Well, they did it.
Actually, they didn’t do it. The players union and owners couldn’t come to an agreement on how and when to start the 2020 season, but MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred used his collectively negotiated right to implement a 60-game season for this year, expected to begin the weekend of July 24-26, so we will baseball pretty soon (provided the coronavirus doesn’t torpedo the whole thing).
The players gave up a better 60-game deal in order to reserve the right to file a grievance with the league after the season, in the hopes of being able to see inside their long-secret books. MLB owners could have installed a season in the 48-52 game range, but perhaps partly to throw a bone to the players and partly to strengthen their case in the event a grievance is filed, kept it at 60, albeit with no postseason revenue sharing.
The players, who had the high road for much of these negotiations, surrendered a bit of it by refusing Manfred’s final deal, but in the end, their long-term focus on restoring some balance into baseball’s labor WARz was more important than the small gains they would have received for the next 16 months.
If you’re not excited about baseball’s return, I can’t blame you. This whole process left a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth. Baseball blew a golden opportunity to bring in a whole new subset of fans who may have ignored the game their entire lives but, desperate for some kind of live sports action to watch, would have come to the game perhaps for the first or second time.
That was all wasted.
So, we’ll have baseball, but it is tempered with disappointment. There will be no expanded postseason. Just 10 teams will reach the playoffs, a more arduous task for the Phillies with the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, Nationals, Braves and Mets all presumably in their Eastern division, but certainly traditionalists will be happier with that arrangement. A 60-game season also means the league year begins with all 30 teams dropped into the middle of a pennant race, which should make things really exciting.
But there are still major hurdles to overcome, specifically, an agreement on the health and safety protocols on which the union and league need to agree. That’s not nothing with a COVID outbreak that infected at least five members of the Phillies and three staff members last week, with a couple dozen others awaiting their coronavirus test results. MLB spring training, the sequel, will likely take place in each team’s home city, and likely by July 1, but because of the shortened season, the lack of time for players to get ready for the season and the desire for the league to rip through these 60 regular season games as quickly as possible, there will be a couple big differences here in 2020.
Reminder: The National League will join the American League and use the DH this year under the safety and health protocols. Players also are expected to have 72 hours upon an agreement to inform their clubs whether they plan to play.— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) June 23, 2020
The universal DH is in place for this year only, which means for this 60-game stretch at least, we won’t have to suffer watching pitchers hit. Of course, with no agreement between the two sides, the universal DH is not guaranteed to be in place in 2021, although it will likely be a part of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. There will also be a change to extra inning games.
Also this year the MLB plan is to use the Minor League rule with the runner on second to expedite extra-inning games ending, since the spring will be short, the schedule will be tight and there’s a desire to avoid 15-inning games and longer.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) June 23, 2020
No one likes this gimmicky rule, but in the midst of a pandemic, with players wary of playing long extra inning games, it makes sense for this season only.
So the 2020 season will feature a few quirks that we haven’t seen before and probably won’t see again in 2021. But provided the pandemic allows it, we will have a baseball season this year, albeit shorter than any other season since the 1870s.
On Episode 393 of Hittin’ Season, Justin Klugh, Liz Roscher and I discussed the ins and outs of the negotiations, what the season would look like, and our favorite pitcher hitting moments in Phils history. Check out the pod!