It's not an agreement. It's an imposition. After failing to reach a deal, Major League Baseball has announced it will go ahead and impose a season of approximately 60 games, starting in late July. While some of the conditions are probably better than if owners actually struck a deal with the players association, it's a case of be careful what you wish for. Yes, it now looks like there will be games on TV this summer, but how will the micro-season of 2020 be remembered down the road?
The last public statement by the players when they turned down a 60-game proposal was, “tell us when and where to report.” That date is now July 1 (unless the players refuse tomorrrow), and players will head to their home town ball parks. Prior to today's announcement, I had come up with ten reasons why we should just skip baseball this year. Some have been rendered moot now, but I'll go ahead and list them anyway. This is not a Top Ten list. There are no rankings here. The order is just somewhat of a logical progression...
1. Not enough games. This is the crux of the whole thing. Short season minor leagues play more than 60 games, and MLB could come up with fewer games than that (54 is a number some reporters are throwing around, which is one-third of a regular season). The fewest number of games played in a modern-era regular season was 102 by St. Louis and Pittsburgh in 1981. That was a strike-interrupted year that was split into halves. Almost 40 years later, a lot of people don't remember that, and the Dodgers won the World Series, so maybe in 2060, fans won't recall how laughable the Covid year of 2020 was.
2. No fans. This is going on, and will be, at events all around the world, so maybe it isn't a really big whoop any more, but it will still be weird. Television is sure to muck up the works with some kind of piped-in sound or sound effects, especially during the playoffs. This is not unprecedented, however. On April 29, 2015, in one of the stupidest decisions Major League Baseball ever made, a gane between the Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles was played in an empty Camden Yards because of civil unrest in the city. The game was in April, which means there was ample opportunity to make it up later, but they didn't. The gane was televised, and it was plenty strange.
3. Expanded playoffs. This isn't going to happen, now, so I side with the owners on this one. Had the players and owners reached a deal, the number of teams in the post-season would be a reported 16 instead of the usual 10, and for both this year and next year. Can you imagine a 60-game season where a team that goes 25-35 would be in the playoffs and have a chance to win the World Series? Giants fans might like that (taking a shot here), and maybe the Dodgers would get off to a slow start and back in, but even fans of more post-season games would have to think that whole idea is pretty lame.
4. Re-aligned divisions. There have been scattered reports of this, and it still isn't clear how it's going to play out now, but the idea was to group teams like the Giants, Dodgers, Angels, and A's into one division to cut down travel. It doesn't appear this is going to happen, and maybe it never was, but the idea was out there. This isn't unprecedented, either. Then-Commissioner Bud Selig proposed what he called 'radical realignment' in 1998 when Arizona and Tampa Bay came in as expansion teams. ESPN even reported it as a done deal at one point. Selig then tried to force the Kansas City Royals into the National League, but ended up moving his own Milwaukee Brewers instead.
5. Universal DH. Hurray for the owners on this one. Both sides seemed to want to abolish pitchers batting in the National League both this year and next, but because the owners are imposing a season instead of bargaining for one, current rules stand. That includes the number of playoff teams, but also the decisions NL managers must make about leaving their pitchers in a close game late, ot pinch-hitting for them. The argument (maybe better left for another time) that a DH means more jobs for players is not a very good one, because more players actually get into a National League game than in the American League. If you start a DH, you leave him in there all night. If pitchers bat, you may see two or three guys with a plate appearance in that nine spot. It also is cool that different leagues have slightly different rules. We like the DH, just over in that other league.
6. Extra-inning rules. I just read about this this past week. Because of Covid-19 and supposedly as a safety measure, tie games would be possible after a set (but undetermined) number of extra innings. They were also going to invoke the rule used in the World Baseball Classic, where an inning would start with a runner at second base. Gimmicks like this, comparable to a shootout in hockey or penalty kicks in soccer, are likely down the road, but at least today is not that day. Japanese baseball has ties (I believe after 14 innings), and I could see that not being a bad thing for one year, if the coronavirus situation gets worse and several games are played in one stadium in one day.
7. Simulated Seasons. Forget an abbreviated version of the real thing when you just simulate the real thing. What would the Dodgers' record be over 162? How many home runs would Pete Alonso hit? Maybe Ronald Acuna, Junior would hit 50 homers and steal 50 bases. Baseball-reference.com is simulating the 2020 schedule using a game called Out of the Park Baseball. The Dodgers are 60-19 and have a 15½-game lead over the Colorado Rockies in the NL West. Seattle, Oakland, and the Angels are all within a game of each other in the AL West, and Cleveland (51-28) has the best record in the AL.
8. Possible Covid stoppage. This is where it gets serious. What if there's another outbreak after the season gets started? Or, more accurately, what if current conditions get worse? Several Phillies players tested positive in Florida, and it's been reported that 40 players and staff members around MLB have tested positive for Covid-19 in the past week. And who would have guessed just a couple of weeks ago that it would be safer to play in New York than in Florida or Arizona? Last week, the Mets and Yankees announced they will train at home instead of their spring training sites, and most other teams will likely follow suit. All of the quibbling over money and games played could be pointless if things get worse. Paraphrasing Alfred Lord Tennyson, is it better to have played and stopped than never to have played at all?
9. Impact on future years. There's really two parts to this. One is the historical perspective mentioned earlier. Is history going to remember 2020 as a joke? What if Christian Yelich bats .400? What if Jacob deGrom has a 0.25 ERA? There's no way those numbers would last over 162 games. Will they just be written off into the laughable year of 2020? In 1994, Tony Gwynn batted .394 and Ken Griffey, Junior hit 40 home runs. That happened in a season that was about two-thirds of the way through, but never finished. The 'what if' conversation is a fun one now, but this is different. A season of half that length would be completed, and would crown a world champion. The other side of the coin is the labor perspective. Imposing a season and not reaching a deal means further strained relations between the owners and the players. The current Collective Bargaining Agreement runs out after next season. The sniping between owners and players now could get a lot worse, with a work stoppage (most likely a lockout) looming prior to the start of 2022.
10. The Dodgers. Yes it looks like we're going to see Mookie Betts in blue after all (on TV, anyway), but what if the Dodgers win the World Series? Yes, I'm posing this question as a bad thing. The Dodgers, on paper, are considered the best team in baseball, and have improved even after winning 106 games last year. Say they go 50-10, demolish their way through the playoffs, and win the World Series. Critics are going to say (accurately) that it wasn't a full season. If they get off to a slow start and barely make the playoffs, or even (gasp) miss out, you can easily say that wouldn't have happened if they played 162. This is a lose-lose-lose scenario, with the third loss being no matter how they do in 2020, there will still be no one at Dodger Stadium to see it.
Photo credit: Los Angeles Times