A 50-game Major League Baseball season is eyewash. A zero-game season is true Visine.
It lifts the veil, clears the vision, confirms all our suspicions.
We need a lost season. Baseball, or at least the version that we cherish, needs it too.
Fifty games is nothing. It is the equivalent of a 3.7-game college football season, a 22-hole Masters.
The punishingly long season is a player’s biggest challenge. It teases his mind and eyes into thinking he’s successfully grooved. Then it deals him an 0-for-10 and reminds him that four months remain.
That is why pennant races were once so glorious. They were decided by teams playing on lactic acid, desperate men with failing legs, finding greatness nevertheless.
An hors d’oeuvre of a season will not even test a 25-man roster, let alone the full 40.
Let’s go all the way back to 2019. Washington lost 31 of its first 50 games and was 10 games behind in the National League East, with the second-worst record in the league. The Nationals are serving an open-ended reign as world champions.
The 2003 Florida Marlins were 21-29, 12 ½ games out, on May 25. They also won a World Series. Baseball is about a muscular body of work, not a skeleton.
That, however, is what the owners and commissioner Rob Manfred were proposing. Now they threaten to call the whole thing off because the Players Association won’t promise it won’t file a grievance.
What’s the rush? The networks want to get the regular season done by the end of September and the playoffs done before Nov. 1, but MLB, never shy about shoving its biggest games into a snow globe, could easily find a domed neutral site and wrap up the World Series in mid-November or later.
No, the owners are living up to their longtime cynical norms.
They are capitalizing on a pandemic to try to impose a salary cap when the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires after 2021.
They also pushed for replacement players in 1995 and voted to “contract” the Twins and Expos out of business, and even considered a merger to create the Oakland-Anaheim Athletic Angels, the year before the Angels were world champs.
To them, baseball is “product,” like hair gel, or fixtures in a tool-and-die shop.
By contrast, the NBA and NHL worked with their players to find wildly unnatural playoff solutions that were solutions nevertheless. Baseball’s warlords backed off a full pro-rated salary promise they made in March.
From here, the toxicity and mistrust will surely build. But it isn’t just major league baseball that the owners dislike.
They just conducted a ridiculous five-round draft that threw hundreds of deserving players into a free-agent world of maximum $20,000 bonuses. Then the minor leagues canceled their seasons, too, in the wake of MLB’s campaign to shave off teams.
A lost year of development can’t be replaced, but a lost year of baseball can be, in this entertainment-laden world.
Sure, baseball fans have always returned after work stoppages. But this year the whole world stopped, and people discovered just what they could do without, including bad baseball.
It is possible that a 2020 season, if played the way 2019 was, would have put COVID-19 to sleep. Four of the 30 teams won more than 100 games and four others lost more than 100.
The Tigers, who were in the 2014 World Series, lost 114 games and had no one with more than 15 home runs or nine pitching wins. The 2-3-4 starters in their rotation were 7-43. Red Klotz and the Washington Generals don’t belong in baseball.
Competitive parody isn’t the only reason to hit the pause button. A lost season might help us find the game.
Baseball has devolved from an unpredictable night at the Improv to the regimented precision of The Nutcracker. Robot umpires bring outrage, but how about robot right fielders who have to fetch a laminated card that tells them where to stand?
The spontaneity and tempo have disappeared, replaced by an artless, ligament-crushing parade of 99 mph fastballs in and 110 mph fly balls out. Managers, often the game’s most endearing characters, become nervous, disposable middlemen.
In simpler times, a new baseball league would threaten the torpid status quo. Who knows? Maybe certain players and agents have the power to create one, with new contract rules, the drafting of young collegians, higher mounds to prevent energy and cool the offenses, 28-man rosters.
Or maybe it’s a matter of turning off baseball in 2020. It might spread humility and creativity, and restore the circuits. But that presumes you can find someone who wants it back on.