Play Ball! Long-Awaited Season Opener First Pitch Coming Thursday

Jul 22, 2020

by Larry Greenfield

Viewers have had plenty of sports “quarantainment” to enjoy during the global coronavirus lockdown.

Some chose among a variety of documentaries streaming online, like Netflix’s "Formula One – Drive to Survive," or “Losers,” or Amazon Prime’s "Andy Murray" or "The Test," an eight - part docuseries following the Australian Cricket Team's journey back from the ignominy of a cheating scandal.

Millions tuned into ESPN’s excellent "Last Dance" documentary about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.

Less well admired was the 2020 ESPY's award show, which turned the annual celebration of excellence and tributes to courageous athletes
into an unrelenting display of political virtue - signaling that continues to mar the network's broadcasts.

Gamers have been busy on Twitch, and there’s been no shortage of nightly action like the computer-versus-computer simulations from the Electronic Arts game Fight Night Champion, or the televised Virtual Tour de France on NBCSN, or the Formula 1 Virtual Grand Prix and the eNascar IRacing Pro Invitation Series.

TV broadcasts have included gimmicks like the NBA 2K’s first ever "3-on-3” tournament and the Tom Brady + Phil Mickelson Charity Golf Match against Tiger Woods + Peyton Manning, which raised more than $20 million for COVID -19 related organizations.

Bettors focused on South Korean baseball, England’s Premier League Soccer, and UFC Fight Nights.

For many, though, it’s been an impatient wait for the arrival of Major League Baseball’s long - delayed 2020 Opening Day.

We made it, but only after America’s pastime failed timely to re-grab some of the market share it has been losing for years.

Baseball has struggled to attract younger viewers, and this was its chance to comfort anxious sports fans, take center stage, and dominate nightly sports coverage in June and July

Instead, as the Covid - 19 pandemic grew, MLB officials shut down Spring Training on March 12 and then took months before re - starting baseball.

It is a stunning blown save, and now baseball will quickly be joined on TV by the NBA, the NHL, and soon, other sports, including, hopefully, America’s passion, the NFL.

While the MLB league office properly conducted consultations with national health care experts, and federal, state and city political leaders,
the owners and the league’s players association fought an unnecessarily prolonged and petty public battle over how and where to play to assure the health and safety of players.

The real fight however, was over money, and it was ugly.  Again.

The owners are facing massive financial losses because games will be played without fan attendance and the revenue teams earn from ticket sales,
parking fees, and daily food and other concessions. That’s some 40% of annual income.

So, ownership sought an enlarged and extended 2020 playoff season to attract some additional television revenue.

The players felt they had already compromised on reduced salaries, during the lockdown, and they rejected an additional request by the team owners
to participate in the shortened season at further reduced salaries.

Finally, the parties agreed simply to short - change the fans with both a shortened 60 game season and no expansion of the existing 10 team playoff format (5 per league).

The good news is the 60 game season promises to be an intense chase for playoff spots.  Most players participated in the quick July summer camp and are healthy, though a few players chose not to participate this year at all.  Several players with pregnant wives or young families remain concerned at the continuing risk of contracting coronavirus.

To accommodate potential illness, when the season opens on July 23 / 24, teams will submit rosters of up to 30 players, with a minimum of 25.  Two weeks later, those rosters will be trimmed to 28, then to 26 two weeks after that. Once teams are limited to a 26 - man roster, they will be permitted to add a 27th player for doubleheaders.

Some other new rules for 2020 include:

— No Fans in the Stands : Players will try to social distance in the dugouts and there will be piped - in crowd noise to simulate a live game atmosphere.

— The Schedule : Teams will play more than half of their games intra - division, and the balance against teams geographically close, including intra - league, to reduce team travel.

— Universal Designated Hitter : The National League now joins the American League in having a DH for every regular season game.

— Runner on Second Base to begin Extra Innings : Every half-inning after the ninth will begin with a runner on second base.  If that runner scores, the pitcher won't be charged with an earned run.

