For weeks now I haven’t been able to write an editorial.
Well, that’s not quite true. It’s more that I’ve been hesitant to put to paper my thoughts on the MLB season.
To be perfectly honest, I have spent months being disappointed in one way after another by baseball. First it was the Taubman Incident, then the World Series loss, then the Cheating Scandal, then months of both national and social media burying the Astros, then the suspension of the season in Spring Training, followed by months of wrangling and fighting and arguing to finally get to a 60 game season, all of which is taking place as a national pandemic rages. After all of that I could only describe my energy heading into Opening Day as “low.”
I watched the talking heads and reporters, all of whom have a professional stake in a successful sport, dutifully hype the season. “Baseball is back!” they yelled. “Play Ball!” they exclaimed. I tried to tap into the feeling inside of me, to remember not being disappointed in baseball for one reason or another and found that I really couldn’t. It just didn’t feel the same with only 60 games and the possibility of imminent shutdown.
But then came Opening Day.
Well, Opening Day for the Yankees and Dodgers, not the smaller market teams, but you know what I mean. Meaningful baseball. Even if it was another team, the energy felt different. It felt like the regular season again. The familiar feelings of fandom began to awaken within me once more, and I began to actually be excited for the sport.
Finally, gloriously, the Astros played their first meaningful game and I felt all the way back. Even the fake crowd noise made me more comfortable, and suddenly the concerns of the real world were a little farther away. It helped that the team won its eighth consecutive Opening Day, of course, but at the end of the day it was baseball. And it helped me to forget the main reason that I hadn’t been excited.
Because before then I just didn’t think the season was going to last. It had always felt like a high risk situation that would become even riskier as time wore on. I gave it a month and then figured at a certain point a whole team would need to suspend operations. My opinion was that such a move would have a domino effect and before long the league would need to shut down.
Which came all too close on Sunday as reports emerged that the Marlins had a major coronavirus outbreak on their team. The team will now have to go on lock down in Philadelphia and cancel its home opener and the next two games against Baltimore as they await test results to determine if they can play. If everything is approved it looks as though they’ll head to Baltimore so we can play more coronaball. At the same time we’ll need to hold our breath that the Phillies don’t have their own little outbreak two weeks from now.
Of course, it isn’t really news that this would happen. Everyone knew how likely this was and were even making jokes about it last week. The fact that it only took a weekend is not surprising, nor is the league’s inept reaction to it. Baseball has decided that it will soldier on until at least a second team has a major outbreak and then we’ll reassess. Of course, that decision was probably helped by the fact that the team with the outbreak is the small-market Marlins and not, oh I dunno, the Yankees.
But even so, the fragility of the entire 2020 season is now on display for everyone to see thanks to the Marlins fiasco. This whole sorry episode should really be a wake up call to the league that the situation is not tenable so long as there are spiking hot spots in the country. I get wanting to play baseball considering that I very much want to watch baseball, but not at the risk of the health and well-being of players and their families.
On top of that, the system really only works if teams actually play games, and even then only just. You’ve already got people not taking this season seriously, but what’s the move if the Marlins can’t play for another week? What do we do if a second team has to quarantine? Are playoff teams decided on winning percentage where a team who won the best of 35 games gets in? How far can we possibly carry this season and how many fans will the game lose if it’s forced to shut down in two weeks? What if a playoff team gets sick in October? What if a World Series team does?
My point is not to play Debbie Downer here. I’m not trying to say that people in baseball will be dropping dead left and right. But you really can’t expect there to be no consequences from flying 30 teams around a country that is suffering from the worst pandemic in recent history. No matter what sort of safety protocols we try and follow, another team will get sick and maybe it’ll be one that MLB actually cares about next time.
And when that happens, or if a player is permanently injured as a result of infection, then the sacrifice is made at the altar of appearing like everything is normal when it isn’t. We seem to be living under the idea that the only way we can halt the season is if we come to a point where we have to. That is one principle that has the potential to be damaging far beyond 2020.
For the moment I’ll stick to my plan and watch the games for as long as I can, but they no longer meant what they did on Friday. I no longer have that cautious optimism that maybe this can work. No matter how you slice it, whatever the reasons for continuing playing are, the long term health of the players just isn’t worth the risk. Especially not for the product it looks like we’re headed towards. A product that will shed even more value when more players, or possibly a whole other team, are forced to sit due to an outbreak.
As much as I missed this sport, I do not want that to be the legacy of the 2020 MLB season.