Universal DH Among the Changes Coming in Shortened MLB Season

Baseball fans are being asked to swallow a lot of changes this year as Major League Baseball (MLB) plows forward with their plans for a 2020 season like an out of control conductor-less freight train being chased by Denzel Washington and Chris Pine.

Changes being introduced as part of the guidelines to play ball in the middles of the global COVID-19 pandemic include, daily temperature checks for everyone entering the Ballpark, COVID-19 testing, no touching, no fighting, no spitting, no licking, and wearing masks and socially distancing when not on the field.

Of course, problems with timely delivery of the test results in order to clear players to participate may cause the entire operation to topple like a poorly constructed house of cards being built in a fan factory.

Changes being introduced as part of the guidelines to play ball in the middles of the global COVID-19 pandemic include, daily temperature checks for everyone entering the Ballpark, COVID-19 testing, no touching, no fighting, no spitting, no licking, and wearing masks and socially distancing when not on the field.
Photo R. Anderson

Assuming that the 60-games in 66-days MLB season does take place, aside from the player interaction protocols outlined above, one of the biggest changes in the game for 2020 is the introduction of the universal Designated Hitter (DH).

For nearly a half a century the DH was an American League only thing, but now thanks to a shortened season, each of the 30 MLB teams will have a DH in every game.

Make no mistake, MLB has been very transparent in calling their shots the last few years. From looking at ways to shorten the game by limiting the number of pitching changes a manger can make, to exploring limitations on the use of defensive shifts, the MLB powers that be have clearly said, the long ball is good, and 0-0 ties in the 14th inning are bad.

So, it stands to reason that MLB would want a universal DH to add one more “quick bat” in the lineup to replace the pitcher striking out in the “nine hole” in the batting order and killing offensive rallies.

While many pitchers were considered easy outs at the plate, Stephen Strasburg was one of the pitchers who could rake at the plate.
Photo R. Anderson

To be fair, there are some pitchers who, as the saying goes, “can rake.” Pitchers known for their ability to throw the ball, as well as hit the ball, include Stephen Strasburg, Zack Greinke, and Noah Syndergaard, to name a few.

Shohei Ohtani is another dual threat as a pitcher and a hitter who has been used as a DH by the Los Angeles Angels on days that he wasn’t pitching.

So, while there are pitchers who swing a mean bat from time to time, the majority of times a pitcher goes to the plate it involves them borrowing someone else’s bat and standing uncomfortably at the plate while either swinging wildly at three pitches, trying to lay down a wicked sacrifice bunt, or refusing to swing and hoping to strike out so they can go back to keeping their arm warm in the dugout.

Whether to leave a pitcher in, or take them out for a pinch hitter, is one of the managerial chess pieces that National League managers have had to juggle. Now, thanks to the universal DH, there will no longer be the need for managers to fret about a pitcher coming up to bat with two outs and the bases loaded.

Mention the designated hitter in polite dinner conversation and one will quickly find out how divisive the topic really is among fans.

The pro designated hitter camp will point to the fact that by eliminating the pitcher as a batter the rallies can continue without the fear of a nearly guaranteed out with a pitcher batting. The DH also allows players to lengthen their careers when their fielding suffers.

The foes of the DH rule will say that having pitchers batting, despite the almost guaranteed out they provide, is a truer form of the game and is more historically accurate while creating more cat and mouse strategy between the managers.

Or as Crash Davis in Bull Durham would say, “I believe there ought to be a Constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter.”

With respect to Crash Davis, having watched both types of games over the years, I have to side with the pro DH camp, but I am totally with him on the need to ban artificial surfaces in Ballparks.

Former Tampa Bay Rays first baseman, and current MLB Network analyst, Carlos Pena, was the first full time designated hitter in Houston Astros history. The Astros were in need of a DH after the team made the move from the National League to the American League.
Photo R. Anderson

When I wrote about the 40th Anniversary of the DH back in 2013, I mentioned the possibility of pitchers getting injured at the plate as a major benefit of rolling out the DH across the board.

And for all of you out there who say surely a pitcher can’t get hurt just trying to bunt or swinging wildly, I remind you of the story of Andy Pettitte, and his brief tenure with the then National League Houston Astros. Pettitte injured his pitching arm while trying to check a swing in his debut game with the Astros. He missed the next three weeks with a strained left elbow.

While a pitcher is more likely to get injured on the mound than at the plate, the story of Andy Pettitte shows that swinging a bat is better left to the professionals.

