And I will be back, too, as a fan — though not necessarily with the same level of passion I once had. I’m sure my anger will eventually subside, and I’ll forgive and forget. But, for the time being, I’ll continue cursing the people who run, own and play the game. Hey, that’s my right as an abused, disenfranchised fan.
Public arguments between billionaires and millionaires are always disgusting, and this one proved even worse than the one in 1994 that resulted in something two world wars, a Great Depression and a previous global pandemic could not do: Cancellation of the World Series.
Had the two sides been able to put aside their massive egos and stock portfolios and not been tone deaf to what’s been going on in America in recent months, we’d be getting ready for a bunch of Fourth of July openers. And the sport would have done what it usually does in troubled times — provide a soothing balm. Instead, we will have to wait another month for the first pitch to be delivered, and make do with a truncated, 60-game season — the shortest since the 1870s, an era before the invention of the pitcher’s mound, catcher’s mitt and infield fly rule.
Despite baseball’s mistreatment of its fans, many of us will still tune in because we love the artistry and drama of the game. Clearly, this is going to be a season unlike any we’ve experienced, including several strike-shortened campaigns. It will be strange watching televised games from empty, fan-less ballparks. Perhaps MLB will attempt to do what the NFL has proposed, and place computer-generated fans in the stands like Hollywood does in movies, and pipe in crowd noise in an attempt to make us believe everything’s the same when it really isn’t.
One of the beauties of baseball is that it’s a marathon not a sprint. You might put accelerator to floor on Opening Day and take off like a bat out of hell, but most fast-starters peter out. There’s integrity to a long, demanding regular season. You have to pace yourself. The teams that deserve to make the post-season usually do. This grinding endurance test separates contenders from pretenders.
This season, though, all bets are off. And I suppose that will create a different sense of excitement, especially for clubs that otherwise might not have a chance. Get off to a torrid start and you just might be playing in October. Stumble early and you could be toast. Consider the 2019 Washington Nationals. After 60 games, they were 27-33 but had enough time to right themselves and wound up winning the World Series.
This season, five game winning-streaks will be cause for euphoria. Five-game losing streaks will lead to panic and despair. Managers clearly won’t be able to manage like they normally do — for the long haul. Each game will take on more significance — counting 2.7 times more than usual. The sense of urgency and intensity will be far greater.
Rule changes implemented just for 2020 also will impact strategy. For the first time, the designated hitter will be used regularly in both leagues. And extra-inning games will be conducted like my senior softball league, with every inning beyond the ninth starting with a runner on second base. I don’t particularly care for the rule, but I guess this season also will be one of experimentation.
COVID-19 safety precautions will change things, too. No more pre-game lineup card exchanges. Pitchers will be able to have a wet rag in their pockets so they don’t lick their fingers. (Bend-the-rules, Hall-of-Fame hurler Gaylord Perry would have loved that.) Non-playing personnel will wear masks in dugouts and bullpens at all times. Spitting will be prohibited. (Thank God for that, though I’m sure sunflower seed sales will be taking a huge hit.) And fights will be strictly prohibited. (Let’s see how that works the first time an angry pitcher throws at a Houston Astros batter in retaliation for their involvement in the sign-stealing scandal of recent years.)
I would think long-suffering Baltimore Orioles fans have to be pleased with the shortened season because it means the Triple-A team they’re fielding at Camden Yards won’t break the MLB record of 120 losses established by the 1962 New York Mets.
The lighter schedule also increases the possibility we could have the first .400 hitter since Ted Williams surpassed that hallowed milestone in 1941. That, of course, will lead to calls for an asterisk by Commissioner Rob Manfred.
In 1871, Levi Samuel Meyerle batted .492 for the Philadelphia Athletics. No baseball record has stood the test of time like Meyerle’s, which was accomplished during the first year of major league baseball. Interestingly, some historians dismiss Meyerle’s mark because the season was only 28 games long, and some question whether the disorganized National Association of Baseball Players deserves recognition as the original league. But Meyerle’s proponents point out he would have qualified for the batting title even if he were held to today’s minimum requirement standards because he averaged at least 3.1 plate appearances per game. We’ll never know whether he would have been able to sustain his lofty average over 162 games, just as we’ll never known how 2020 MLB players would have fared if this season were normal length.
The dominant player this season may be COVID-19. Despite all the protocols, there are sure to be players and managers who test positive. And what happens if an entire team needs to be quarantined?
Despite my anger with MLB’s greed, I will be happy to see games played again. In a time of uncertainty this much is certain: It will be a season unlike any other.
Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist. His latest book, “Remembrances of Swings Past: A Lifetime of Baseball Stories,” was just published and is available in paperback and digitally at amazon.com.