I am pretty sure that if you took a poll of all the smart folks that cover baseball on a routine basis, you’d get a hell of a lot of differing opinions about whether there will be baseball this summer at all, and if there is, what a season might look like.
With Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s stricter stay-at-home order going into effect March 30, I figured this would be a good time to look at how a potential 2020 season could shape up.
I am still somewhat amazed how quickly what was supposed to be the end of spring training and the beginning of the regular season all quickly evaporated.
I had booked my trip to Sarasota, Fla., one of my sweetest weeks of every season. I remember briefly thinking, amid the early warning signs of the COVID-19 pandemic, do I really want to get on a plane? Without any serious warnings from the political or health folks in our government, I gulped and went.
I traveled down with my cousin, Ron Matz. I think we were both somewhat surprised that Southwest Airlines was offering us the chance to buy a better seating number category. As it was, neither of us bit on the opportunity, yet we had a seat between us go empty and the flight was about 40-45 seats shy of full.
I think even in the sped-up timeframe of my week, it wasn’t until March 10 that the Orioles enacted the policy that kept the media apart from the players. Reporters couldn’t enter the clubhouse before or after games, and they had to be 6 feet from manager Brandon Hyde and players during interviews.
Even at that point, I wasn’t seeing the forest for the trees. It took The Baltimore Sun‘s Jon Meoli innocently predicting that a major sea change was coming to spring training. He sensed the whole shooting match was about to be interrupted.
Sure enough, the O’s went to Dunedin March 11, and as Ron and I boarded our Southwest flight from Fort Myers to go home, we heard the O’s had dumped the Jays by a score of 14-2. And like the snap of a finger, the start of a season and all that went into the preparations at 30 dots on the maps in Arizona and Florida came to a screeching halt.
Here it is, three weeks later, and there is no sense anyone can tell you anything pertinent about the 2020 season. Will they play? When can they start a second spring training period? How long would that period of training need to be? How many games would they have to play for it to be a meaningful championship season?
The answers are all about as certain as the pronouncements made by MLB. At first a season that was to begin on March 26 would be delayed by two weeks. A new opening date of April 9 was mentioned, but that idea fell totally apart after three to five days. There was almost total uncertainty as to whether teams could stay together or whether the clubs would close down their facilities in Arizona and Florida.
Ultimately, the clubs disbanded the 30 camps and sent all but rehabbing players back home to await any new announcements. Once the teams disbanded, it didn’t take a weatherman to tell which way the wind was blowing. We knew then that any season wouldn’t start before at least early June.
Meanwhile, in a surprising bit of labor congeniality, MLB and the MLBPA negotiated rules regarding how much players would make this season in the event of a canceled or shortened season. Important side issues regarding service time for players and how the luxury tax would be handled in the event of a non-season were also negotiated.
While there are certainly no clear-cut answers about when MLB could start, we know they’d need another spring training. Toronto Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro postulated that a second spring training would have to be at least a month long to get pitchers ramped up in a healthy way.
I could see that shaved by a week with teams carrying a couple of extra players for the first month of the season.
Clearly, the problems with the initial response to what has become a pandemic — the lack of testing — hurt our chances to bend the curve on the escalation of the viral spread. It’s now apparent that it’ll be June at the earliest that any sort of training can begin again.
Here’s the way I see this going down: The All-Star Game, right now scheduled for July 14 at renovated Dodger Stadium, will mark the return of baseball. Perhaps that could be moved up by, say, a week. In 1981, the All-Star Game opened the second half of the season out of the strike.
To give you an idea, the Orioles’ schedule has them playing 65 games from the All-Star game to the end of the regular season. There is no way that MLB can convince anyone that a second-half-only season is going to create enough value for fans. But the league could tack on 38-40 games if it added one doubleheader per week and played regular-season games through October. That would take the season up to approximately 105 games.
My rationale on a 105-110 game season checking enough boxes is partly based on those numbers back in the second half of the 1981 season.
Some experts are predicting that MLB will make every attempt to getting at or near the usual 162 games. They project regular-season games being played in October and November with the playoffs and World Series happening in neutral, warm-weather sites and having the World Series run until around Christmas.
The problem MLB would have with that scenario is the lack of normalcy for players who play deep into the postseason. How could those players be expected to end their seasons around Dec. 20 and have to report to camp in early February? The arms are too valuable to be treated without more long-range thought given to these many postseason scenarios we’ll see bandied about throughout the next few weeks.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox