This is the week. If you pick up a newspaper, go to your favorite website, or turn on the television or radio, there will likely be some sort of 'year in review' feature. In the news biz it's obligatory, only in 2020, the one constant all year long is the one thing we hope we can forget about soon. Covid.
There were certainly other things that happened, some good and some bad, but the one thing that had all encompassing power over every human being on the planet was a virus that no one knew much about, or how to stop. On this planet, it actually started late last year (which is why it is called COVID-19, medical shorthand for Coronavirus Disease 2019), but officially affected and infected the United States in March. People were dying by the hundreds in New York and New Jersey, a cruise ship was docked off the coast of California but passengers were not initially allowed to disembark, and everything from schools to libraries to restaurants to gyms to hair and nail salons closed. Some businesses were deemed 'essential' and workers were allowed to be at their jobs, but all others were ordered, even with no law enforcement penalty, to stay home. Most of us obliged, at first, but by Memorial Day, with the weather heating up and self isolation turning into mental and physical fatigue, many of us had enough.
You know the rest. Record unemployment, nowhere to go and nothing to do, people refusing to wear masks, and super-spreader events. Distance learning in schools, with some getting to re-open at least on a partial schedule. Governments sending mixed messages, and governors telling people to stay home, and then going maskless to fancy dinners or flying out of town to visit their families. Meanwhile, everyday Americans were postponing their weddings, not going on vacations, or even worse yet, not getting to see their loved ones in person, whether they were sick or not. Zoom and FaceTime made up for some of that, but it's not the same.
Yes, other things did happen in 2020, but the pandemic, and every aspect of it, tops the list. Many news organizations annually do their top stories of the year and rank them. No need to wonder which is number one this year, although Time Magazine picking Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as their Person of the Year over Dr. Anthony Fauci is still mind boggling.
There was the quadrennial presidential election, and Joe Biden won despite Donald Trump telling his supporters otherwise even after all of the votes were counted, and in some states more than once. Election Night turned into Election Week, with Biden not declared the winner by the media until Saturday, and Trump still refusing to concede. Two weeks ago, CNN even televised the Electoral College vote, which made it official, and even after that, most prominent Republicans still wouldn't publicly admit that their big guy lost. The pandemic was even involved in the electoral process, though, with many states enacting vote-by-mail rules for the first time. The losers didn't like it and claimed fraud, but couldn't prove it.
When those stay at home orders first went into effect in March, not only did many people not get to work, there was nothing else to do. Amusement parks and movie theaters closed, and sports were halted. There was no NCAA basketball tournament, the NBA and NHL halted, baseball's spring training was shut down, and professional and college football were in their off-season. Not only couldn't you go to sporting events, there weren't any to watch on TV, either. ESPN and other national and regional sports networks could have just turned out the lights and gone home, but instead showed 'classic games'. Many of those so-called classics were from last year, but we did get others like the 1988 and 81 World Series (Dodgers won), or a perfect game or no-hitter. CBS didn't know how to fill all that time that suddenly became available during what would have been March Madness, so we got to see games from past years. At least it was something, but in those games, you (usually) knew how they ended, so there wasn't much drama. Seeing it again was nice, but even though we were stuck at home, it wasn't enough to plan an evening around.
Television was, and still is, the thing to do during the Covid Crisis. Streaming service subscriptions soared, and everyone seems to have their favorite binge-watch on Netflix or Hulu. Personally, I found myself turning to PBS and recording Ken Burns documentaries. It started with Baseball and Jackie Robinson on the MLB Network, but then became The National Parks and The Roosevelts on public television. I taped all ten parts of The Vietnam War, but still haven't watched them yet. Live sports are back, so, you know.
Sports are back, but whether or not fans can attend is up to state and local jurisdictions. Santa Clara County kicked the San Francisco 49ers out of Levi's Stadium because of coronavirus concerns, forcing them to call Glendale, Arizona home for a few weeks. A few thousand fans have been allowed at some college games, but Friday's Rose Bowl, which is also a national semifinal playoff game, was moved to Arlington, Texas just so parents and family members of players and coaches could attend. The game could have been played in Pasadena, and UCLA played their home games without fans, but that wasn't good enough for the NCAA.
The return of sports turned out to be a godsend for the Los Angeles area. The Lakers emerged from the Florida bubble as NBA Champions, and although the only fans at Dodger Stadium this year were in the form of cardboard cutouts, the Dodgers won the World Series for the first time in 32 years. No celebratory parades, of course, and even though Lakers owner Jeannie Buss promised one “when it is safe to do so”, the idea of celebrating a 2020 championship after the '21 season is over seems rather strange.
