A Hall of Famer says beware bad looks through real concerns

2020-05-20 TomGlavine

Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Glavine—The Edmund Burke of the 1994-95 players’ strike hopes today’s players beware the bad looks even if their alarms about playing half a season are justified.

Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Glavine has learned many things over the years. Including that there come times when, even if you’re right, lots of people still think you’re wrong.

During the 1994-early 1995 players strike, Glavine couldn’t convince Joe and Jane Fan—well enough lubricated by a large enough, loud enough, pro-owners press—that the owners, trying to jam a salary cap down the throats of the players who’d already rejected it several times previously, really wanted to force the players to stop them before they over-spent, mis-spent, or mal-spent again.

Today, Glavine hopes to convince players to beware the bad look, even if they’re dead right, when they quake over the owners pushing to pay them according to a 50-50 revenue split if and when major league baseball returns this year, it’s not going to look good to an awful lot of people missing larger points—including the prospective health risks and whether sound precautions will be put in place for MLB to return.

It’ll be one thing if the return is hampered over genuine health concerns that the players haven’t been shy about expressing. It’ll be something else, Glavine fears, if it comes down to financial issues—even if the players are right to holler foul after the owners first agreed to pay their 2020 salaries on a pro-rated basis, before trying for the 50-50 revenue split that could cost both sides money but the owners considerably less.

“If it were to come down to an economic issue and that’s the reason baseball didn’t come back,” says Glavine—one of the most visible and more thoughtful players’ spokesmen during the 1994-95 strike—to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “you’re looking at a situation similar to the strike of ’94 and ’95 as far as fans are concerned. Even if players were 100% justified in what they were complaining about, they’re still going to look bad.”

At least as bad as Rays pitcher Blake Snell looked last week, when the lefthander said, “For me to take a pay cut is not happening because the risk is through the roof. I’ve got to get my money. I’m not playing unless I get mine, OK? And that’s just the way it is for me.” It was one thing for Snell to express concern for the health risk but something else to look as though his health depended entirely upon his income.

Even if the Washington Post‘s invaluable baseball columnist Thomas Boswell could and did write, the same day, that the owners first proposed the half-season to begin in July “provided that the players agree to a percentage-of-the-revenue deal on salaries that would be exactly the kind of de facto salary cap they have rejected in every labour negotiation I have covered since the 1970s. Very amusing, owners. What, you thought the players wouldn’t notice?”

It wasn’t only the players who noticed, either. It may be a bad enough look when Blake Snell says the risk isn’t worth it if he takes a pay cut to assume it. It’s just as bad if not worse when the owners one minute enunciate genuine alarms over the health risks with the coronavirus still on the loose but the next minute remind us that, to them, the common good of the game equals too little more than making money for it and them, and not necessarily in that order.

Glavine in 1994-95 wasn’t even close to Snell’s shoot-from-the-lip style of talker. He was thoughtful, articulate, and becalmed, enunciating the players’ positions with the tone of a parliamentary debator. It wasn’t his fault that it fell on blind eyes, deaf ears, and pre-conditioned minds.

The lefthander who pitched his way to the Hall of Fame with smarts, control, and a corner-dominating changeup, behaved as the epitome of professionalism even in the face of mal-informed opposition.

Glavine now admits he made one major mistake during the strike: making himself accessible to a fault. “[It] was a miscalculation on my part,” he tells the Journal-Constitution. “I just felt like if I did an interview on the radio or TV, if I had five or 10 minutes, I could make somebody understand what was going on and come to our side. That just wasn’t going to happen.”

Boswell saw and raised last week:

[Owners and players] face a choice that is not a choice at all. They can fight, waste time and end up with zero games and $0.00 in total revenue for the year, as opposed to the $10.7 billion they split up last year. Or they can figure out how to play those 78 (or whatever) regular season games, plus a postseason with as many as 14 teams and additional TV revenue. Then they probably end up with nearly $4 billion this year. That’s a lot better than $0.00.

So if it turns out that the coronavirus recedes enough in the next 50 days while safety measures and testing reach a point where a half-season could be played but isn’t because of bickering, I will be fascinated to see how anyone explains that to fans.

Still, you get the salary-cap animus. MLB is the one American team sport without a salary cap but with the greatest diversity of World Series champions since its disgraceful reserve era ended of any American team sports.

