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It's Time to Give Up the Ghost of a 2020 MLB Season of Record


If Major League Baseball is going to have any kind of season in 2020, it needs to be a novelty exhibition. Trying to put anything meaningful on the record makes no sense and is likely infeasible. This is a hard truth, but one we sadly must come to grips with it.Staring down the incomprehensible collective profit loss that a cancelled season would entail, MLB and its Players Association have been hard at work trying to hammer out a salvage scenario. The latest reported example would call for a radical realignment of league structure, based on spring training site geography, and would have Minnesota playing in a "Grapefruit League South" division with Tampa, Atlanta, Boston, and Baltimore.

 

The sheer logistical hurdles of making something like this happen, in a way that ensures player and public safety, are monumental. Stephanie Apstein's recent writeup for Sports Illustrated, Bursting the Bubble: Why Sports Aren't Coming Back Soon, spells it all out in sobering terms. She spoke with top scientific experts and arrived at a grim conclusion.

 

The bottom line: Many of these ideas sound good in theory, but when you really think through the litany of practical implications, it's almost impossible to envision any of them working.

 

From my view, the only way for something to actually materialize, as currently discussed, would be a broad public movement toward laxening protective measures. Or, for extreme exceptions to be made specifically for Major League Baseball. Given the economic and financial factors at play, neither of these things is out of the question. Personally, I don't see it.

 

But let's say one of them gives. Or, a plan is architected that covers every contingency, and gains approval from public health authorities and all parties involved. One really must ask themself: If manufacturing a season requires warping the league's very fabric, and forcing players to perform (with future earnings on the line!) under these incredibly awkward circumstances, while unavoidably creating public safety concerns ... is it really worthwhile?

 

Some fans will say, sure. I get it, and I've certainly had my own internal debates. I'm as desperate for the return of baseball as anyone, I assure you.

 

But then I start thinking about the actual act of watching games played in empty spring training stadiums, against faux division rivals, in a condensed and warped season schedule. Players hitting home runs and silently rounding the bases, before returning to the plate where they're unable to high-five in celebration.

 

I think about the notion of these results – and whatever champion is crowned – having legitimacy in the historical record of the game. Not just that, but many players having their careers completely altered and upended by the process.

 

To date, there has been one major-league game played before a completely empty stadium. It was in Baltimore on April 29th, 2015, amidst a tumultuous time for the city. Earlier that month, Freddie Gray died while under police detainment, sparking riots and unrest that consumed all security and police resources required to run a traditional pro sporting event.

 

Dan Hayes, the current Twins beat writer for The Athletic who covered the visiting White Sox back then, tweeted the other day: "I was at that game as a reporter. It was awkward. Players will not want to play in that environment. You hear everything."

 

While the current situation is obviously very different in nature, this reflective quote from former Sox outfielder Adam Eaton (via Chicago Tribune) about participating in the game rings now with a very acute relevance: "There was a lot of weight on your heart because of what was going on in the city ... I guarantee everybody in this clubhouse at the time and over there was like, 'We have to play this game, but at the same time, there are bigger struggles going on, and baseball is not the biggest focus.' … It was a very, very weird feeling."

 

It's true that MLB now has the advantage of being able to plan and build for this type of setup, but clearly there are "very, very weird" dynamics in place as a global health crisis ravages the world and death counts escalate.

 

I'm sure many people reading this disagree on fundamental premise – either because the prevailing science and projections regarding COVID-19 are overblown, or because the need to return to a societal norm outweighs the unchecked impact of the virus. I'm not saying either of those viewpoints is wrong. I don't know.

 

Plenty of major-leaguers, eager to get back to playing and earning paychecks, lean that way, no doubt. But not all of them do. And more pertinently, not all are keen on uprooting their lives, separating from their families, and subjecting their career legacies to this strange scenario in the name of making more money. Many of the game's biggest stars (and consequentially its most financially secure) are in that group, I'd wager.

 

Without the stars, it doesn't work. In fact, without virtually EVERYONE, it doesn't work. And that's where the practicality eludes me. Anyone participating would need to to opt in; this isn't like a typical MLBPA decision where members must follow the will of consensus and leadership. There are explicit dangers and substantive sacrifices involved. What happens when (not if) the first player – like, say, Brewers starter Brett Anderson, who tweeted "It begins and ends right here" of the clause that requires indefinite separation from families – takes a hardline stance? Dominoes will fall.

