At 7:00 PM EDT tomorrow, MLB will do what it normally does in the early Spring. The MLB regular season will begin with a game between the Yankees and the Nationals here in DC. The composite schedule calls for a total of 900 games to be played between tomorrow and September 27th; as much as those games will represent competition between the two teams on the same field, the progress of the season itself represents a competition between MLB and COVID-19. MLB will not try to be “Bubble Sport”; it will play its games in each team’s home stadium – save for the Blue Jays who cannot travel back and forth to Canada under current travel restrictions. The most noticeable concession MLB has made to COVID-19 to date is that there will be no fans in the stands.
[Aside: The NFL plans to follow a similar scheduling/playing mode starting in September. I would think that NFL officials will be watching what happens and how MLB reacts to whatever happens over the next 6 weeks. There could be some lessons to be learned…]
At the start of this abbreviated MLB season, rosters will be expanded to 30 players for the first two weeks; then teams will have to cut down to 28 players for two more weeks and ultimately finish the season with a 26-man roster. This modification is based on the idea that players had a vastly different version of “Spring Training” this year and the expanded rosters will allow teams/players to ease into the grind of regular games. [Aside: The season is 60 games long played in a stretch of 65 days. There are not a lot of “days off”.] However, expanded rosters might affect the conduct of the games themselves – especially for “creative managers”.
Last year, lots of teams carried 13 pitchers on a 25-man roster. That meant the manager had 4 position players on the bench with one of those players being the “emergency catcher”. That situation did not leave a lot of room for “maneuvering”; pinch runners became an endangered species. With rosters expanded, those sorts of things could make a comeback in 2020 – – so long as teams choose not to carry 17 or 18 pitchers.
And that is an alteration to “normal baseball” we might see in 2020. With even more pitching arms on the bench and in the bullpen, we might see a parade of relief pitchers even in early innings and starters rarely going longer than 5 innings. If the relievers happen between innings, that should not be a big deal – save for fantasy league managers – but if they happen during innings, it will slow the game down significantly. No one needs that to happen.
The presence of the DH in the all games this year is not something I look forward to, but it is going to happen, so I need to get used to it. I think that rule is a boon to the Chicago Cubs who will be able to use Kyle Schwarber as their DH on days when he is not in the field. Getting him into games where he need not wear a glove is a plus.
To the fan tuning in to games on TV, they should expect changes – and not all of them will be positive ones. National telecasts are going to have “piped in crowd noise”. Supporters of this “innovation” say it adds to the ambience of the game and that it is really no different that what baseball did back in the early days of radio with its “reconstructed games”. Personally, I do not think it adds to the ambience; it certainly does not add to it in English Premier League telecasts that I have watched. Moreover, there is a fundamental difference between listening to a game on the radio and watching it on TV.
- On radio, the entire experience is an imaginary one constructed in the mind of the listener.
- On TV, anyone with eyesight better than Stevie Wonder will be able to figure out that the “absent fans” in the stadium are not making that noise (s)he is hearing.
There is an even more pernicious possibility open to TV producers for games this season. In any 3-hour telecast of baseball game, tens of minutes are devoted to “crowd shots” notwithstanding the fact that 99% of the crowd shots are of no known value. What will those creative producers do this year with no fans to show? Well, every network has a ton of crowd shots in their “video vaults”. Would you put it past those producers to dip into those annals as a way to “spice things up” and “keep things going” during games this year? I hope they do not succumb to this temptation – -but I am not sure…
Forget all the possible ways that the MLB season or the telecasts of its games might fly headlong into a cliff face; the season is going to start tomorrow and here is proof positive that it is going to happen. On CBSSports.com this morning, there is a story under this headline:
- 20 Bold Predictions for MLB season
Most of the time, “Bold Prediction” equates to “Wild Guess” or “Statistical Oddity” from the past that is projected onto the present. If you are interested in such stuff you can find it here. I thought a couple of the “Bold Predictions” were interesting:
- The baseball will be even more juiced in 2020 than it was in 2019.
- Khris Davis will hit .247 in 2020. [He hit .247 in three of the past four years.]
- Shohei Otani will be the Angels’ best player.
- Kris Bryant will be traded – – to the Phillies
- Both World Series teams from last year will miss the playoffs in 2020
- The Dodgers will win the 2020 World Series.
Finally, Brewers’ first baseman, Logan Morrison, had this response to a question about what it would be like to play games in empty stadiums:
“It’s not going to be that difficult. I played with the Rays and Marlins.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………