Former Orioles closer and current Orioles Radio Network analyst Gregg Olson says the 60-game season will be a thrilling mad dash to the finish line, though he believes some of changes coming to baseball in 2020 are the league’s way of experimenting with new rules.
The biggest change for the season is that it will be shortened to just 60 games instead of the usual 162, which Olson said will make for an exciting stretch of baseball starting in late July.
Olson, who was drafted by the Orioles in the first round of the 1988 MLB Draft, pitched in Baltimore from 1988-1993 and remained in the big leagues until 2001. He said teams in rebuilding phases like the Orioles could have a chance to make some noise this year because every team will go into July “still in the mix.”
“It seems like one of those NASCAR races that is shortened because of rain and everybody’s on a dead sprint,” Olson said on Glenn Clark Radio June 23. “It’s kind of fun to watch. … Every inning, every pitch is meaning something because you’ve only got 60 games and it’s going to come down to the one game that somebody might have screwed up.”
Several other changes are coming to the game in 2020. In an effort to shorten regular-season games, a runner will be placed at second base in extra innings. The rule does not apply to the postseason. MLB is hoping to avoid long extra-inning games that could be particularly taxing during a season impacted by COVID-19.
Olson sees the rule change a bit differently.
“I really think that it’s the commissioner’s office’s way of trying to speed the thing up or make it more fun to watch,” Olson said. “And baseball is baseball. It’s been this way for 160 years. You know, you don’t mess with a good thing.”
Another notable rule change for 2020 is the universal designated hitter, aimed at keeping pitchers healthy during a condensed season. The American League has had the designated hitter for nearly 50 years, but this year, the National League will have the designated hitter for the first time.
“Again, I think this falls under, ‘Hey, we got a shot to see what this looks like,’” Olson said. “And at the major league level, the DH, the runner on second base … has nothing to do with COVID or any sort of health concern for anybody.”
With that said, Olson has always been in favor of the DH. He said it’s better for everyone because fans don’t need to see pitchers try to hit even though they don’t focus on that in their training.
Olson added that the position gives players a chance to extend their baseball careers before retiring. He said that the designated hitter kept some of his contemporaries like Paul Molitor, Dave Parker and Dave Winfield in the game.
“Whereas if you had pitchers hitting all over the board, these guys staying around for one [pinch-hitting appearance] a game was unlikely, so it gives the fans a chance to see some players that might be phasing out — [Miguel] Cabrera, [Albert] Pujols. It’ll give these guys a chance to DH and extend their baseball career,” Olson said.
While he is excited to be back in the booth in late July, Olson was critical of the way everything was handled throughout the past three months. Olson, who was a player during the 1994-1995 work stoppage, is frustrated the sport took so long to come together and make plans to move forward this year.
“… Our nation needs healing and baseball has done that in the past. I was hoping that baseball would do it again and bring our country a little closer together,” Olson said. “… I’m disappointed in both sides that they couldn’t come up with something to help this country out in two-and-a-half months.”
Although it did take a long time and discord remains between the players and owners, baseball is back in about a month, and Gregg Olson is ready.
For more from Olson, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles