrom -- it's a great time for baseball, great time for the fans," he said.

"But also, you have to understand that you have to respect the guys that game before you as well. That's still, it's still a game where it's evolving into what it needs to be. We're gonna have a lot of fun with it hopefully over the next 20 years and push the envelope and hopefully make some things happen and do some things that are definitely different."

Manfred also said, as he has before, that he views baseball as a growth industry and that expansion is a possibility at some point. He added, however, that stadium questions for the Rays and Athletics will have to be resolved before expansion can become a reality.

The most likely move would be to increase the number of teams from 30 to 32 and then split each league into four divisions of four teams each.

"In the longer term, there will be expansion," Manfred said. "If we were to expand, I do think a city that makes sense geographically -- meaning in terms of realistic travel distances and is outside of the 48 contiguous states -- would be a positive choice for us in terms of growing the game."

Manfred said that wasn't a reference to any particular city, although he did point out that he has spoken with Montreal officials on several occasions about the possibility of big league baseball returning to Quebec. Montreal is the largest metropolitan area in the United States or Canada that does not currently have a Major League franchise.

Mexico City, Mexico; Vancouver, British Columbia; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and possibly Havana, Cuba, would also be potential international sites, while San Antonio and Austin, Texas; Charlotte, N.C.; Las Vegas, Nev.; and Portland, Ore., have been mentioned among domestic possibilities.

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. Jamal Collier contributed. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.