So, it’s “Play Ball” after all.
Months of back-and-forth dickering, threatening, and I guess negotiating, has resulted in Major League Baseball winding up essentially where it started back on March 26 after the coronavirus had shut spring training down and put the 2020 regular season in a state of limbo.
We all hoped “The Grand Old Game” would find a way to knock the coronavirus out of the box and send it to the showers. Instead, we watched anxiously and then angrily as COVID-19 was in complete control. It had a no-hitter going into the bottom of the ninth inning, much the way Tom Seaver of the Mets had the Chicago Cubs’ bats rendered impotent back in 1969 until Jimmy Qualls came through with one out to break up his no-no bid.
This time, it’s Rob Manfred in the role of Jimmy Qualls, who was a career .223 hitter playing three seasons in the majors. The way Manfred’s tenure as commissioner of Major League Baseball has gone to date, this may turn out to be the highlight of his career.
Someone recently did a personal poll on social media of who was the best commissioner in North American sports. To no one’s surprise, the NBA’s Adam Silver was at the top of the list.
Normally, one might think Gary Bettman of the NHL would be at the bottom, maybe Don Garber of Major League Soccer. Guess again. We have a new leader in the outhouse.
His name? Manfred.
Instead of working in partnership with the Players Association against COVID-19, Manfred tried to be heavy-handed, inflexible and insensitive. At least he appeared to come across that way.
And it couldn’t come at a worse time. The coronavirus, in case you haven’t noticed, hasn’t disappeared. Americans continue to die by the hundreds and get infected by the thousands every day. While businesses reopen and people venture out, many are leery of doing so. Being able to watch a baseball game on TV in your living room would be a wonderful way of spending three hours. And if you could place a wager on the outcome, so much the better.
Finally, it appears you’ll be able to do both. Bettors wagered over $1 billion in Nevada on baseball in 2019. For the state’s sportsbooks, which are desperately trying to hang on until the NFL kicks off, this is welcome news.
Sixty games is approximately what a college baseball team which makes a good run to the College World Series plays. For MLB teams, it’s a little more than a third of what they’re used to.
Still, I wouldn’t be throwing any parades. The Fourth of July weekend is rapidly approaching. I’m guessing many communities will hold fireworks displays that evening. You’ll probably be able to watch Joey Chestnut stuff 70-some hot dogs in his face at Nathan’s in Coney Island.
As for Fourth of July baseball? You’ll be resigned to watching a Korean League game at 2 a.m. featuring the Doosan Bears. No Yankees. No Red Sox. No Dodgers. Not even the Marlins. Not yet, anyway.
And for that, we can thank Manfred, with a helping hand from Tony Clark, who heads up the MLB Players Association. Playing 60 games? Half the teams get into the “postseason?” Paying the players 70 percent of their salaries, then trying to cut it further, then relenting and restoring them to full pay? Changing the rules of the game so it looks more like Little League than Major League?
Nice job, fellas.
And just because they’re coming back, it doesn’t mean it will happen. We’re seeing outbreaks of COVID-19 all over the country and let’s not forget MLB shut down all 30 of its training camps last week after members of the Phillies, Blue Jays and Yankees all tested positive. What if we see more players and team members test positive? Baseball, unlike basketball and hockey, is not putting everyone in a self-contained bubble environment. You can bet we’re going to see players test positive in the weeks and months.
The NHL and NBA have seen the coronavirus penetrate their leagues and players are starting to have second thoughts whether it’s wise to resume their seasons. I think hockey and basketball will pick things up late next month in the “bubble” environments as planned, but it’s going to be under a cloud of trepidation. Baseball will be no different.
These are not mom-and-pop businesses we’re talking about. Professional sports are multi-billion dollar operations. Everything has to be collectively bargained down to the most minute detail. It’s a laborious process and often a painful one.
Yes, it’s complicated. There are obviously a lot of moving parts to all of this. And that’s where Clark has to assume some of the blame. He and the players have a vested interest in all of this. Where were his reasonable solutions during this time?
I’ll give him this. At least by asking for a 114-game schedule, he proposed something which resembled a real baseball season. Of course, that would have meant additional financial strife for the owners and they weren’t having any of that.
So here we are. It’s summer. It’s triple-digit hot. We remain in the throes of the worst pandemic in over a century. The nation is struggling with social unrest in an election year. But it appears we’re going to have baseball after all. I look forward to seeing the daily second-guessing on Twitter of managers handling their pitching staffs. I guess that’s when I’ll know things are truly normal again in the world.