 

In a recent article for ESPN, reporters asked a wide variety of players around the league for their input on these proposals, and to a man, nearly everyone expressed strong skepticism if not blatant opposition. A few samplings:

  • "When I think about being isolated for four to five months without being able to see my family, I don't think that would go through at all, personally."
  • "Honestly, my reaction would be I'm not OK with being separated from my family in the middle of a pandemic."
  • "You get into these certain scenarios just to play, and then at the end of the day, is it worth it?"
  • "Are you gonna put people at risk just so you can be kings of the sports world for a couple of months?"
  • "It just seems like a lot of stuff. I mean, I love the game, but you're changing it too much. Everyone is trying to make money."
  • "I think it's an absurd proposal. If that's literally what it's going to take to start the season, then I don't see how it's happening."
It seems clear that portrayals of robust union support for the avenues being discussed are overstated, as affirmed by one union source in a story on NBC News, who said, "We listened. But the idea that we had embraced that plan is totally inaccurate."

 

Perhaps universal participation is not required to proceed with one of these proposals, but again, the idea of playing meaningful games with missing pieces becomes highly problematic. Is it really an MLB season if there's no Mike Trout? What if one team has a disproportionate number of players withdraw? How is it fair to them or their fans to weigh these results and outcomes as legitimate?

 

Taking everything into account, I'll close by circling back to my introductory contention, which hopefully offers a glimmer of optimism: "If Major League Baseball is going to have any kind of season in 2020, it needs to be a novelty exhibition."

 

While I see no path to conducting a season of record, the Florida/Arizona sideshow ideas become far more plausible if we treat them like a World Baseball Classic style exhibition tournament. Players can individually opt in (and maybe almost all of them will!), but with the understanding that this unique season, and their performances within, will not be imprinted in Major League Baseball's rich historical tapestry.

 

The lessened need to adhere to the sport's stringent procedures, along with fewer participants reducing the scale, makes such a proposition far more viable in my eyes. Still a stretch, for the reasons covered in Apstein's piece for SI, but more viable.

 

If you ask me, that's now where we should be setting our sights as hopeful fans, yearning for baseball's beautiful distraction. I take zero pleasure in saying so, but the notion of a 2020 MLB season worthy of adding to the official record is already off the table.

 

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Nick, I think your points are very well taken and I hear you. I have trouble jumping to this conclusion on April 12th (and I’m glad you tweeted that as well). We can’t give up hope. There is a definite balance of hope and reality and I think for right now, I’ll continue to believe that we can get a 100+ game season of regular divisions with no fans. Call it a pipe dream, that’s fine, but I’m unwilling to jump to hopelessness.

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Nick, I think your points are very well taken and I hear you. I have trouble jumping to this conclusion on April 12th (and I’m glad you tweeted that as well). We can’t give up hope. There is a definite balance of hope and reality and I think for right now, I’ll continue to believe that we can get a 100+ game season of regular divisions with no fans. Call it a pipe dream, that’s fine, but I’m unwilling to jump to hopelessness.

I very much hope you're right

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If you reject the idea of games at all because some players opt out, does that mean you reject the 1942 to 1945 seasons because some of baseball's best players were off fighting WW2? Do those stats not count?

 

Many Americans don't have a choice about their jobs--they are now unemployed. It's hard for me to work up a lot of sympathy for players who might opt out because they are inconvenienced by our changed world.

 

Maybe Hal Newhouser's MVP awards mean less, earned during the war. But even that discussion is part of the game's narrative. 

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I’d give up on any sort of regular season and do a playoff. The Yankees and Dodgers get first round byes and every team plays. First and second rounds best of 3 with home field to the higher ranked team. Then best of 5 and the final best of 7. Wouldn’t count as a World Series win. Whether the games are attended is based on the medical advice.

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Shortened seasons, Grapefruit leagues, Cactus leagues, games in front of no fans.....I say bring it on. If MLB can play ball this year, I'll take it.  If it's done responsibly and it makes sense from a health perspective, I would 100% be ready to sit down and watch and discuss.

 

I get online every morning before work. I see articles featuring death tolls, political squabbles, and places like facebook and twitter are just a nightmare of negativity. Everyone's just gnashing their teeth and growling about damn near everything, it's just so depressing.

 

Instead, if I could get wake up and chat about Miguel Sano striking out 3 times, or Eddie Rosario misplaying a fly ball, or Buxton running into a wall or Maeda getting blown up I would take that in a heartbeat.

 

This ain't about a World Series, this is just about having a positive distraction that would be much welcome in many Americans' lives ASAP.

 

 

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 If MLB can play ball this year, I'll take it.  If it's done responsibly and it makes sense from a health perspective, I would 100% be ready to sit down and watch and discuss.