Those of us old enough to remember and with brains enough to know better when the owners screamed ending the reserve era meant ending “competitive balance” scoffed then. (And, pointed to all those “competitively balanced” decades when it seemed the World Series wasn’t a World Series without the Yankees in it or winning it) should scoff now at the owners’ bid to end-run their way to a de facto salary cap. But . . .

“So how could you frame a deal that would not set a salary cap precedent?” Boswell asked, then answered. “Maybe the owners say: ‘We’re going to get killed. We can pay you one-third of your 2020 salaries if you will play one-half of the season, plus a slightly expanded postseason.’ Then you negotiate from there.”

And you don’t step too far in front too often to negotiate in public, whether you’re an owner or a player. The looks are going to be terrible. Maybe not as terrible as a Donald Trump tweetstorm that in saner times would go innuendo and out the other, but terrible enough.

Glavine learned the hard way once upon a time, and he was probably the Edmund Burke of the players’ side during that 1994-95 strike. What Samuel Johnson observed of Burke could be said unapologetically about Glavine: “He chose his side like a fanatic and defended it like a gentleman.”

He knows that having our normal back would include having the games we love back, even as he knows concurrently that athletes have every right to fear for theirs or their families’ health. He doesn’t have to say that the owners should have the same concerns for the other staffers, front office and ballpark alike, who help the games play.

“For me here now, Georgia is open to some degree,” says Glavine, a New England native who’s made Georgia and Florida his home since his playing days. “I can choose what I want to do. I can choose how much I want to expose myself. When you’re starting to get on planes and travel as a sport, you’ve lost control over that. Now you’re trusting in everybody else providing an environment for you that is safe.

“If I was playing today, I wouldn’t say, ‘Hell no, I’m not playing’,” he continues. “But of course, I’d have a concern that once you step out that door and you go back into that world, there’s a chance you’re bringing something home to your family. It’s 100 percent fair for players, coaches, everybody to be concerned about that.”

Most of the players who’ve spoken out about the matter have been prudent enough to speak health first, pelf and anything else later. They’re not wrong to fear the owners reneging on a deal they thought they had, in the middle of figuring out how to play through and around the still-too-real health risk.

Just make the points without being dismissive, smug, or tunnel-visioned, and let the owners hang themselves if it comes to that. Anything beyond, and Joe and Jane Fan aren’t going to bother about the nuances when they have no MLB to see even on television.

Glavine does because he’s been there/done that, as a player and now as a fan who admits he missed the NHL postseason as much as he’s missing baseball, both as a fan and as a Braves television analyst.

“It’s part of the routine, it’s nice to do what you do all day, eat dinner and then sit down and watch some kind of game,” he says. “Not having games to watch has been hard. But, you know, we’ll get through it.”

Glavine himself helped take the sting out of the 1994-95 strike by throwing the clinching shutout in the only World Series championship (1995) won by those dominating Braves teams of the 1990s and early Aughts.

Someone will take the sting out of 2020’s coronavirus-lost baseball, too, in due course. Whether it’s in 2020 or, worst-case scenario, in 2021. Someone always does.

. . . and, will it come back smartly?

2020-05-12 SeanDoolittle

Sean Doolittle during last year’s World Series. He’s now concerned that baseball considers everyone’s health before coming back.

Forget for the moment how arduous might become the grapple between owners and players on how to pay whom if the Show returns. More significant will be how to keep more than just the players healthy, a significance that has not escaped the thoughtful eye, ear, and mind of one Washington Nationals relief pitcher.

Sean Doolittle isn’t even close to the only major league player with health on his mind. But it isn’t every player who’s unburdened himself aboard Twitter to lay out the health questions that must be answered if the Show is to come back to give a coronavirus-exhausted nation even a small degree of respite.

Bear with me,” Doolittle (who calls himself Obi-Sean Kenobi Doolittle on Twitter) began his Monday stream, “but it feels like we’ve zoomed past the most important aspect of any MLB restart plan: health protections for players, families, staff, stadium workers and the workforce it would require to resume a season.”

There are players and other personnel now who may be more vulnerable to the virus than others almost regardless of the health and safety protocols MLB might secure, as Ken Rosenthal observes in The Athletic. Colorado outfielder David Dahl is one. Rosenthal cites the Mayo Clinic saying your vulnerability to life-threatening infections heightens after spleen removal. Dahl’s spleen was removed five years ago.

