If you have 1) reached a certain age; 2) followed baseball your entire conscious life; and 3) developed a strong moral fiber, you likely regard the 1981, 1994 and 1995 seasons with the same contempt that a James Bond aficionado holds for “Never Say Never Again.”
The 2020 season, should it actually occur, will make ’81, ’94 and ’95 — all abbreviated by labor disputes — look as normal as Richie Cunningham. If they can pull it off, though? The campaign would wear no scarlet letters. Rather, it would be regarded by history as legitimate. Probably even gallant. Very much worth our while.
As a pessimist, I remain skeptical that the coronavirus seas will part the way they must in order to turn Major League Baseball’s hopes into reality. As my college roommate’s son told me when he was 7, however, it’s best to try. This effort by MLB — which, as The Post’s Joel Sherman reported, will likely be submitted to the Players Association on Tuesday — represents a heck of a try.
Sure, it makes sense to limit travel, keeping the Yankees and Mets in Eastern Time until possible playoffs — a plus for television ratings, as well. To expand rosters, especially since there won’t be a traditional minor-league season; it would be fun to get a look at more young players, right? Expanded playoffs, too, would enable all parties to recoup some of the losses they already have suffered.
Then we get to the detail that will challenge the purists: a regular season featuring 78-82 games. Essentially half the standard total of 162, and just over half the pre-expansion count of 154.
Baseball’s beauty arguably comes in that marathon schedule. In knowing that, more often than not, six months of action tells the truth. How many July 4 dynamos have we seen melt in the August heat or wobble and fall down in September?
Hence 1981 always carries an asterisk because the midseason strike created the dreaded “split season” in order to gin up attention upon its August return. The 1995 slate started late and featured 144 games — not awful from a percentage standpoint, yet we’ll always wonder how those missing 18 contests would’ve factored into the exciting American League races featuring the Yankees, Mariners and Angels. Surely you know that ’95 began late due to strife that began in 1994 and managed to cancel that World Series, a blight on the game’s legacy.
For sure, a de facto half-season with limited opposition, your proverbial smaller sample, could produce a few stunners. Perhaps it would propel the Rays over the Yankees in the AL East, or even put the Red Sox more in the mix than we anticipated. Maybe Yoenis Cespedes could actually stay in one piece for three months and lead the Mets to their first National League East crown in five years.
It would be fun if frustrating. Most important from a moral and historical standpoint, it would be unorthodox not because baseball shot itself in the foot with infighting, but rather because a historic pandemic shut the world down until folks maneuvered and worked their way into producing entertainment again. It would be cherished rather than chided.
(Speaking of infighting, a threat to this plan being enacted exists in the disagreement over player compensation, and here’s a plea to the owners and the players: Do not snipe at each other publicly. It won’t play well when there are nearly 80,000 deaths and counting from COVID-19. It’s reasonable for owners to assert that they can’t pay as generously without fans in the stands, and it’s reasonable for players to contend they deserve full salaries, prorated, as they put themselves in harm’s way. It’s unreasonable to expect any of the rest of us to care enough to take sides. Either agree on terms or don’t, quietly.)
If this 2020 season takes flight, it would be unprecedented just like so much else we’ve experienced this year; we haven’t even mentioned the social distancing or absence of high-fives. Let’s hope we’re fortunate enough to debate the merits of an 80-game season. It would be a far more pleasant discussion than pretty much anything else we’ve been talking about since March.
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