MLB and its players finally came to an agreement this afternoon, ending one of the more tedious and frustrating processes in modern sports history.
Everything about negotiations and reports on getting baseball back on the field has been ruthlessly annoying. Mostly, it’s been the transparently ghoulish tactics from the owners, or it’s been the various media unable to see those tactics, or the simple repetitiveness of it all. Threading through all of that is the fact that much of the time everyone has acted like there isn’t a pandemic still very much going on, or that said pandemic will still be very much going on whenever baseball is played, and that this season has barely a 50-50 chance of either starting or finishing.
Still, players will report to their home parks on July 1 to begin a second spring training, or summer training as it is. Except the Blue Jays. No one’s sure exactly what they’ll do. But hey, it’s only the Blue Jays. They don’t matter. On July 24th, Opening Day will kick off a 60-game sprint/stumble/car crash before the regularly structured playoffs. Teams will only play other teams in their division and the corresponding one in the other league (East vs. East, Central vs. Central, etc.) to restrict travel. What exactly the health protocols will be are coming out, though the first few leaks aren’t exactly encouraging, while some are what we heard originally back in the spring.
What these discussions have also brought, behind the main arguments but no less vitriolic, has been the reaction of the Keepers Of The Baseball Flame setting themselves on fire every time a leak about what rules changes might accompany this “MLB Cup-In-A-Can.” Those fireworks you’re hearing every night is yet another baseball wonk’s limbs popping off their bodies at the mere thought of a universal DH or ties after 12 innings (just kidding, it’s really cops setting them off and engaging all of us in actual psychological warfare).
The thing is, even if this what-have-ya takes place in full, it’s not a MLB season. It’s fluff. It’s purely TV entertainment. The normal rhythm of a season is gone. The way it functions will decidedly change by nature. It’s an excuse, and a weak one at that, to cash some TV money. It’s not real. Which is fine...or it would be if it weren’t likely or even possible to result in the death of someone. And make no mistake, one is too many and unnecessary.
But if we somehow can shove all that to the side if even for a second, most things you associate or love about a baseball season are not going to matter in this. Statistics, long the pivot point for all baseball discussion, are going to be just about meaningless. Some jamoke is going to have an OPS of 1.100. A genuine star is going to have an OBP of .310. A collection of Megadeth t-shirts will put up a 1.24 ERA, while Clayton Kershaw runs one over 4.00 simply because of two starts. In fact, all starting pitchers’ numbers will look weird, because most of them will barely get 10 starts.
And that’s if managers use the traditional model of pitching, which they most certainly won’t. The whole idea of a starting pitcher might go out the window with taxi squads and endless bullpens. Even with a normal bullpen, every game must be treated like the last and only, so letting a starter go five or six innings unless they’re one of the top tier starters is probably out the window. “Openers” will be far more common. A brave team would just rotate through four pitchers every three days and have them throw two or three innings each.
Which makes the blood-letting over the universal DH in this thing even more stupid. We may be talking about one AB per game per team, at most. If it really bothers you that Max Scherzer won’t get a second plate-appearance in his nine starts this year, something is missing from your life. Maybe multiple things. Sit in your backyard and stare at clouds for a bit and see if you can’t find it.
So why not try everything? MLB will probably never get another experiment window like this. The minors has been the experiment space, which won’t happen this year. And though they’ve become lionized while under threat of late, and the mere concept of watching a baseball game on a hard bench in some podunk town where fine dining equals Big Boy has become romanticized, most people don’t see minor league games.
So put the universal DH in front of our eyes. Put a runner on second to start the 12th or 10th or whatever. Declare ties. Fuck, trot out robot umps for balls and strikes. Take the challenge system away and put a fifth ump in the pressbox with monitors and a radio. Make the ball orange. If you turn a double-play with two outs, have one out carry over to the next inning. Everything. Make the Cubs wear their all blue uniforms from the 70s every fourth day (this should be a permanent rule anyway).
None of this matters. It barely counts. You might as well Gazoo the whole thing, because there’s nothing to preserve.
I know the arguments. Once a universal DH is installed, or a runner is placed on second to start extras, they’ll never go back. It’ll be a permanent fixture. Maybe. But what that complaint is really about is the inflexibility of the game and those who administer it. Which is what they were all championing by keeping changes away. Or maybe it would stay in because we realize those changes didn’t actually cause society to Ragnarok. And honestly, we could probably use a Ragnarok anyway.
This is a free hit. It’s a ditch day. Let baseball put on its Hawaiian shirt and pour mustard all over itself (then again, baseball is always kind of in its Hawaiian shirt, but I digress). It doesn’t mean anything this time around. Whatever the opposite of “This Time It Counts” is, that’s what this season will be. Baseball has needed to find its freak flag for a while. Now it can fly.