Doolittle’s own wife, Eireann Dolan, is vulnerable thanks to being asthmatic. Two Chicago Cubs, pitcher Jon Lester and first baseman Anthony Rizzo, are cancer survivors. Cleveland pitcher Carlos Carrasco has battled leukemia and, six years ago, undergone “non-invasive heart procedure,” Rosenthal writes. At least three players are Type 1 diabetics: pitchers Scott Alexander (Los Angeles Dodgers) and Jordan Hicks (St. Louis Cardinals), and outfielder Adam Duvall (Atlanta Braves).

One and all of them plus countless more players are only too willing to play ball this year. “Obviously, this thing is unstoppable if it gets you the right way,” said Rizzo, who’s worked with and through his charitable group aiding Chicago front-line workers, in April. “But they said I’m cured and as strong as ever and that everything functions the right way. If I was to get it, they’re not overly concerned, like they would be with older people who have had conditions before.”

Doolittle also knows it’s not that simple to work with. “Because this is a novel virus, there is still so much we don’t know—including the long-term effects,” he said aboard his Twitter stream. “On top of respiratory issues, there’s been evidence of kidney, intestinal, and liver damage, as well as neurological malfunctions, blood clots & strokes.”

Referencing several research results, the lefthanded relief pitcher cited coronavirus patients’ vulnerability to scarring in their lungs, “found even in asymptomatic patients, and because the virus often affects both lungs, can cause permanent damage in some cases. Definitely a concern for an athlete.”

It’s also a concern, and Doolittle knows it, for those who work in close enough proximity, including clubhouse personnel, press personnel, team staffers, and stadium workers. Baseball as a game may work in a kind of social distancing on the field, if you don’t count the three-man cluster of batter, catcher, and umpire at the plate, but off the field in the dugout, the clubhouse, and the ballpark is something else.

Even if the Show returns come July with no fans in the stands to begin, it isn’t going to be simple. “We know that sharing indoor spaces greatly increases the infection risk,” Doolittle continued, “and it’s rare that only 1 person gets sick. Will there be modifications made to clubhouses or other facilities to prevent a spread?” Indeed.

“Even if maybe guys don’t realize it right now, it’s our job and MLB’s job to make sure all those concerns are taken care of,” says Cardinals relief pitcher Andrew Miller, who’s a member of one of the player’s association’s executive sub-committees. “Health and safety of our players and our staff is first and foremost before we can even think about getting games off the ground and the logistics of all that.”

Baseball players might not be in close contact during a game the way football players are,” Doolittle tweeted, referencing the prospects for an NFL season this fall, “but there is a lot of shared space in a clubhouse among players, coaches and staff.”

That’s one reason why it isn’t going to be as simplistic as just keeping the owners from using baseball’s measured return to try suppressing players’ pay, considering the question to be answered as to whether the players will play for a 50-50 revenue split or for the contracted-for pro-rated 2020 salaries to which they agreed in March.

“The risk of exposure to the virus is one reason players are adamant about not accepting a further reduction in pay,” Rosenthal writes. “They agreed in March to pro-rate their salaries in a shortened season, but the league will seek additional concessions, sources said, because the games, at least initially, will be played without paying customers.”

Doolittle also pondered, not unreasonably, whether baseball could or would consider additional health care benefits for players and staffers “extend[ing] beyond their employment and into retirement to mitigate the unknown risks of putting on a baseball season during a pandemic?”

We don’t have a vaccine yet, and we don’t really have any effective anti-viral treatments. What happens if there is a second wave? Hopefully we can come up with BOTH a proactive health plan focused on prevention AND a reactive plan aimed at containment.

Doolittle and other players hope any plan to bring the Show back considers plans to acquire enough real coronavirus tests “ethically,” and the best, most feasible protocols if any player, staffer, or ballpark worker contracts the virus.

The owners and the players union have that to think about as well, even if they also have to ponder concurrent issues. For the players, they know the longevity of given careers isn’t guaranteed. For the owners, whose longevity is far more assured, there’s the risk that the national economy’s eventual recovery doesn’t happen before they’re forced to furloughs, firings, and bankruptcies.

“We want to play,” Doolittle concluded. “And we want everyone to stay safe.”

Not once in his Twitter exegesis did Doolittle talk about money. The cynic might reply that that was easy for him not to say, since his full 2020 salary would have been $6.5 million and his pro-rated nut wouldn’t exactly be pocket money. Hearing comparable health and safety concern from more players such as Doolittle and Miller would go plenty far enough.