Another part of a year in review story or series are famous people who passed away. Stars like Chadwick Bosman, Kirk Douglas, Regis Philbin, Kenny Rogers, and Alex Trebek come immediately to mind, but the sports world seemed to lose more than their fair share this year. From just baseball alone, we lost Hall of Famers Lou Brock (age 81), Whitey Ford (91), Bob Gibson (84), Al Kaline (85), Joe Morgan (77), Phil Neikro (just two days ago, 81), and Tom Seaver (75), icons like Richie (Dick) Allen (78), Don Larsen (90), and Bob Watson (74), and former Dodgers Lou Johnson (86), Jay Johnstone (74), Ron Perronoski (84), and Jimmy Wynn (78). Football legends Gale Sayers (77), Tom Dempsey (73), Don Shula (90), and Paul Hornung (84) died this year, and just since Thanksgiving, Olympic decathlete Rafer Johnson (86), and soccer legend Diego Maradona (60) passed away. Basketball lost Tommy Heinsohn (86), Wes Unseld (74), and Jerry Sloan (78), who I got to know personally while living in Salt Lake City and covering the Utah Jazz.
If you are noticing one blaring omission, I did not forget. It was before the pandemic began, but it was in January of 2020 when Laker legend Kobe Bryant, who was only 41, died in a helicopter crash along with his 13 year-old daughter Gianna and seven other people. For those of us sports fans, we had no idea, just 26 days into 2020, that the year would get worse, and that a virus that a we were just beginning to hear about would change all of our lives, and end many thousands of others.
But the most notable death of the year provided an important sidebar to the pandemic. A black man, an alleged petty thief by the name of George Floyd, accused of passing a phony 20 dollar bill at a liquor store and arrested in Minneapolis, died on May 25 when police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd's windpipe for six-and-a-half minutes while three other officers watched. Chauvin has been charged with second degree murder (unintentional) and is free on bail awaiting trial. The death, and the lack of more serious charges against the officers, sparked national protests and a revival of the Black Lives Matter movement. While athletes had to deal with coronavirus protocols, they also took up the issue. Several baseball teams, including the Dodgers and Giants, sat out a game as a sign of protest. The predominantly African-American NBA used their platform to carry out social injustice and Black Lives Matter messages.
Personally, I'm lucky that I did not lose a family member to COVID-19, but I did lose my job. Other people have suffered worse than I have, but after going through the first three months of the pandemic virtually unaffected, things came crashing down. I'm still unemployed, but while I am getting unemployment benefits (I was too late from the $600 a week from the federal government, but hoping that the $300 is still part of the new Covid relief bill), I have no health insurance. A lot of people think the federal benefits mean people make too much money while not working, but medical insurance and other expenses paid out of pocket instead of by the employer add up quickly. Just turn on the news, though, to see story after story about business owners and other workers who have lost their livelihood because of the pandemic. It's been a terrible fine line, and a very blurry one, between public safety and economic destruction.
Before the week is over, 2020 will be history, and the calendar will be flipped to a new year. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean that we can just forget about the pandemic and move on with our lives. There are vaccines now, and distribution is ramping up (we hope), but it's still going to be months before most of us can get one. This year has been a long one and next year is showing some promise, but having a new number at the end of the date does not make everything go away. If it did, 2020 should have been three months long, or just skipped entirely.
Christmas blowouts: The National Basketball Association likes to showcase itself on Christmas Day, but this year, the five games shown on ESPN and ABC were like 2020 itself—games we don't need to remember. Miami-New Orleans, Milwaukee-Golden State, Brooklyn-Boston, LA Lakers-Dallas, and Denver-LA Clippers (listing the winner first) were decided by 13, 39, 28, 23, and 13 points, respectively. For an encore, the Clippers trailed by 50 points at halftime (77-27) Sunday at home to Dallas, a shot-clock era league record, and lost the game by 51 (124-73).
Snell's pace: The Dodgers and their fans are still thanking Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash for pulling Blake Snell out of Game 6 of the World Series while pitching a shutout. The Dodgers would go on to win, of course, but now Snell is reportedly a San Diego Padre. According to media outlets, the Rays have agreed to trade Snell to San Diego for four players, although as of this (Monday) afternoon, neither team has confirmed the deal. The Dodgers will see the Padres 19 times in 2021 if there is a full regular season, and don't expect Jayce Tingler (yeah, that's the manager's name) to pull Snell if he's pitching a shutout next season. And, breaking news just in, the Padres have also reportedly traded for Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish, giving them two new top arms in their rotation.
An amateur poet who tried to show it: Thanks to yubanet.com for publishing my 'Twas a 2020 Christmas poem from last week, and to the Antelope Valley Press for printing a condensed version of it in the Letters to the Editor section on Christmas Day (they made me shorten it to less than 300 words). It's also on my home page in case you still want to check it out. As the Earth gets ready this week for another trip around the sun, to all of you a happier, healthier, and more prosperous 2021.