January 25, 2015 / 11:19 PM / 3 years ago

New commissioner wants to promote sport to youth

Oct 22, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; MLB newly elected commissioner Rob Manfred speaks at a press conference before game two of the 2014 World Series between the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants at Kauffman Stadium. Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

(Reuters) - New Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred wants to increase participation in the sport among America’s youth and modernize the game without interfering with its history and traditions.

In a letter to fans published on MLB.com on Sunday, his first day on the job, Manfred outlined his ambitions for the sport.

MLB’s former chief operating officer, Manfred, 56, takes over the top post from Bud Selig, who stepped down after 22 years as commissioner.

The change comes at a time when baseball’s national TV ratings are in decline amid concerns the game is too slow to interest today’s youth.

Games last year took an average of three hours and eight minutes, almost 30 minutes slower than three decades ago.

Manfred plans to focus on promoting the game in economically deprived areas and teaming with youth leagues to produce a new generation of fans and players.

“Giving more kids the opportunity to play will inspire a new generation to fall in love with baseball just as we did when we were kids,” he wrote.

The new commissioner said he also wanted to look for ways to modernize the game.

“Last season’s expanded instant replay improved the game’s quality and addressed concerns shared by fans and players. We made a dramatic change without altering the game’s fundamentals.”

Before 2014, instant review was limited to checking home runs, and was instigated by the umpires. Last year it was expanded to most plays, excluding balls and strikes, with each manager allowed to dispute one call per game, which carried over if he was proven correct.

But instant replay contributed to the slow pace of games last season.

Manfred also has said he will continue to internationalize the game.

In an interview with The New York Times, he said an international draft is inevitable because it is the most “efficient way to promote competitive balance.”

Currently, international recruitment is a year-round process by teams that tends to favor the wealthiest clubs.

Manfred also told the newspaper he did not envisage MLB adding any expansion teams in the immediate future.

There currently are 30 teams in the major leagues. The most recent expansion teams, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Ray, were added in 1998.

Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina, editing by Gene Cherry

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