A couple of weeks back I put out the suggestion of how the league could get in a 128 game schedule beginning on Memorial Day without too much difficulty if things went well. That now seems like wishful thinking. Things haven’t gone well and the virtual lockdown officially extends to the end of April nationwide now, into May in some counties and we’ve come to expect that will be added onto as well as the pandemic shows no signs of abating quickly. From which we can probably agree on several things.
First, that MLB was smart in retrospect to shut down spring training and postpone the regular season. They would’ve been forced to by various levels of government, but just by beating them to the punch by a week or so it may have prevented any number of new cases of Corona virus from spreading among the fanbase, the players and people totally uninvolved with the sport. Kudos to Rob Manfred and the various team owners for listening to the experts like the CDC and Dr. Fauci more readily than the president did. The first thing that we agree is that public health is far more important than baseball, or any other hobby or pastime right now.
Second, as much as we have to be willing to concede that baseball is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things with thousands of people dying already, it is also true that it could be an important emotional boost for millions of people. This is a sad time and its becoming increasingly difficult for ordinary people to stay positive and upbeat with all the sudden restrictions and economic worries the pandemic is causing. Sports and entertainment will actually gain added importance to us all in the coming weeks or month. For once movie stars and standout pro athletes may actually become real heroes in a small way. So, the second thing we can agree on is that it is actually important for MLB to do what it can to have a season and get underway as soon as it is safe to… although when that will be is anybody’s guess.
So it’s time for the people involved with the league to begin thinking in terms of “lines in the sand”… the most disruption we can put up with, or otherwise, the minimum that would be acceptable or logical to agree to in this sure-to-be strange and shortened season. Some have already been doing so publicly. Agent Scott Boras recently proposed a full 162 game schedule beginning in June sometime and running into November, with the post-season being played in December at mainly “neutral” sites – ie, cities with domed stadiums or in southern California to prevent the probability of games taking place in snow or sub-freezing conditions in outdoor parks like Minneapolis or Chicago’s. The suggestion also included a large number of double headers, perhaps weekly, to get the games in. I thought it might be unrealistic in my suggestion to recommend two doubles per team, so it’s encouraging that a players’ agent might suggest that players would be willing to do a bit extra to make the season happen.
I thought the suggestion of his was poor. No one really wants to be watching the World Series over Christmas dinner, nor would say, Twins fans want to see their team go to the World Series only to have home games played in San Diego or Toronto. But…I also think, there is no possible good solution that will leave everyone happy, so we should be open to considering his ideas.
To me the basic lines in the sand would probably be these: 1) minimum 60 game schedule, 2) basic integrity of schedule be preserved, 3) All Star Game not be rescheduled, 4) no added teams put in post-season, 5) we have a World Series champion by my birthday…which is November 30, and 6) important rules of baseball stay rules of baseball. I’ll elaborate.
Boras would like 162 games as per usual. So would I, so would most fans and from a box office perspective, I’m sure all the clubs. But it’s not gonna happen. The absolute best case scenario would involve the season beginning around the end of May, which would mean most teams would have lost 55-60 games. Definitely some could be made up by running later into the fall, skipping some off days, adding in a few double headers, but it’s not reasonable to think nearly five dozen could be squeezed in without lengthening the season into Santa time. I’d say 140 is the absolute max that we could even hope for now, and that’s with an optimistic return to the turf sometime in May. If the pandemic drags on into summer, as many experts say likely, getting in much more than half a season’s worth of games becomes sketchy. So at what point do we have to say “sorry- see you next year?”
To me, 60 seems like about that number. That’s less than half a regular season, but at least would make for about two months of regular games for teams to show what they’ve got and the talent to really sort itself out. As much as I love baseball, I think fewer than that would be rather pathetic and also likely to create a sort of dumb-luck crapshoot. If there were only say, 30 games total, suddenly a terrible team that got hot for one week could win a division and we might have a Jeimer Candelario win the home run title because of one career game (“wow, six homers- what a year!”). It would be rather meaningless.
Secondly, let’s make sure we do have a season if they’re going to play. Obviously fewer games means fewer games against each opponent and possibly, in less than ideal compromise, might even mean some teams wouldn’t play some others within the ir own league… it could be tough to fit in series against all 14 other teams plus a few interleague ones in a 64 game sched, for instance. But I want to see some semblance of a normal schedule played, with games against each divisional rival; with home and away games. I’m not interested in some big “round robin” playoff whereby the post-season is the only season and every team is somehow plopped in.
The All Star Game is like the necklace on a plain blouse on a lady. A nice accessory that we like but isn’t necessary at all. Still, as I suggested last time, if we can get in about four months of ball, let’s have it take place. Some have suggested that it might be a good opening day for the season… tough to pick the worthy players if they hadn’t played at all, but not a terrible suggestion to kick off the year with pomp and ceremony. I’d be OK with that, but not with moving it. If we can’t begin playing regular games until after mid-July, let’s concentrate on the games that matter and not shut down the season for days to have an All Star Game in September… especially when one considers the amount of planning L.A. has gone to to prepare for this year’s in July.
If we are looking at the reality of shortening the season, it seems like it makes no sense to think about lengthening the playoffs. Ask an ardent NBA or NHL fan about their interest level in their five to six week marathon playoffs after their own team’s been eliminated. Believe me, as someone coming from “hockey country”, it is not high. So go with the regular post-season format, or if the season’s really compressed, cut it back a little. Again not ideal, but if we’re working with a half-season, say, it might not be the worst idea to cut a round out of the playoffs to get them done faster. Maybe the wildcard would be a one game between the two division winners with the lesser records, and winner would go against division winner with best record in their league. It might add to the excitement and get things done two weeks sooner (which could remember, become an issue …players like Clayton Kershaw have already warned against the idea of playing into the winter as most players are conditioned to have at least two months off to recuperate before spring training.)
Last but not least, let’s keep baseball baseball as we know it. Now, I would be fine with the idea apparently already agreed upon to add to the roster early in the season to allow a few more pitchers and bench players (as pitchers particularly, might not be in mid-season, 6 or 7 inning form when they go back without having another six weeks of Spring training part II). But for me, that’s it. Let’s play baseball.
This comes to mind because one Texas report, unconfirmed I add, says that people within the Rangers organization are reporting that Rob Manfred sees this as a great opportunity to play with the fundamentals of the game, like playing 7-inning games instead of 9, and not only having phantom base runners appear out of nowhere to begin extra innings, but having only two outs instead of three in those innings. To which I say … well, I’ll be polite here and suggest I’d say something to the effect of something that might fall from a male cow. Baseball is nine inning games, three outs in an inning, runners on base because they got a hit or walked, no games decided by rap contests between outfielders. No, Mr Manfred hasn’t suggested that one… yet.
Well, that’s my dismal assessment of what we can and should hope for in baseball this year. What are your lines in the (first base line) sand?