It has taken some time for me to get used to Major League Baseball circa 2020. I’ve seen dozens of games cancelled hours before the first pitch, loads of (utterly predictable) injuries decimate teams and empty stadiums with piped in sounds that seem almost dystopian relative to our previous non-pandemic world. That all said, I’ve also witnessed some beautiful and unexpected things that have arisen from this odd, stilted season thus far. 7-inning games with loads of doubleheaders has added rapid fire action and strategic nuance like never before. Amazing performances from players who would still be deep on the bench or in the minors if not for illness or injuries that have showcased the game’s bright young talent. And I’ve seen a level of camaraderie, humanity and team unity that has risen above in the face of extremely challenging conditions both on the field and outside the game. These things represent the best of baseball, and we shouldn’t forget what we’ve learned when we eventually come out of the pandemic and proactively address the social inequity and senseless brutality driving today’s racial strife.
I’ve got a few suggestions for what some of these durable learnings could be, and how both the MLB and MLBPA can demonstrate their commitment to making the game more exciting, engaging and reflective of our country for fans, prospects and players alike.
7 inning games. I know, I know, baseball purists will puke all over this one, to which I say: great! These are the same purists say that you shouldn’t swing on 3–0, because it’s disrespectful. LOL! The game needs to be sped up, and pitch clocks and mound visits are only a small part of the problem. If I had to trade off the fewer 9-inning games or more 7-inning games, I’d much prefer 162 shorter games that are more closely packed together with more doubleheaders and more action, all the time.
3 pitchers per game, max. Now this is the single biggest issue with why games drag on forever, the myriad pitching changes. It used to be one pitcher, then a starter and a reliever, then a starter, a set-up man and a reliever, then a starter, a long reliever, a set up man and a closer, and how you can have games with literally seven pitchers per side. Snore! Let’s see how a cap of 3 pitchers per side changes strategy when the starter is struggling, and maybe you have a doubleheader that day, and it’s only a 7 inning contest. That would both speed things up immeasurably and add a new level of strategy that, as a baseball-crazed tactician, I’d love to see. I’m sure the MLBPA will squawk that I’m taking jobs away from pitchers. My counter is: (a) we have too many on rosters today; and (b) if there are fewer pitchers needed the salaries for those pitchers will go up due to more constrained supply. They’ve got to like that, right?
League-wide commitment to improving accessibility of equipment, fields, coaching and programs to economically disadvantaged urban areas. Baseball used to compete for inner-city talent with basketball. Now the sport has become so expensive and the culture so off-putting relative to basketball that the game isn’t attracting the kids of color that it used to. This has to change. Teams need to commit to investing in their communities, not only dollars but time, with current players engaged in grass-roots outreach to show that the game truly cares. We can’t let the “showcase baseball” trend continue where college and professional scouts short-circuit recruiting in inner cities where talent is under invested in and undiscovered.
League-wide commitment to social justice and players having voice without fear of retribution. Even with only 30–40 game having been played, the solidarity shown among the players and the more laid back attitude taken by the owners (in general) to expressing views on social justice issues has been unparalleled. The NBA has been an amazing role model in this regard, and one only need tune into what has been a very exciting bubble-playoffs season to see what freedom of expression looks like. While some might say “Players get paid to play — we don’t care about (and don’t want to hear about) their political views”, get used to it. Anyone who has a platform has the right to express their views. You can respect someone for greatness in performance (be they an athlete, actor, businessperson, etc.) while disagreeing with their views. It doesn’t mean they don’t have a right to those views or to use their following to communicate with their fans and the general public. It’s 2020 people — puhleeze.
These are my top four “blinks” halfway through the season. I hope ownership and the players are taking this to heart, and when they sit down to discuss the new collective bargaining agreement can have some of these higher order principles in mind rather than trying to squeeze the last penny out of a game at risk.