Of course, there is still a very real possibility that the 2020 MLB season will get scrapped and we will have to wait until 2021 to see the universal DH. You know, because of that whole raging coast to coast COVID-19 pandemic that is pouring like an avalanche coming down the mountain.

Count me among the people who feel that in the name of player safety, umpire safety, manager safety, sanctity of the game, and whatever else you want to pile on there, that the risks of putting on a 2020 MLB season far outweigh any benefits of starting up a season that may not be able to be completed.

For comparison, Major League Soccer (MLS) resumed at the Walt Disney World Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, FL. this week. MLS is joining the National Basketball League (NBA) in a bubble of safety at Walt Disney World.

Despite all of the precautions being taken, the Dallas and Nashville MLS franchises have removed themselves from the rest of the season because too many of their players tested positive for COVID-19. NBA players are also testing positive for COVID-19 at a growing rate.

The NBA is set to resume their season July 30 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Disney World Resort. All eligible playoff teams will be kept in three hotels and will play all of their games inside the borders of Disney World.
Photo R. Anderson

MLB, which is using a regional, instead of a bubble approach, is going to have a taxi squad of players in reserve who can fill the holes in any rosters decimated by COVID-19 infection. Before the season has even started numerous teams have reported players testing positive for the virus.

So, while players are going to get sick with COVID-19, it is likely that the MLB will not see whole teams having to skip the season since they will just plug any roster holes with reserve players as they crisscross the country putting on a made for television season.

With the credibility of a 60-game season already being called into question, I can just imagine the raging dumpster fire that would result if say the New York Yankees ran out of reserve players and had to forfeit the rest of the season while leading their division.

Consider how much more widespread the number of MLB players testing positive could be in a non-bubble approach. As I have said for months, MLB needs to just shut it down and wait until next year. That is unless as the band the Butthole Surfers would say they are “sharing Sharon’s outlook on the topic of disease.”

There are times in American history when people have been asked to sacrifice for a common good with the knowledge that they were putting their health, or their lives at risk as part of something nobler than themselves.

Playing baseball, or any sport, right now, does not rise to that level of self-sacrifice and nobility. I do not need people risking their lives, or future health, to play baseball for my entertainment. Netflix is entertaining me just fine right now.

The nobler gesture is for MLB to set an example by not traveling from place to place and staying home, socially distancing and wearing a mask when one has to be out in public.

This isn’t rocket science. We are still in the early innings of a game against COVID-19 that we are currently losing by double digits. At the time of this writing over 133,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. That equates to 41 out of every 100,000 people in the U.S. population dying according to John Hopkins University.

In Houston, 1 in 4 people who are tested for COVID-19 come back with a positive result. And no, doing more testing does not mean more positive results. Other MLB cities are in similar, and even worse positions, than Houston when it comes to being ravaged by COVID-19.

It is time for each of us to step up to the plate and swing for the fences as we try to tame this 100-mph fastball throwing virus that doesn’t care who it strikes out. That is a noble goal for us to get behind in 2020, wanting to see live baseball is not.

Baseball will be around in 2021, if with don’t knock down this virus, many people will not be around in 2021. But you don’t have to take my word for it, just listen to the scientists.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some late 20th Century music to listen to.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

With MLB Players and Owners no Longer Negotiating it is Best to Try Again Next Year

With a little under a month to go until the 2020 Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Star Game was set to be played at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, the first pitch of the regular season has yet to take place.

Historically, the All Star Game marks the midpoint of the MLB season. This year, it is likely that any All Star Game played will take place after the conclusion of the season. Assuming that there is a season.

The blame game for why the season has yet to commence is in full swing. Players blame owners. Owners blame players. Over the weekend the MLB Player’s Association, and the MLB owners halted negotiations on what a 2020 season would look like and tossed the ball over to the Commissioner’s Office to end the stalemate. It seems like the only thing both sides can agree in is that COVID-19 is to blame.

Speaking of COVID-19, on June 16, 2020, Florida and Arizona, the regular season home of the Rays, Marlins and Diamondback, as well as the home of all 30 spring-training facilities, reported their highest single-day total of positive tests for the virus. The Sunshine State of Florida counted nearly 2,800 positive cases. The Grand Canyon State of Arizona tallied in at 2,400 new positive cases.

With a little under a month to go until the 2020 Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Star Game was set to be played at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, the first pitch of the regular season has yet to take place thanks to COVID-19.
Photo R. Anderson

In baseball terms, the launch angle for the COVID-19 spike in those states is headed for the upper decks and may clear the ballpark. Or, as Crash Davis, of Bull Durham fame, would say, “Man that ball got outta here in a hurry.”

