If you haven’t guessed, the title picture is baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, and head of the players union Tony Clark. I won’t quite get into specifics between the players and owners. Restarting any season is going to be tumultuous, as basketball is already finding out. In other forums, certain college football and athletic programs are going to struggle mightily without the cash cow that football brings in. With all this being said and without getting anywhere political in regards to why this might happen, let’s look at how the combination of Covid and the players/owners have affected the sport.
***Editor’s Note: I only played baseball until 4th grade, when I realized I wasn’t very good, but just like everyone on the internet, I am obviously an expert since I played. I mean, I paid 5 dollars a month and painstakingly learned how this freaking website functions when I have the tech skills of a boomer, so obviously, I’m a know it all as well. Self-deprecation and blatant sarcasm aside, here are the things I have noted when learning about baseball.
Elite players are getting screwed out of their prime.
I feel like a players’ “prime” is when the mental speed of the game catches up, and or the game slows down, but they still have the athleticism. Guys that have that mental knowledge installed already somehow when they enter any league usually end up with a Hall of Fame. In most sports, a good range for a players prime is 27 to 30. With this season being undermined, those are numbers no one can get back. Some players are losing out on the games needed to cement Hall of Fame legacies. Others, with valuable experience needed to get their feet wet and advance their MLB skill set. (Hello, 2020 White Sox) Hell, the edge of the roster guys might find their seat getting hot, as owners may go for cheaper younger players in a forthcoming financial pinch. It’s all on the table.
How will they react coming back after not playing?
I’ve gotten the feeling from watching it for 30 years, that baseball is a sport based on repetition, timing, and reaction. You know, things like practicing hitting every day. Even world class hockey players are in a very similar reaction based sport, and they go out and warm up and they play three times a week. Baseball isn’t like pickup hoops where you can go out and ball with your buddies everyday. (Do people still do that now? Or just scroll through twitter?) What kind of rust will these guys have? Sure, they can do the old Edgar Martinez ball tracking, by basically taking BP with your bat on your shoulder and track the ball in over and over, but it’s not the same as getting live cuts.
Will pitchers have dead arm after throwing a ton more in July? Will that dead arm end in August? Will their be more injuries from rust because some guys stayed in shape better than others? Most importantly, will MLB make the baseballs normal this year too? I don’t wanna hear any of that clueless Barney Fife bullshit from 2018 along the lines of “I mean, the balls are the same. Herdy gerdy garsh!”. Pete Alonso is a good hitter…he’s not mashing 40 plus homers as a rookie good. Fix this.
How about the lack of player development?
To get better at anything you have to do it. I never played basketball in high school, so I have no muscle memory from doing that for hundreds of hours. However when I started playing in my thirties, I went from absolutely atrocious to “8th to 10th guy off the bench who can give okay short minutes and not totally screw you in a super intense Y-league game. I realized that was my ceiling, and I stopped playing.
The point is, I got marginally better by playing twice a week. There are a bunch of minor league players who are NOT doing that, and their development is getting stunted. Every teams plans will be backlogged. That hot prospect getting work in or his starts down at Double A. Nope. They say you need so many hundred at bats in the minors, well someone didn’t get about 300 of them. That guy you were planning on calling up in August, might have to wait until next June.
Get your fingers off the window sill if you are the Cubs
*Get it? Because their contending window is slamming shut. It’s a metaphor. Stay with me. (totes j/k)
Oh my precious Cubs. After poaching two other MLB systems for Hendricks and Arrietta and signing Lester to a huge deal half a decade ago, it has not masked the fact the Cubs haven’t produced jack shit for starting pitching. It’s kind of important now with Lester on his last legs, and somehow Tyler Chatwood still being on the roster. )They got out of Jon boy what they could. I mean they signed him at age 31, and he got some All-Star nods, but that ship has sailed.)
One could make the argument that the Cubs like to draft college hitters high in the draft, so that’s why pitching prospects aren’t banging on the door. (As an example, the Sox liked grabbing college arms in the first round, hence why they have more). Not all arms come from the first round, and it’s amazing NOBODY came up in the last 5 years. I don’t know if it’s bizarre or incredible.
Why is this important? 2021 is around the corner, and part of those big ticket bats will have to go, whether it’s Bryant/Baez. Mad props for developing Contreras et al, but besides those “Core Four” bats with Rizzo included, centerfield and second base have been a gaping hole. Ian Happ hasn’t been the dude, Almora has been beyond a bust. Schwarber and Heyward are nice, but they are kind league average. (Oh no, the secret is out!) Theo and company never moved guys when they had value, kept banking on improvements, and a lot of the guys are what they are. Oops.
The Sox might be….good?
Me: *secretly watching Sox game, girlfriend comes in…
Her: “What are you watching!?”
Me: *jolted up in chair and fumbling with remote…..”Oh! Hey! Just watching um…. The Masked Singer! This is a good one, apparently the little panda is Kevin Hart!”
Her: We’re you watching the Sox? I thought you refused to since you like the Cubs.
Me:….Have I ever told you how good the Comiskey Park churros are?
*AND SCENE. (Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk)
If you don’t think I was going to sneak in some Sox games this year because I have access to their cable channel, you are wrong. Nothing is more exciting than watching high draft picks either flourish, fold, or somewhere in between. Watching the Hawks go from basement dwellers to the Cup in like three years was insane. Heck, even the 2000s Bulls pre Rose was fun to watch because they went from a dumpster fire to solid playoffs. Watching that rise is thrilling. So your damn right I might check out some Sox highlights here and there.
On par with before, the guys that are fresh up in the league need to take that next step, as the league has adjusted to them. Specifically that would be Moncada, certainly for Eloy Jimenez, and heck, even Tim Anderson still a bit. The league certainly would like another crack at Lucas Giolito, to see if he can top his strong year last year. Not to mention to see if Dallas Keuchal has enough in the tank to be there solid Jon Lester acquisition. Basically, he Sox have it going in spades. They have the really good veteran core of Encarnacion, Abreau, and Grandal. The young entering prime guys, and then bats like Madrigal and Vaughn that they want to get a peak at maybe late this year or next year.
Plus, they play in the AL Central, which minus the Twins, is equivalent to the dog shit I need to scoop up in my backyard. I mean, can you believe the Tigers and Royals were in the World Series earlier in the decade? Unreal. Cleveland is also a trimming of the payroll away from bottoming out, especially if Lindor or Ramirez head out. Now it’s gonna be a flashback to the early 2000’s when the Twins and Sox went back and forth. The Twins had some dudes 15 plus years ago, and the Sox got hot one year and got their vengeance.
“You better wrap that gavel up, B!”
One recent article I did talked about how baseball was impacted by the strike in 1994 in so many ways. Unfortunately, one of the ways was to have guys get huge on steroids while owners turned a blind eye except when it came to gate receipts, then acted horrified when they “found out”. Baseball is now definitely behind football in popularity, and no one has the attention span to sit through a baseball game anymore. Hell, their phones are out more than watching the game. Even if they make it through a truncated season, their is more turmoil on the horizon. They just might find themselves where no one wants to be…..less popular than hockey.