If somehow the entire 60-game regular season and playoffs are completed this year, you know what I am going to call the team that wins the final contest of this tortured year?
Because you are allowed to have complicated thoughts on issues and not just fall to the polarizing extremes. Not everything has to be cable news America.
For example, I could know that Roger Maris played in a 162-game season when he topped Babe Ruth’s homer record set over 154, and that first Mark McGwire and then Barry Bonds illegally inflated their bodies to set then reset the mark. I recognize Bonds as the single-season homer king. I also know how his body alteration impacted his body of work.
I know how we got to 60 games in 2020 — if we get to 60 games in 2020. The sides myopically fought as if this was the last season of Major League Baseball ever and, thus, wrassled for every penny relentlessly. It, of course, did great damage now and for at least the near future of the league. In a pandemic, the sport generated no statesmen, no heroes, no common sense. No one rose to the moment. No one climbed to 20,000 feet to scream to everyone else that they were treating the golden goose like a pinata.
They issued offers and counteroffers designed to insult and inflame. In the end, they finally agreed to disagree and found their most comfortable peace — which says an awful lot about the two parties. They couldn’t reach an accord on how to restart the season, so commissioner Rob Manfred has implemented one. Which they apparently both will honor (albeit with some stars potentially staying away).
It will — if the sides could agree to health and protocol rules on Tuesday (and let’s be frank, these two sides might not even agree it was Tuesday) — lead to players showing up for spring training on July 1 and a regular season beginning roughly three weeks later and lasting 60 games; or the same number Eduardo Nunez played last year before Boston released him in July.
Sixty games is distasteful, especially since we know that partnership from the outset could have netted so much more. But it was never going to be 162 games. It was never going to be perfect. It was always going to be at the mercy of coronavirus. So this is the lemonade season because the parties are going to now have to make the best out of lemons.
One way to do that is to find mutually beneficial elements for this season. In a previous column, I pointed out how the players allowing themselves to be miked on the field not only enhances the broadcast for the owners, but helps raise the profiles of the players. I also would recommend the playoffs to be expanded from 10 to 16 teams in this shortened season for its mutually beneficial results.
Yes, most obviously the payday goes up for MLB. But the union could at least get the $25 million playoff pool in exchange, perhaps more. This, though, is also about a level of fairness. You would want a quality team that has a stumble to at least have a route into the postseason. And you know who the wider postseason also helps — the players. They get to play meaningful games. They get to be seen. Let’s stop behaving as if their payday is the only motivator in their careers.
A path that gives a greater chance for the Angels’ Mike Trout to play games on the biggest stage and Shohei Ohtani to hit and pitch in October is great for fans and the game. It also is great for the reputation and legacy of Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani.
I know expanding the playoffs is treated like a sacrilege by many who cherish baseball. But I wonder in the Venn diagram if those who hate it, also love the NCAA Tournament? Love the idea of a low seed knocking off a high seed. No one historically thinks that in 1985 Villanova was better than Georgetown. But the Wildcats had a magic run and beat the Hoyas in the final. We don’t disparage that memory. We replay it. And you know what we call that Villanova team? Champion.
Is there a Knicks fan who discredits the 50-game 1998-99 season in which New York, at 27-23, snuck into the playoffs? Do you have any regrets that you saw Allen Houston’s runner and Larry Johnson’s four-point play? When the Knicks were finally knocked off in the finals, you know what we called that Spurs team coached by Gregg Popovich with Tim Duncan and David Robertson? Champion. No one says they won four titles together plus, you know, the one from the short season.
See, you can have complex thoughts. Villanova wasn’t better than Georgetown, but was better on that one day, like the Giants were when they knocked off the 18-0 Patriots. The 1996 Yankees weren’t better than the Braves that year, yet won and ignited a dynasty. The Spurs emerged from a labor-created truncated season as champions and began their own dynastic span.
When the major league season begins the teams with the best players will still have an advantage over 60 games and playoff series. But shorter will definitely mean more volatile in results. It will be lemonade. And my recommendation after all the unsightly fighting is this: