LISTEN: Did the rule changes Major League Baseball added to the game make a positive difference otherwise in the 2023 season? MLB's Morgan Sword thinks so. GPB's Peter Biello speaks with him.

Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies at bat during a game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Truist Park, Sept. 20, 2023.

Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies at bat during a game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Truist Park, Sept. 20, 2023.

Credit: Peter Biello / GPB News

Major League Baseball's regular season has come to a close. It was the first season with a variety of changes made to make the game more appealing to fans who may have drifted away from the game in previous years. Morgan Sword is executive vice president of baseball operations at Major League Baseball, spoke with GPB's Peter Biello.

Peter Biello: So in Atlanta, Truist Park saw 54 sellouts. Final attendance? It's a record of nearly 3.2 million fans. Can you put that in context for us? Are other ballparks seeing record attendance, too? I know it's hard to tell in Atlanta, because people always love a really good team and we've got a really good team this year. But is it happening, league-wide?

Morgan Sword: It is. We actually had the biggest attendance increase in MLB this year that we've had in 30 years.

Peter Biello: Wow. And that's attributed to what, you think?

Morgan Sword: You know, there's a couple of reasons, probably. One is, you know, we've changed a bunch of our rules this year to significantly improve the entertainment value of the game. And, you know, fans in all markets, whether the team is good or not, have responded to that. We've also balanced our schedule where there's more variety in opponents. We think that's been a driver as well. And then lastly, we also have a couple of new teams that are reaching a competitive level this year after a period of rebuilding. And I think that's helped as well.

Peter Biello: And the pace of the game seems to have quickened a little bit as a result of the pitch clock. Longtime baseball fans will kind of notice this just as far as having a feel for the game. But can you put a number to that? Has there been a quickness to the average game?

Morgan Sword: Yeah. So games are down about 30 minutes relative to two years ago. And it's very noticeable, I mean, for hardcore baseball fans, but even casual fans, the game moves along with a rhythm and pace that looks a lot more like the 1970s and '80s.

Peter Biello: One of the rule changes from this year has been bigger bases. The bases are slightly bigger to accommodate more stolen bases. And here in Atlanta, we saw Ronald Acuña Jr. steal a major league-leading 73 bases this year. To what extent can we attribute his success to bigger bases and — or could we just say, you know, he was going to deal those bases anyway?

Morgan Sword: Yeah, he's really fast and he's really good. I think that had — was mostly the reason. But for sure, you know, the bigger bases have helped kind of, on the margin, turn a couple more outs into safes. But he — also one element of the new pitch clock is a limit on the number of times a pitcher can step off the rubber with runners on base. And that's also been an advantage for base stealers who would like to steal.

Peter Biello: I want to ask you a little bit about umpiring, because that's under your purview. There was a call that some Braves fans will remember because it was just about a week ago in a Cubs game in which a foul ball was ruled a passed ball. The Cubs scored a run against the Braves in a very close game. That type of call, as far as I understand it, wasn't subject to review. But is there any talk in the league about expanding which types of calls could be reviewed with replay?

Morgan Sword: Yes, we talk about it all the time. You know, there's some downsides to including particular plays in replay because the play is hard to reconstruct if a different ruling is made. So we're trying to strike a balance between getting as many calls right as we can and not delaying the game so much that it — that it hurts the flow and the pace and — but, so "yes" is the answer. We we take a look at that very closely each offseason.

Peter Biello: We started this conversation talking about attendance and interest in the game. That's — that's where I want to end it. Looking forward to the postseason, what are your expectations or predictions for, for how much interest there will be in MLB's postseason this year?

Morgan Sword: Yeah, we're hopeful that we're going to have a big audience this month. You know, for one, these rule changes are going to deliver a pace and rhythm to the postseason that we haven't seen in decades. Second, we have a lot of teams that have not been in it in a while, who have young, exciting teams that are designed to succeed given these rule changes. And lastly, we have some really historic kind of throwback teams — the Braves among them — that are filled with superstars and seem perfectly positioned to make a long run here.

Peter Biello: And finally, if there was one word you could use to describe how the season has gone overall, from your perspective, what would that be?

Morgan Sword: Joyful.

Peter Biello: Can you — can you elaborate? Why 'joyful?'

Morgan Sword: Sure. Yeah. I mean, I think we have, you know, the best athletes that have ever played this game playing right now. And I think what we've done with these rule changes is unlock a lot of that athleticism and allow these guys to display their skills to fans in a more raw way, in a — in a more intentional way. And, you know, the game on the field is as exciting as it's been in decades. And it's, I think, easier for people to connect with. Particularly young people.

Peter Biello: That's Morgan Sword, executive vice president of baseball operations at Major League Baseball. Morgan, thank you so much for speaking with me.

Morgan Sword: All right. Thank you for having me.