 

I totally agree. If the players and the MLBPA don't like it, then they should have the option of voiding their contracts for the season and looking for other work, along with the millions of Americans recently unemployed.

 

At a certain point, testing will evolve to the extent the quarantine is less draconian.

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At a certain point, testing will evolve to the extent the quarantine is less draconian.

This is true, but the question is when there will be enough reliable tests. And as I said on another thread, there are tens of millions of people who should be a higher testing priority than professional athletes. From what I read it will be many months.

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While the prospect of no baseball does not appeal to me, the logistics involved to get it going may not happen in a timely manner.  I agree with players having the option to opt out if they wish (I hadn't really thought that much about it before.)  This is a decision that about more than baseball and economics;  lives are at stake.  As a fan, that's where it begins and ends with me.   Even if playing in front of empty stadiums, for me the safety of players, fans, and workers rises above having something to talk about online or at the water cooler.

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I totally agree. If the players and the MLBPA don't like it, then they should have the option of voiding their contracts for the season and looking for other work, along with the millions of Americans recently unemployed.

 

At a certain point, testing will evolve to the extent the quarantine is less draconian.

Yeah, I mean I do understand why the players wouldn't like it. And one thing that worries me: what if they start the season, and then Nelson Cruz, for example, tests positive. What happens then? Do the Twins end up "quarantined" and can't play ball for 2 weeks? Now what?

 

Maybe make it voluntary? You want to play, let's go. You want to sit home? No prob, go ahead. Frankly I think most players are OK with it, but their wives/families are not. Eric Sogard's wife tweeted she was 100% against the idea of the AZ/FL season because the kids wouldn't get to see their dad for a few months. That kind of backlash is going to make it hard for some guys to choose to be out there. On the other hand, I am guessing fans are 100% in favor of getting something going ASAP.

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Something will happen because the empty stadium will still have TV cameras and TV revenue. 

I liked the post that reminded everyone of the WWII status of baseball.  It is in the record book and will always be there.  We had the strike season and that still stands.  The same thing impacted WWI ball, its just that less is written about it.  They even attempted military drills at the park with the players.  The 1919 season was shortened to 140 games - still in the record book.

 

1972 was a shortened season because of a strike at the beginning of the season.  It was 13 days and 85 games were lost.

 

1981 strike took out the middle of the season - that was weird.  They actually had division playoffs between teams that won each half season.

 

1994 was the only season without a WS as the strike ended the season in August.

 

Then there is the perversion of records with AL expansion in 1961 giving us the record 61 in 61 and Roger Maris became a nationally recognized player.  The NL expanded the next year.   Then there was an expansion again in 1969 and the AL expanded again in 1977 and the NL waited until 1993 to join them.

Of course records have been shattered by the change in the balls, imagine trying to hit massive HRs when the ball is dirty, scrapped, and scratched and softened by the end of nine.  Or the change from 50 feet to 60 for the pitchers mound.  Or even the lowering of the mound after Bob Gibson terrorized the batters.

 

There was the too long absence of Black players until Jackie Robinson and then the NL was the league that dominated because they led the way for integration.  And that changed lots of records.  

 

The league did not change drastically but the Korean War also removed players like Ted Williams.

And of course steroids made a huge difference - how many 60+ HR seasons have we had since Bonds, McGwire, Sosa and the steroid expose?  

 

So whatever happens, bring it on, it will join the records and the lore that is baseball.

 

 

 

 

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I’m not going to rain on anyone’s parade if you want to continue hoping for sports to come back... I’m not optimistic about it. And here’s a dirty little secret, I don’t miss them that much.

I would much rather have baseball to watch than not to have baseball to watch. But with all the current concerns to be concerned about I find that the lack of baseball doesn't really make a difference.

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Fans always weigh who's better and what wasn't and why one team was great another wasn't. The asterisk placed by Maris's name was fictional, never actually in the record book. But those who revered Ruth drew attention to the difference between 154 and 162 game seasons. 

 

This stuff is part of baseball's narrative. It's a reason why forums like this exist. So some day guys in their sweats and bathrobes can write:  Oh, yea, 2020. That was that weird year when so many of the veterans with families stayed home, and all these hot young prospects had a chance to play in that brief season when MLB played as the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues.

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This stuff is part of baseball's narrative. It's a reason why forums like this exist. So some day guys in their sweats and bathrobes can write:  Oh, yea, 2020. That was that weird year when so many of the veterans with families stayed home, and all these hot young prospects had a chance to play in that brief season when MLB played as the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues.