Before this week’s return proposal, earlier ideas that meant complete player isolation put several players on edge for having to go to the serious work of play without their families. A normal baseball season provides separation enough. A season played in near-isolation with out-of-the-ordinary health and isolation issues is tricky above and beyond the safety concern.

Mike Trout and his wife, who’ve been donating quite liberally to front-liners in the region of his native southern New Jersey (including donating food), await the birth of their first son in August. He’d rather hit the deck after taking a hit off the helmet from a headhunting pitcher than be absent when Baby Trout premieres.

Clayton Kershaw, whose third child (and second son) was born three months ago, and who raised money (and matched it dollar-for-dollar out of his own deep pocket) for a Los Angeles group serving 13,000 meals a day during the pandemic, has suggested the balance between playing baseball safely and being isolated from their families didn’t exactly thrill himself or his fellow players.

Still, it’s always reassuring to know that there are those who actually play the game, who understand that, for all the dollars they earn to play it, the common good of the game isn’t always the same thing as just making money for it or dividing the spoils from it.

They also know a coronavirus-exhausted country needs what they do. Colorado Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon doesn’t want to be ill, doesn’t want people making each other ill, but wants a way for the game to return for those who love it and those who depend on it for their living.

“But bigger than that,” Blackmon said in a Monday radio interview, “this country needs baseball.” This country, and baseball itself, also needs to have it done right.

The Show’s coming back?

2020-05-11 CodyBellinger

Where have you gone, Cody Bellinger—and Mike Trout, Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, Aaron Judge, Mookie Betts, Ronald Acuna, Jr., Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, and Christian Yelich? A nation turns its quarantined eyes to you . . . but . . .

Baseball, the sport that more or less invented social distancing (if you don’t count the batter, the catcher, and the home plate umpire in a close enough cluster), is about to return to America, so it is said. At least the Show will. This brings good news, bad news, and very bad news.

The good news is, the proposed July return acknowledges a nation in dire need of respite from the coronavirus’s toll in human life and human mischief and exhausted of asking, “Where have you gone, Cody Bellinger—and Mike Trout, Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, Aaron Judge, Mookie Betts, Ronald Acuna, Jr., Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, and Christian Yelich? A nation turns its quarantined eyes to you.”

The bad news is, there’ll have to come bristling debate on part of the proposal: will the players get only their cuts of a half-and-half league revenue split, or will they get their normal if prorated-for-time 2020 salaries?

The very bad news is that slightly more than half season to come may leave room for some of Commissioner Rob Manfred’s mischief. The proposal approved by major league owners and submitted to the Major League Baseball Players’ Association includes that the postseason will begin with fourteen teams, courtesy of two more wild cards each in the American and National Leagues.

Manfred has only sought such a postseason expansion for almost as long as he’s been Bud Selig’s successor, of course. Bad enough that some of his thoughts about redressing play-of-game issues have run the gamut from nonsense to more nonsense. Worse is that he has no apparent thought that play-of-postseason requires even more serious redress.

Even if the proposed structure for this year is one time only, well, we’ve heard it before when baseball’s governors tried things once—and let them linger regardless of their wisdom or enhancement of the game.

The postseason is already long enough. And we’ve suffered long enough, too, the thrills and chills of teams fighting down the stretch to the very last breath to determine who’s going to finish . . . in second place.

The original wild card advent legitimised the second place finisher as a championship contender, which was bad enough, and removed the time-honoured incentive of the first place finish as the sole legitimate entree into postseason play. Manfred appears to be witless to comprehend it even as he further exposes himself a man to whom the common good of the game equals little more than making money for it.

You guessed it: here I go yet again. But a three-division league giving a round one bye to the division winner with the best record of the three, while the other two slug it out in a best-of-three division series, with that winner playing the bye team in a best-of-five League Championship Series, would a) produce far more of a genuine league champion and b) far fewer viewers turning off or avoiding television sets or radios on the road to the best-of-seven World Series.

All that said, there are a couple of things to come in the short 2020 season that Manfred, the owners, and the players alike would be wise to make permanent. Rosters are proposed to expand from 26 to 30. Sound as a nut. Make it permanent.

The designated hitter will come to the National League for the short 2020. Good. Make it even more permanent. Pitchers batted for a .128/.159/.163 slash line in 2019. That is unacceptable production no matter what you think of “tradition,” and baseball history is nothing if not full enough with traditions that deserved to be and were killed. OK, you asked for it: Thomas Boswell’s wisdom, one more time . . .