— 3 Batter Rule : Pitchers must face three batters or finish a half inning;  they cannot be brought in to pitch to one or two batters.

—  There’s No Spitting in Baseball : Spitting will be prohibited, but chewing gum will still be allowed. Instead of pitchers licking their fingers to wet the ball, they may now carry a small wet rag to use for moisture.

These rules seem to favor National League teams with solid starting pitching as starters won’t have to pace themselves as much in a shortened season, and they can last longer in games as well, since they won’t get pulled as often for a pinch hitter due to the new DH.

Also, relief specialists who were best - suited to coming in to face just a tough left or right - handed batter will now have to show they can pitch a full inning to remain on the roster.

Here’s the consensus 30 Team Power Rankings to start the 2020 sprint:

Elite 8 : Dodgers, Yankees, Astros, Twins, Braves, Nationals, Rays, As

Playoff Hunters: White Sox, Cubs, Reds, Cards, Indians, Padres, Angels, Diamondbacks

Battling for Relevancy:  Blue Jays, Red Sox, Mets, Rangers, Phillies, Brewers, Pirates, Rockies

Wait 'Til Next Year:  Mariners, Giants, Marlins, Tigers, Royals, Orioles

Noteworthy, the Canadian government has booted the Toronto Blue Jays out of the Rogers Centre over Covid- 19 concerns, and so the team is considering a rotation of Pittsburgh’s PNC Park and Buffalo’s Sahlen Field to play their home games, which begin July 29, 2020.

This author’s pick to win it all, in 2020, is my favored Los Angeles Dodgers, who have had a most interesting off-season since losing a playoff Game 5 against last year’s eventual World Series Champion, the Washington Nationals.

The Dodgers learned that the Houston Astros cheated during the 2017 World Series, (and much more than that), which has upset all of baseball, but especially the Dodgers, who have not won the title since 1988 and lost to the Asterix* in a heart - breaking Game 7 that year.

Dodger brass spent $100 million on renovations at Dodger Stadium in anticipation of hosting the 2020 All - Star Game, but that event has now been postponed to 2022 in Los Angeles.

During the complex trade negotiations which netted the Dodgers Mookie Betts from the Boston Red Sox, they also almost gave away talented players Joc Pederson and Ross Stripling, plus a prospect, for no - name Angels infielder Luis Rengifo and a prospect, until the ego of Angels owner Arte Moreno rescued the Blue Crew’s brain trust and blew up the deal, due to his own impatience.

By the way, someone please let the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim know that their ridiculous team name literally means "The The Angels Angels of Anaheim,” which city is in the heart of Orange County, (!) not Los Angeles.  Mr. Moreno, that’s no bueno.

Anyway, the Dodgers have won 7 - straight NL West titles, and boast a roster so loaded with pitching that they have 8 potential starters (Kershaw, Buehler, Urias, Wood, Stripling, May, Gonsolin, & Ferguson), even after they “lost” an entire starting staff in Ryu, Maeda, Hill, Price, (newly signed but refuses to play) and Nelson, (newly signed but lost to injury).

The Dodgers, who led the NL in runs scored last year, will also benefit from the new DH in the NL, with a projected versatile lineup that includes several MVPs and All - Stars: Betts, Seager, Turner, Bellinger, Muncy, Pederson / AJ Pollock, Smith, Lux, and DH / position platoon of Beaty, Rios, Hernandez, and Taylor.

Dodgers vs. Angels would make for an exciting Southern California freeway World Series, but even more fun would be a Dodgers vs. Yankees 2020 Fall Classic to cap a short, strange, and yet still potentially thrilling season featuring some intense playoff races.

Fans are just very happy to hear “Play Ball” after being starved for live, though still only televised, major league sports.


Guest contributor Larry Greenfield is a Fellow of The Claremont Institute who has morphed from innocent boyhood SoCal sports fan to cynical Las Vegas sports observer.  Greenfield can be contacted at:

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