The fans are not really my primary concern. What about the players who will have their career legacies and future earnings dictated by what happens in this sideshow? What happens when a pitcher catches the virus in the clubhouse and has to miss several weeks while getting well and quarantining, or gets hurt because he's thrown completely out of the routine that has constituted his entire life in baseball, and then has his future value impacted by it? 

 

The example of the empty-stadium game in Baltimore, and how players reacted to it, is very pertinent in my mind. Players hated it. Eaton later attributed his team's loss to the weird environment. 

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I miss baseball like crazy. But I don't see any option being viable at the moment. I do think if they can play, at least a tlittle, I agree with the exhibition idea. Time to experiment all the rule changes they have kicked around and see how it plays out. Put a guy at 2nd to lead off an extra inning. They did it in AAA last year and it greatly shortened extra inning games...by a TON. I hated it because its not baseball...but if that was the goal...it worked...dammit.

Try the 'clock'. Pitch clock and batter in the box clock. Violations get automatic ball or strike. had that too in AAA...and there were very few violations. Everyone got used to it quickly. Use the relief pitcher must face at least 3 batters except obviously when its not valid. Reduce time to change pitchers...give them only 4 to warm up. Why do they need 8? Reduce time between innings. Give pitchers 3 shots at picking off a runner. That would make them use those shots more meaningful. have some fun with this stuff and see what sticks.

The games shouldn't count...in standings or statistically. Its a lost season. Playing before no fans just isn't sports.  But I don't see how fans could possibly attend this  year, barring some kind of miracle cure.

The whole thing stinks...but lets not make a mockery out of the game by thinking that there is a scenario that would validate a 'true season'.

 

thursday was to be the REd Wings home opener. I haven't missed an opener either in person or on radio since 1958. Its all very sad. But these are very tough times.

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It's too late now to have anything resembling a "real" season. A legitimate World Series title cannot be claimed this year and while the exhibition scenario may provide some entertainment- it ain't Major League Baseball. Coupling that with the potential risk to players and coaches leaves only one sensible choice- cancel the season! It'll be tough on those who depend on income from MLB, but plenty of other industries are suffering the same plight.

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 What happens when a pitcher catches the virus in the clubhouse and has to miss several weeks while getting well and quarantining,  

 

What happens is how baseball always handles injury or illness. Tommy John requiring surgery did not end the baseball season.

 

The book "The Pitch That Killed: Carl Mays, Ray Chapman, and the Pennant Race of 1920" by Mike Sowell is a great read, explaining how baseball continued exactly a century ago when the very game itself caused death.

 

Tony Conigliaro's injury did not stop the game.

 

Myself, I'm not into auto racing. I know people love it, and they show up to watch it, despite the fact that the sport itself has caused spectacular crashes, injuries, and death.

 

Why do they continue?

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I miss baseball too but why bother if it means playing all the games in Florida or Arizona or if no fans will be allowed. Why bother to play if the season can't be at least 120 games long? Even if baseball is played, how much pride will the fans or the players have in a team that wins it all if a normal season is not played. Players are not going to accept being quarantined away from their families for months at a time, that is just plain stupid. I would rather no baseball is played in 2020 rather then watch a mockery be made of the game. 

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Cross-posting from an article with a different view on the same topic:

 

Sitting here in the middle of week seven of work-from-home, I really, really want to see what the 2020 Twins can do. But think on Poe's "Masque of the Red Death."  Every effort to seal away a healthy population from an epidemic inevitably fails.  Contagion is hard to contain.

 

Bottom line:

If one player, one umpire, one coach or trainer, one member of the grounds crew, one camera operator, one driver, caterer, janitor or anybody else associated with such an effort were to get sick and die - IT WOULD NOT BE WORTH IT.

 

Corollary:  If an effort like this were to take resources away from treating the sick, or keeping ordinary people healthy wherever they are it would be hard to justify morally.

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I miss baseball too but why bother if it means playing all the games in Florida or Arizona or if no fans will be allowed. Why bother to play if the season can't be at least 120 games long? Even if baseball is played, how much pride will the fans or the players have in a team that wins it all if a normal season is not played. Players are not going to accept being quarantined away from their families for months at a time, that is just plain stupid. I would rather no baseball is played in 2020 rather then watch a mockery be made of the game.

I don't think the amount of games actually played even matters at all in this scenario. I mean do the Dodgers not recognize their 1981 World Series championship? There was only about 100 games played that year? I don't ever hear anything about how people de-value the Dodgers vs the Yankees in 1981 because the season was only like 100 to 110 games. Yeah, for that matter, not all of the teams even played the same number of games?

 

Now on the issue of players being put under quarantine and or games without fans are valid arguments. Not sure if players would go for that.

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