It’s fun to see Max Scherzer slap a single to right and run it out like he thinks he’s Ty Cobb. But I’ll sacrifice that pleasure to get rid of the thousands of rallies I’ve seen killed when an inning ends with one pitcher working around a competent No. 8 hitter so he can then strike out the other pitcher. When you get in a jam in the AL, you must pitch your way out of it, not ‘pitch around’ your way out of it.

As a result, some weaker pitchers survive in the NL. But survival-of-the-unfittest isn’t good for the evolution of a league. Over time, high-quality hitters migrate to the AL, where they can have longer, richer careers by finishing as a DH. That is the main reason the AL has dominated interleague play in this century.

Depending upon the team’s up-and-down lineup possibilities, I’d far rather have what amounts to an extra leadoff hitter or cleanup hitter in that spot than a gang of spaghetti bats who might maybe hit one to the back of the yard as often as Halley’s Comet shows up. Assuming they don’t get injured swinging or running the bases and taken out of action when you need their arms the most.

I don’t want Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Jack Flaherty, Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Josh Hader, Noah Syndergaard (when he returns), or Jon Lester wasting time at the plate no matter how many home runs they’ve hit once in a blue moon. I want them strictly on the mound missing bats or luring outs. That’s why they’re paid what they’re paid.

Beyond that? I’m not going to complain about the possible electronic strike zone, I want the balls and strikes called right, too, which means by the rule book and not according to Angel Hernandez’s mood on a particular afternoon or evening.

But I’m going to complain that Manfred and company continue underrating and underdiscussing umpire accountability, which still seems not to exist much if at all. More’s the pity. When the Korean Baseball Organisation sends an entire ump crew to the country’s minors for re-training after a few too many complaints about a few too many individual strike zones, the American Show needs to pay attention. And the Hernandezes, Joe Wests, and C.B. Bucknors ought to be made to watch their behinds.

MLB’s return will mean empty stadiums to begin with gradual re-openings, not to mention one-time mixed-league divisions based on geography to a great extent and special considerations for keeping players, coaches, managers, umpires, and grounds crews safe. It may sound like a pain in the sliding pants, but it may also beat the living hell out of the alternative, which we’ve had restlessly enough for over a month and counting.

And, like anything else, desperate times call for desperate or at least temporarily ameliorative measures. The only thing we have to fear is that the least appealing of them might become permanent and the most appealing and truly necessary among them might become memories after the season ends.

Grapefruit vs. Cactus, regular season?

CoronavirusRedImagine there’s no National League or American League, for one season, at least. Imagine, instead, there’s a Cactus League and a Grapefruit League, for just one season. If you take the word of USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale, it could happen this year when baseball’s able to return. If it’s able to return this year.

For just one season I’d be all in. Thanks to a combination of a pestiferous viral pandemic and assorted and sundry responses running the line from ignorant to delayed to scrambling and back, it’ll be a short baseball season if the game can come back. A short season is better than no season.

Nightengale says the Cactus/Grapefruit realignment is just one idea being tossed around the horn for when the stay-at-home/social-distancing orders are lifted. But it’s not a terrible idea at all. That’s the alignment we get watching the spring exhibitions, so it isn’t exactly as though we’d be thrown into the Twilight Zone now.

“The plan would have all 30 teams returning to their spring training sites in Florida and Arizona, playing regular-season games only in those two states and without fans in an effort to reduce travel and minimize risks in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Nightengale writes. “The divisions would be realigned based on the geography of their spring training homes.”

Under this plan, Nightengale continues, both the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues would be arranged in three divisions each: North, South, and East for the Florida-based Grapefruit League and Northeast, West, and Northwest for the Arizona-based Cactus League.

And how would the teams be arrayed within those divisions? Nightengale has your answer, too:

Grapefruit League: North—New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Toronto Blue Jays, Detroit Tigers, Pittsburgh Pirates. South—Boston Red Sox, Minnesota Twins, Atlanta Braves, Tampa Bay Rays, Baltimore Orioles. East—Washington Nationals, Houston Astros, New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals, Miami Marlins.

Cactus League: Northeast—Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants, Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Oakland Athletics. West—Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Angels. Northwest—Milwaukee Brewers, San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, Kansas City Royals.

