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Players fumbling opportunity to improve game

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Manfred committed to limiting 'dead time' in games (1:58)

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred explains the potential rule changes the league can use to increase the pace of the game. (1:58)

There is a tremendous opportunity right now for the players' association to help shape the future, to improve its product and, perhaps, to glean some needed concessions after a bruising round of collective bargaining talks that concluded in December. But that possibility only exists right now, as in today, and in the immediate days to come.

Commissioner Rob Manfred told reporters Tuesday that there will be no significant rule changes in 2017 "due to a lack of cooperation" from the union. With a phone call, MLB Players Association chief Tony Clark could jump-start that conversation again. And he needs to do that, to move the players from a passive, reactive stance back to a position of aggressiveness -- back to being a group that more aptly dictates where it will be in five or 10 years.

By law, nothing will change unless the players say so. But changes are needed, and the clock is ticking if some of the more obvious alterations are to take place in 2017. Pitchers and catchers have reported, position players are taking live batting practice, and soon teams will be splintering as players move on to their World Baseball Classic teams. Only 39 days remain before Chris Archer (in all likelihood) throws the first pitch of the 2017 season.

The players' inaction is befuddling; it is astonishing. They have a chance to grab the steering wheel on this right now, to hone the game they want to carry into the future. This union is not like a union in an automobile factory. Billionaire baseball owners hold the deeds to the franchises, but the game belongs to the players; it is their talents that are consumed, and they should be wholly invested in how that's presented.

The concerns that Manfred expressed about the pace of action should be their concerns. He isn't talking about this because he wants to be a nag or is intent on putting his stamp on the game. He's doing it because there's ample evidence that the sport is more appealing to the oldest demographics, and in a world in which younger fans have been raised to expect fast-faster-fastest, baseball shouldn't be slow-slower-slowest.

There is a crossroad on the horizon for baseball that Manfred is trying to get ahead of: The current national television contract runs out in five years, and it is imperative for the sport to become as viewer-friendly as possible, to find the right balance between what older fans want and what might attract the next generation.