A significant casualty of the plague has been the termination of all sports leagues. The NBA kicked it off when Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert was the first pro athlete to test positive for COVID-19. Four other players soon tested positive. The NBA shut everything down. The NHL, MLS, NCAA, NASCAR, and MLB quickly followed. Eventually, pro tennis and golf canceled all events through early May, and the most important events were all pushed back. MLB spring training was going on. MLB cancelled the rest of spring training. The scheduled opening day of the regular season play of March 26 was postponed.
What’s At Stake?
Now we’re in mid-April, and the country is on lockdown until the end of the month. MLB plays 162 games. Since everyone has been inactive for this long, there will be a good 2-3 weeks of “new” spring training needed to get players ready. MLB desperately wants to play all 162 games to minimize financial losses. Even if the lockdown ends on April 30, it would likely be close to Memorial Day before games could begin. And there’s no guarantee that the crowd bans will be lifted even if the quarantine is.
A Memorial Day start would extend the season and playoffs into December. Try to envision a Yankees-Red Sox series with the division title on the line in either New York or Boston during the second week of November. I can’t either. Games would have to be played in domes and warm-weather locations.
A zillion scenarios are being considered. The one I like the best essentially turns the Spring Training structure into the regular season structure.
Spring training takes place in Florida and Arizona – in the case of Arizona, everyone is in the general Phoenix metro area. These are known as the Grapefruit League and the Cactus League. One proposal making the rounds would leave these teams in their spring training facilities and play each other for regular-season games. There would be no interleague play to minimize travel and risk.
Here is where each team is located and how each league could be divided into divisions.
Of course, I am most interested in the Cactus League West division, which includes my beloved Cleveland Indians. It consists of the traditional division rival Chicago White Sox. In-state rival Cincinnati and the LA teams – the Dodgers, who probably have the most talented roster in either league and the Angels, who have signed several key free agents and figure to contend for a playoff spot.
I despise the Tigers, Twins, Yankees, Red Sox, and Cheating Astros. I genuinely hate them. Fortunately, they are all in the Grapefruit League. Only the Cubs and White Sox are Cactus League teams that I hate nearly as much.
Regular Season Structure
So what would a season with this structure look like?
As previously mentioned, the proposal is that this is the way teams would be aligned for the 2020 season, with no cross-games between the two leagues. Fans will likely be prohibited to keep risk low. Playing all games at spring training sites would ensure all 162 games are played. The World Series would compete with Santa Claus for airtime, but that might be fun.
Here is an example of a season schedule:
Division games – each team would play the other four teams in its division 18 times each, for a total of 72 games. That’s 9 home games and nine away games against each team.
Out-of-division games – each team would play the ten teams not in its division 9 times each, for a total of 90 games. That would be five home games and four away games against five teams and four home games and five away games against the other five teams.
NOTE: Whether you’re the “home” or “away” team makes little difference in this proposal, especially if there are no fans in the stands. Whether you’re wearing your white or gray uniforms, you’re still thousands of miles from your families, and no one is cheering in the stands. Teams that share a spring training complex, such as the Indians and Reds in Goodyear and the Royals and Rangers in Surprise, makes the distinction even less relevant.
The last iteration of this proposal I saw stated that the playoffs would not change. The 3 division winners and two wild card teams would qualify for the playoffs. The two wild card teams would play one game, with the winner playing the division winner with the best record. The two other division winners would play each other. Those would be 5-game series. The two winners advance to the league championship series, which is seven games, to determine the league champion. The two league champions would advance to the 7-game World Series.
Where would the World Series be played? I imagine it would be at a neutral site, such as Minute Maid Park in Houston or the Rangers new retractable-roof stadium in Arlington, TX. Again, minimizing travel and health risk is the goal.
I have concluded this is about the best we can do. It’s hard to see how one could reduce risk any more than this. As for me, I would watch it.
The Reds and Indians play for the “Ohio Cup” every year. They play either 4 or 6 games each year. Having them play 18 times would be fun. The Reds look much improved over the pushover they were for most of the 2010s. Not having to deal with obnoxious Yankee and Red Sox fans is appealing. That cancels out the increase in having to deal with obnoxious Cubs fans. I would not miss playing the Twins or Tigers either. I would look forward to seeing how good the Brewers and Padres are.
What’s evident to me is that, despite my preference for winter weather, I’m hungry for baseball season. I have questions. Did my team make a wise decision to get rid of more beloved veterans like Corey Kluber? I want to see if our stream of young starting pitching studs is never-ending. Can the massive Framil Reyes hit 75 home runs in that Arizona air?
Are you a baseball fan with an opinion? I’d love to hear it. Feel free to share below.