In Texas, here at the gigaplex, we are also seeing daily increases in the number of positive COVID-19 cases, the number of hospitalizations, and the number of deaths.

Overall, 17 U.S. states reported weekly increases in the spread of COVID-19, as well as an increase in the percentage of people tested who are positive. If the virus was stable, the percentage of people who test positive would remain stagnant regardless of how many people were tested. Higher percentages of positives mean that more people are catching the virus, not that more people are getting tested.

But you don’t have to take my world for it, just follow the science.

The COVID-19 virus is real. It is deadly. It is not going away any time soon. And no, despite what some people try to say, the virus will not just magically disappear if we stop testing people for it. Social distancing and wearing masks are the only ways to control the spread until a vaccine is developed and widely distributed.

Still, with rising numbers from sea to shining sea, there are still rumblings that what the world needs right now is baseball. Unless baseball is code for a vaccine, or therapeutic treatment, for the COVID-19 virus, I am pretty sure the last thing the world needs right now is baseball.

As I have said many times, and in many ways, I miss baseball. I want baseball to return. I want to go see new Ballparks. I want to revisit old Ballparks. I want to eat hot dogs in the club level of Constellation Field next to a lime green mosquito mascot named Swatson.

I miss baseball, but I am perfectly content to have the 2020 Season cancelled, and wait for a return to action in the spring of 2021. One of my first stops when baseball does return next spring will be Publix Field in Lakeland, FL.
Photo R. Anderson

So, when I say sit this season out to the MLB powers that be, I am not saying it as someone who could take or leave baseball. I am saying it as someone who loves baseball but also sees little value in a regular season lasting about as long as the postseason. Proceeding with baseball at this point will likely do more harm than good for the baseball brand.

The owners will say that baseball needs to happen this year in order for people to not forget about it. The owners will also say that they need a long postseason lasting deep into October so they can make money from the television rights.

But having a 50-60 game MLB regular season, and then going to the postseason, stains the spirit of the game worse than a steroid tainted home run record chase, or a trash can banging World Series run.

It is okay to sit this one out baseball. One of the worst things that can happen is to force a season to occur and then see a majority of the big-name players sit the season out in order to protect their health.

While MLB still tries to decide if a 2020 season will occur, the NBA is set to resume their season July 30 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort. All eligible playoff teams will be kept in three hotels and will play all of their games inside the borders of Disney World.
Photo R. Anderson

Why would a player risk their health from both the COVID-19 virus, or a freak injury, for an abbreviated season at prorated pay if they have the means to sit out four months and return to Spring Training in February of next year?

Still, the MLB powers that be seem determined to proceed regardless of the consequences, or the optics. Instead of following the herd and just being another sport to try and play, while hoping their star players do not get sick, MLB has a chance to be the sport that puts safety over profit if they choose.

When I was the Sports Information Director for a college, one of my main tasks was helping coaches and athletic department personnel craft statements and stay on message. I always told the people I was working with to consider the long-term impact of their words, and to not look at short term gratification. I also told them to make sure they knew the temperature of the room. If I was tasked with advising MLB during this current climate, I would suggest they release the following statement:

“We have the best fans in the world and we want more than anything to get back to work giving you our best effort on the field and off. COVID-19 gave us all a gut punch and forced the early termination of Spring Training. As much as we want to return to the game we love, the numbers of the virus infections just do not support us playing right now. Even with all of the safety precautions we have outlined, we cannot rule out members of the MLB family getting sick. It would be irresponsible for us to risk spreading the disease by traveling from city to city just to play games in empty ballparks without you our cherished fans there to cheer us on.

The short-term desire of playing baseball in 2020 cannot cloud our vision. The long-term health and safety of our players, trainers and other team employees is far more important to us than trying to rush things in order to try to squeeze in a season this year just to say we had a 2020 season. We will return when the science tells us it is safe to do so. Until then, take care of yourselves, and our players and staff will do the same. Stay home, stay safe. Wear a mask if you have to go out and about, and we will see you next year if it is safe to do so.”

I would then include a link on the press release to the official team masks of MLB which allow fans to show their team spirit, and keep their spit from going airborne.

Sadly, now that other professional sports have returned to action, it is likely adding to the pressure of the MLB to make this season work. Unfortunately, I think the desire to “play ball” will overcome the rationale to try again next year.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I feel the need to lollygag over to the kitchen and make a Ballpark inspired snack.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson