Major League Baseball is tying itself in knots over the decision whether to have some kind of baseball season this year. So far this summer — and we’re more than two-thirds of the way through June, the third full month of the normal baseball season — we’ve had no games, and the baseball coverage has been all about fitful negotiations between the players and the owners.
It hasn’t exactly been a rewarding season for a baseball fan.
The current proposals don’t really resemble baseball as we know it. The players and owners are debating a season that will have somewhere between 50 and 70 games, whereas the normal season has 162 games. The owners apparently have withdrawn their proposal for expanded playoffs and also are offering a universal designated hitter for 2020 and 2021, which means National League fans won’t be able to watch pitchers at bat or the managerial strategery that flows from the fact that most pitchers can’t hit worth a lick. And all of the wrangling is happening against a backdrop of the country opening up after the coronavirus shutdowns, with some states experiencing increases in the numbers of cases and hospitalizations. Already there are stories about how some players are testing positive for COVID-19, and we can expect to see more of them. Ultimately, if the players and owners can’t negotiate their way out of a corner, baseball’s commissioner may have to unilaterally impose a dramatically shortened season — which some players could simply refuse to participate in.
It’s a mess, and it raises a fundamental question: should there be a baseball season at all this year? What’s the point of playing a truncated, gimmicky season that will amount to a small fraction of the normal season? On the other hand, can baseball afford not to play, when viewership and attendance have been declining for the past few years and the stench of the Houston Astros cheating scandal remains in the air? If there is no Major League Baseball this year, will the sport be able to recover in 2021?
I enjoy baseball and follow the Tribe, but I find I am not missing watching games or following the team this year. 2020 has been such a weird year already that not having baseball just seems like another, easily accepted feature of this masked and misbegotten period we are experiencing. We can expect that money will call the tune — it always does in professional sports — but if I were the Commissioner I’d just call the season off and plan for baseball’s return, for a real season, in 2021.
And by the way, there is still some baseball being played in 2020. My Facebook feed features pictures of little kids’ games. If you like summer baseball, there’s still a way to get your fix.