OK, the bad news is that the Cactus League would have fewer logistical and distance problems, since the Arizona spring camps are separated by no more than an hour’s drive apiece. The spread in Florida is a lot wider, which Nightengale notes might compel a few tricky maneuvers in the event any team personnel might need to be isolated.

A few traditional rivalries would get temporary short shrift to a certain extent, too. It’ll take a little getting used-to picturing the Yankees and the Red Sox in different divisions, not to mention the Dodgers and the Giants or the Cubs and the Cardinals likewise, with the Cubs and the Cardinals in different leagues in the bargain.

On the other hand, several in-state rivalries remain intact, such as they are. The Reds and the Indians for the honour of Ohio. The Phillies and the Pirates, for Pennsylvania power, never mind how lopsided it now is in the Phillies’ favour. The Dodgers and the Angels for bragging rights to Interstate 5 traffic jams.

How delicious would it be, also, to see even a temporary seasonal rivalry between last year’s World Series combatants—each of whom behaved rudely enough in the other’s house, one of whom won it all in the other’s house, with the winner also out-smarting the other’s flair for espionage even before the other’s exposure as electronic, off-field-based cheaters?

You say it’s theoretically possible that the World Series comes down to the Cardinals vs. the Cubs? Since the Grapefruit/Cactus alignment would keep them apart on what comes of the regular season, how surrealistically bristling would it be to see those two traditional division rivals otherwise in a hammer-and-tongs, few-holds-barred feud for a lease to the Promised Land?

Even if they can’t play the games in St. Louis or Chicago, oh boy will Cardinal and Cub fans go nutsh@t over that.

If there’s one thing baseball’s great for, it’s stirring the imagination. Now we could have one of the greatest imagination stirrers in recorded baseball history. And all it took was a nasty little virus out of a Chinese province that resembles a ball spiked with (depending on the developed image) rubber darts or red broccoli florets to do it.

Except that there are still a few problems. The players themselves would be far less than thrilled to be isolated into playing games strictly in one or the other region. Especially those who happen to be expectant fathers with their anticipated offspring due during the season and their wives expecting them to be there for the deliveries.

No matter how much money they’re paid to play, you can’t blame them for not wishing to be isolated even further from the families away from whom they spend enough time during a normal regular season.

Not to mention that, no matter how often some fans in the stands are bothersome nitwits (reality check: a few such fans are too many, and they’re there, they always have been there), enough players admit it’s just not the same playing in empty ballparks—which could still happen, depending on the extent to which the social distancing orders get lifted.

This much we know: Forget the dollars at stake, they want to play. Bears gotta bear, bees gotta bee, and baseball players gotta baseball. They’ll consider any and just about all alternatives if it means playing ball with the least amount of family encumbrance.

“When you’re trying to get really creative, why say no now?’’ says Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa—who now works as a senior advisor for Angels baseball operations, and whom Nightengale says was told of the possible Grapefruit/Cactus plan.

“So you have a unique season. I’ve got no problem with that,” La Russa continued. “I’m not sure we’ll be able play in our own cities across the country, so if you split it up like that, it’s a possibility.”

How would they play, then? Nightengale says each league would play twelve games each within their new temporary divisions, six apiece against other teams in the league, at least one doubleheader a night when all the teams are on the schedule because of the fifteen-team leagues.

And, everyone plays with a designated hitter.

Oh, you can hear it now. The “traditionalists” snarling and foaming over further polluting the game. Making those poor National League teams now in temporary league with those sissy American League teams take it like a manperson.

Never mind that last year the National League’s pitchers batted a whopping .133 overall or that all Show pitchers batted a lethal .100 overall. You want to keep wasting a lineup spot on that? Instead of your team putting what amounts to an extra cleanup hitter or an extra leadoff-type hitter in the spot? Instead of having a fifty percent or better shot at putting more runs on the board?

I was in the anti-DH camp for a long enough time. For life, actually. And for the same reason—“tradition.” I don’t dismiss tradition lightly, but there are traditions worth keeping and traditions worth dumping. Baseball’s dumped a few traditions best left to the scrap heap, too. Remember how long it was “traditional” to bar non-white players from “organised” baseball? Or to play strictly day ball?

Sure, it’s a blast (pun intended) when a pitcher hits one into the seats—once in the proverbial blue moon, but it’s just a little self-defeating to sustain some cockeyed idea of “tradition” when you might be adding a little more real run creation/production. “It’s fun to see Max Scherzer slap a single to right field and run it out like he thinks he’s Ty Cobb,” the incomparable Thomas Boswell wrote last year.

