The 2020 season, if it were to occur, would make the years 81, 94 and 95 – all abbreviated by labor disputes – as normal as Richie Cunningham. If they can withdraw it, however? The campaign would not carry scarlet letters. Rather, it would be considered by history to be legitimate. Probably even gallant. It’s really worth it.
As a pessimist, I remain skeptical that the seas of coronaviruses will separate as necessary to turn the hopes of the Major League Baseball into reality. As my roommate’s son told me when he was 7, however, it’s better to try. This MLB effort – which, as Joel Sherman of the Post reported, will likely be submitted to the Players Association on Tuesday – is a big try.
Of course, it makes sense to limit travel, keeping the Yankees and Mets in Eastern Time until possible playoffs – an advantage for TV rankings as well. Expanding the membership, especially since there will be no traditional minor league season would be fun to see more young players, right? Expanded playoffs would also allow all parties to recover some of the losses they have already suffered.
Then we come to the detail that will challenge the purists: a regular season with 78-82 games. Essentially half of the standard total of 162 and just over half of the pre-expansion number of 154.
The beauty of baseball probably comes from this marathon calendar. Knowing that, more often than not, six months of action tell the truth. How many July 4th dynamos have we seen melt in the August heat or wobble and fall in September?
1981 is still marked with an asterisk because the mid-season strike created the dreaded “split season” to attract attention when it returned in August. The 1995 list started late and included 144 games – not great in percentage terms, but we’ll still wonder how those 18 missing competitions would have gotten into the exciting American League races starring the Yankees, Mariners and Angels. You probably know that 95 started late due to conflicts that started in 1994 and succeeded in canceling this world series, a scourge on the legacy of the game.
Of course, a de facto half season with limited opposition, your smallest proverbial sample, could produce some dizziness. Maybe that would propel the Rays over the Yankees in the AL East, or even put the Red Sox more into the mix than we had expected. Yoenis Cespedes could perhaps stay in one piece for three months and lead the Mets to their first crown in the National Eastern League in five years.
It would be fun if frustrating. More important from a moral and historical point of view, it would not be orthodox not because baseball shot itself in the foot with internal struggles, but rather because an historic pandemic closed the world until ‘that people maneuver and fight their way again to produce entertainment. It would be cherished rather than reprimanded.
(Speaking of internal strife, a threat to the implementation of this plan exists in the player compensation disagreement, and here is an appeal to owners and players: don’t snipe yourself publicly. It won’t work well when it there will be almost 80,000 deaths and COVID-19 count. It is reasonable for the owners to say that they cannot pay as generously without fans in the stands, and it is reasonable for the players to claim that “They deserve a full salary, prorated, because they put themselves in danger. It is unreasonable to expect all of us to care enough to take sides. Either you accept the terms or you don’t not, quietly.)
If this 2020 season takes off, it would be unprecedented like so many other things we have known this year; we didn’t even mention social distancing or the absence of high-fives. Hopefully we will have a chance to debate the merits of an 80 game season. It would be a much nicer discussion than almost everything we’ve been talking about since March.