Playing nine innings while realizing that in normal times, the Red Sox would already be more than a quarter of the way through their schedule …
1. Rob Manfred succeeded Bud Selig as commissioner of baseball since January 2015. Can anyone cite an example of something he has done in his five years in charge that suggests he understands why fans love the sport? Can anyone cite a clue that he likes the sport himself, beyond using it as a tool to make rich men richer? Because from what I can see, everything — everything — he does suggests a total lack of understanding about why people care about baseball. And it’s probably not so much that he doesn’t understand the sport’s appeal. It’s that he just doesn’t care. Bud Selig was a willing and well-compensated ventriloquist dummy for the owners, and he killed off the ’94 World Series, which is unforgiveable. But at least his baseball bona fides were legitimate.
2. Just look at Manfred’s recent soulless machinations. He wants to, and probably will succeed, at lopping off 42 minor league teams, stealing baseball away from small towns, the equivalent of dousing the game’s grass roots with gasoline and lighting a match. He already succeeded at getting the amateur draft cut down to five rounds, with players after that round limited to signing bonuses of $20,000 or less when they join organizations in a free-agent scramble. In the proposal to get the season underway, he wants 14 playoff teams, something that cheapens the regular season even more. And his suggestions to speed up games, such as starting a runner on second base in extra innings, reveal a person that is more interested in getting a game over with than enjoying watching it play out in a satisfying way.
3. Cutting the draft to five rounds annoys me, even though Red Sox fans should probably like it since they’ll have the resources and organizational appeal to load up on undrafted amateur free agents. Plenty of excellent players have been found beyond the fifth round, among them Jacob DeGrom, Anthony Rizzo, J.D, Martinez, Paul Goldschmidt and Albert Pujols, and those players will still be unearthed even if they’re not drafted. The Sox will do well in this new format. Maybe they’ll even find and develop a starting pitcher someday.
4. The bigger bummer of the five-round draft is that this is another whack at the intrinsic, personal appeal of baseball. It’s always a pleasure to follow the draft into the later rounds and see if a kid from your high school or college gets chosen. There are thousands of baseball players who are going to lose a story they’d tell for the rest of their lives, about the time they were drafted by a big-league club.
5. I’m skeptical baseball is even going to be able to put together a modified season like the 82-game schedule the owners have proposed to the players’ union. One setback, one failed COVID-19 test by a prominent player, would send it all spiraling back to another hiatus and restart. The virus doesn’t give a damn about our impatient desire to get back to our way of life. Maybe I’d be more encouraged if the owners were offering more specifics about their logistics and plans to prioritize the health of everyone involved.
6. I do like the plan to structure the schedule around MLB-wide regional matchups rather than a typical league-specific balanced schedule. Under this proposal, AL East teams would play only each other and teams in the NL East, with a reported four three-game series to be played among division rivals. That would make a tough chore even tougher for the Red Sox, though. They’d lose seven games against the terrible Orioles in this scenario, while having to face the Nationals, Yankees, Rays, Braves and Phillies often. Even the Mets had a better record than the Red Sox last year.
7. If the season had proceeded as normal, the Red Sox would be playing their 43d game of the season Tuesday night, taking on the Atlanta Braves. Perhaps they would have surprised the naysayers and come out fast to start the season, though the state of their starting rotation suggested that was highly unlikely. The wonderful board game Strat-O-Matic has been simulating the entire MLB season day by day. In Strat’s sim standings, the Sox are 21-21, 4.5 games behind the Yankees and 2.0 behind the Rays in the AL East. Seems pretty realistic to me.
8. Rewatching so many classic games to fill the sports void is fun, but they’re also starting to get redundant. I think I’ve seen Roger Clemens’s first 20-strikeout game three times in the last six weeks. You know what never gets old, even on the 100th rewatch? Games 4-7 from the 2004 ALCS. We know most of the plot twists from that history-altering series by heart, but upon rewatch, it’s still staggering how many small and big things went right (Jason Varitek holding on to Tim Wakefield’s knuckleball, Joe West getting two Game 6 calls right at Yankee Stadium, Tony Clark’s double bouncing into the stands, and on and on) when for so many years you could count on them going wrong. Sixteen years later, and I still can’t believe that all happened the way it did.
9. I didn’t miss baseball all that much at the beginning of this, but the absence has hit me hard lately. I miss the daily rhythm of the new season, the reliability of knowing there’s a game every night. I catch myself wondering whether Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers would be matching their sensational 2019 seasons, whether Eduardo Rodriguez would do it again and prove a legit front-line starter, and which of those no-name pitchers Chaim Bloom brought to camp would be emerging as a reliable option and a genuine find. I miss the day-to-day minutiae and the big moments. But I can keep going without it until the time is right, and we’re safe in other places besides home.