But I’ll sacrifice that pleasure to get rid of the thousands of rallies I’ve seen killed when an inning ends with one pitcher working around a competent No. 8 hitter so he can then strike out the other pitcher. When you get in a jam in the AL, you must pitch your way out of it, not ‘pitch around’ your way out of it.

As a result, some weaker pitchers survive in the NL. But survival-of-the-unfittest isn’t good for the evolution of a league. Over time, high-quality hitters migrate to the AL, where they can have longer, richer careers by finishing as a DH. That is the main reason the AL has dominated interleague play in this century.

By the way, the blow that arguably did the most to put the last World Series into the Nationals’ bank? After the same Max Scherzer pitched on less than fumes and somehow managed to keep things no worse than a 2-0 Nats deficit through five innings?

That would be Howie Kendrick, turning on a Will Harris cutter arriving off the middle of the plate, sending it off the Minute Maid Park right field foul pole with a bonk! “It doesn’t add up,” said Astros shortstop Carlos Correa when it was over. “The way [Harris] throws his cutter, it’s one of the nastiest cutters in the game. Down and away, on the black, and [Kendrick] hits it off the foul pole.”

Kendrick was the Nats’ DH on the evening. Do you still want to argue against it sticking around after the coronaball season when baseball goes back to normal next year?

Great misfortune meaning unforeseen baseball reward?

2020-04-07 ChaseFieldIn a 1930 collection of brief essays, The Book of Journeyman, Albert Jay Nock—once upon a time a semi-professional baseball player himself—included a piece called “Decline and Fall.” He began by disclosing a New England college trustee revealing golf becoming more popular than baseball on campus since baseball’s “over-commercialisation” now impressed students as lacking golf’s class.

Accepting all that, Nock saw “one merit” in that shift of view, writing that golf “is no game to watch—one must play it oneself to get anything out of it.” Funny, but that’s what a lot of people who don’t like to watch baseball say about baseball, even as the fact that so many people have loved watching baseball’s “great spectacle made its commercialisation possible.”

There is some commercialisation of football and tennis, but it will never go any distance as it has in baseball; and golf, I think, will always remain a player’s game. How odd it would be, though, if a generation should grow up which knew not baseball! America would no longer seem like America.

Nock couldn’t have foreseen the future popularity of football, or future baseball administrators becoming as inept as they’ve been in preserving and enhancing the game’s popular value. But neither could he know a day would come when a viral pandemic, whose advent and arrival was bungled worse than any commissioner bungled baseball’s standing, would bring baseball to a halt indeed.

The meme cliche is now weeks old in which you can remember just how profoundly Joni Mitchell’s ancient lyric fits baseball this minute: “Don’t it always seem to go/that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” The winter of malcontent over Astrogate melted uneasily enough into spring before the coronavirus’s surge forced American sports to suspend themselves. Baseball’s absence has made more than a few of the restless more so.

Now comes word of a plan of sorts to bring the major league game back  “as early as May,” as ESPN’s Jeff Passan phrases his report, with the apparent blessing of “high-ranking federal public health officials” he says believe baseball can return safely—in Arizona alone, and with nobody in the stands to root-root-root for the home team or otherwise.

The plan, sources said, would dictate that all 30 teams play games at stadiums with no fans in the Phoenix area, including the Arizona Diamondbacks’s Chase Field, 10 spring training facilities and perhaps other nearby fields. Players, coaching staffs and other essential personnel would be sequestered at local hotels, where they would live in relative isolation and travel only to and from the stadium, sources said. Federal officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the National Institutes of Health have been supportive of a plan that would adhere to strict isolation, promote social distancing and allow MLB to become the first professional sport to return.

There was indeed talk of playing to empty houses by design before baseball and other sports suspended over the coronarivus. Baseball has a precedent, of course, thanks to the 2015 riots that battered Baltimore, a surreal game between the Orioles and the White Sox for which Camden Yards was closed to the public and both teams (the Orioles won, 8-2) felt as though they were playing in the Twilight Zone.

But this isn’t the immediate aftermath of a city-breaking riot provoked by the combustibility of police malfeasance and looters using the very real outrage over Freddie Gray’s death in police custody as beards for their destruction. This is baseball and the world at large trying to overcome one of recorded history’s worst pandemics while trying to find its way back to a semblance of normalcy.

It’s bad enough that governments and leaders seize upon the virus as a beard for their impulses toward bringing their subjects further under control than they’ve craved without such pandemics. It might be just as bad if industries feeling the impact of the shutdowns reach for desperate ploys upon their returns, whenever those returns may be.

Aside from the logistics Passan discusses in fine detail, neither baseball’s government nor the Major League Baseball Players Association has agreed to any plan under which the game might return for even a portion of 2020. This was baseball government’s formal statement:

MLB has been actively considering numerous contingency plans that would allow play to commence once the public health situation has improved to the point that it is safe to do so. While we have discussed the idea of staging games at one location as one potential option, we have not settled on that option or developed a detailed plan. While we continue to interact regularly with governmental and public health officials, we have not sought or received approval of any plan from federal, state and local officials, or the Players Association.

The health and safety of our employees, players, fans and the public at large are paramount, and we are not ready at this time to endorse any particular format for staging games in light of the rapidly changing public health situation caused by the coronavirus.

It’s not just a “format for staging games” they have to consider. They’ll have to consider suspending baseball’s already ridiculous broadcast blackout rules. If you think there are fans restless without baseball at all now, just imagine how ornery they’ll become if they can’t watch any single-state-located games.

They’ll also have to consider ways to make a pennant race and a postseason feasible off a circumstantially shortened season. And there have been times past when seasons disrupted turned into the game outsmarting itself. (The 1981 strike, the split season, and the first divisional-series postseason, anyone? Where the two best teams in each National League division didn’t even make the postseason cut?)

There’s talk that includes the possibility of playing seven-innings-a-game doubleheaders, the better to get as close to a full season as possible. Never mind that a key reason why the doubleheader faded away was owners exhausted of losing gates (doubleheaders traditionally charged a single admission to both games) and players not named Ernie (It’s a beautiful day, let’s play two!) Banks exhausted of being exhausted from playing them.

Try this one on if you like. Suspend the wild cards. Especially if it becomes possible to play baseball in its usual venues, not just in Arizona, draw a schedule that enables each league’s teams to play each other in season series twice. Schedule limited interleague play, as contingent upon local or regional reach as feasible. (This could prove problematic for the Braves, but it’s time for baseball’s brain trusts to use, well, their brains.) Assuming baseball can return in June, all this could make a 100-game schedule workable.

Now, just this once, seize the moment. Streamline the postseason at long enough last. Give the division winner with the best season’s record a round-one bye and let the other two winners play a best-of-three division series. Let those winners meet the bye teams in a best-of-five League Championship Series. And let the World Series remain the prime and the only  best-of-seven.

You guessed it: I’m sort of (ho ho ho) sneaking in a proposal I’ve long advocated on behalf of de-saturating postseason baseball and making pennant races mean something once again. Aren’t you finally tired of all the stretch drive thrills watching teams fight to the last breath to finish . . . in second place?

(It’ll also address an alarm raised by Clayton Kershaw and others. Who really wants the World Series played near Christmas in “neutral” territory? Jingle ball all the way? Who wants to kill the fun of the combatants playing before their home crowds when scheduled?)

Whether baseball can return in May or even June, this would be the ideal condition in which to try it out. If you think the broadcast ratings might take a jump when the season gets underway at all, think of what’ll happen to them when they’re not drowning in postseason excess. Would it be so terrible if that, too, inspires baseball to restore proper championship competition for non-pandemic seasons to come?

This might also be a time for baseball’s government to re-consider the already execrable plan to contract the minor leagues. If you think the Show’s going to make the nation feel loved again upon its return, just imagine what the minors will do for the hamlets, towns, villages, and smaller cities where they play. Remind yourself while you’re at it that that execrable plan is another reason to believe baseball’s better off without Jeff Luhnow, the Astrogate-deposed general manager whose brainchild the minor league contraction was in the first place.

This much we can guess: Baseball’s return is going to be the biggest morale boost this nation has seen since the game was able to return after the respite imposed by the horror of 9/11. Even those to whom baseball is no great shake will feel comfort that somehow, somewhere, there’s a ball game being played.

You might think it either silly or salacious to lean upon even a fictitious Mafia don for comfort, if not wisdom. But in The Godfather (the novel, not the film) Don Vito Corleone mused how true it was that great misfortune often led to unforeseen reward. Baseball has a couple of great chances now to prove how right that is.