Dodgers Show That Even in a Global COVID-19 Pandemic Revenge is a Dish Best Served with Some Chin Music

Earlier this week the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros faced off for the first time since the Astros were caught cheating with their hands in the proverbial trash can.

The cheating goes back to the 2017 season when the Dodgers lost to the Astros in the World Series. Looking back at those games, an argument can definitely be made that the Dodgers could have added another oversized World Series Ring to their plaza of honor at Dodger Stadium had it not been for a video camera, a bat, and a trash can.

With many people thinking that the Astros players got off way too easily in terms of punishment for their cheating, the 2020 season was expected to be a season long opportunity for players and fans who felt wronged by the Astros to show their displeasure.

As I noted a few months back, the fan-free season during COVID-19 made the Astros the biggest winners of 2020, since fans cannot boo them when they come to town. On can only imagine how loud a completely full Dodger Stadium would have been with fans booing in unison with every Astros at bat.

A year after being cheated out of their first World Series title in nearly 30 years, a lone trash can is seen in front of a mural commemorating the titles the Dodgers have won. It is quite possible that were it not for the sounds coming off of a trash can, the Los Angeles Dodgers would have a fresh coat of paint on the World Series title mural, as well as a new entry for 2017. Instead, they are left with wondering what might have been had the playing field been level.
Photo R. Anderson

While fans in Ballparks have been limited to cardboard representations, the players for the other teams are still free to enforce the unwritten rules of the game, which made the Astros versus Dodgers game must see TV.

After Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly threw a pitch in the area of the head of Alex Bregman, and later taunted Carlos Correa in the sixth inning in game one of a two game series, a good old-fashioned bench clearing brawl occurred.

For his part in the somewhat masked, but totally not socially distanced melee, Kelly was suspended for eight games by MLB. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts received a one-game suspension.

The Dodgers ended up with the last laugh as they won both games of the series by scores of 5-2 and 4-2, respectively.

While the Dodgers won the series, they also exposed the mismanagement of the cheating scandal by MLB. Yes, to be fair, three MLB managers lost their jobs due to ties to the scandal, and the Astros fired their General Manager. But many fans and players maintain that the punishment did not go far enough since former Astros skipper, A.J. Hinch, wasn’t the one playing a trash can in the dugout like a bass drum to let hitters know what pitch was coming.

Just to make sure this point comes across, players who were caught cheating for an entire season were given zero suspensions for their actions, but a pitcher for the team that many argue was cheated out of the 2017 World Series title is given an eight-game suspension. To put that in perspective, eight games equates to around 13 percent of the shortened season. Kelly has appealed his suspension.

Jose Altuve, and his 2017 Astros teammates, were found by MLB to have benefited from an intricate cheating technique that involved a camera, a bat and a trash can. While the world will never know whether the cheating is why the Astros won the World Series, the world does know that none of the players were punished for their actions during that season. That fact, as a lot of fans and players from other teams mad enough to kick a trash can.
Photo R. Anderson

These truly are strange and mysterious times, and show that in many ways MLB is just making things up as they go along. More on that thought in a bit.

The rules for the 2020 season outlaw bench clearing brawls. However, writing something in a health manual, and actually following what is written, are two entirely different things; as demonstrated by the fact that the dugouts and bullpens emptied in a fan-free Ballpark.

Besides the benches clearing brawl, players have been breaking the guidelines involving walk off celebrations, and high fives among other things.

But while MLB seems quick to enforce the rules for what it sees as retaliation pitches, it is downplaying the wildfire of COVID-19 that is inching closer to bringing the 2020 season to a screeching halt.

The Miami Marlins were suspended for an entire week after a COVID-19 outbreak impacted nearly 20 players and staff, however the teams not impacted by games against the Marlins were left to continue to play ball. Of course, nothing happens in a vacuum.

The St. Louis Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers became the latest teams to have games cancelled after two Cardinal players tested positive for COVID-19. The Cardinals and Brewers join the Marlins, Blue Jays, Phillies, Orioles, Nationals, and Yankees as teams who have had games either postponed or played with different opponents than scheduled.

That means that at the time of this writing, nearly a third of all MLB teams have been impacted by COVID-19.

In response to the growing list of games that will need to be rescheduled, MLB has decided that all doubleheaders will be 7-innings, instead of 9-innings, in order to cram as many games as possible into the schedule in their drive to crown a World Series Champion. Nothing like changing the rules of a season after the season has started.

While they are at it, why not just have all games decided by a home run derby? The Sugar Land Skeeters are using home run derbies to settle extra inning games in their four-team, fans in the stand independent baseball summer league.

If MLB needs to crown a champion in order to call the season a success, why bother with the games? Just line the teams up for a home run derby to decide who the best team is? After all, launch angles and the long ball seem to be all the rage these days.

I will take it a step further and say that a home run derby approach can even eliminate team travel. Just have retired pitchers travel to the Ballparks and throw batting practice to decide the games. Teams can choose from a selection of retired pitchers and the same pitcher has to pitch to both teams to make it fair.

Of course, with different ballparks having different outfield dimensions considerations will need to be made for how to assign a weight to each home run.

Maybe, teams can be reward style points for launch angle.

Prior to the start of the 2020 MLB season, Washington Nationals Pitcher Sean Doolittle, aka Obi-Sean Kenobi Doolittle on Twitter, weighed in on the wisdom of playing baseball in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo R. Anderson

Prior to the start of the 2020 MLB season, Washington Nationals Pitcher Sean Doolittle, aka Obi-Sean Kenobi Doolittle on Twitter, weighed in on the wisdom of playing baseball in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The remarks below appeared in USA Today in early July, and are chilling when looked at through the lens of hindsight after a week of MLB action.

“We’re trying to bring baseball back during a pandemic that’s killed 130,000 people,” said Doolittle. “We’re way worse off as a country than where we were in March when we shut this thing down. And look at where other developed countries are and their response to this. We haven’t done any of the things that other countries have done to bring sports back. Sports are like the reward of a functional society, and we’re just like trying to bring it back even though we’ve taken none of the steps to flatten the curve or whatever you want to say. We did flatten the curve for a little bit, but we didn’t use that time to do anything productive. We just opened back up for Memorial Day. We decided we’re done with it.

“If there aren’t sports, it’s going to be because people are not wearing masks, because the response to this has been so politicized. We need help from the general public. If they want to watch baseball, please wear a mask, social distance, keep washing your hands. We can’t just have virus fatigue and think, ‘Well, it’s been four months. We’re over it. This has been enough time, right? We’ve waited long enough, shouldn’t sports come back now?’ No, there’s things we have to do in order to bring this stuff back.”

Since Doolittle made that statement in early July, the COVID-19 death toll in America has risen by 23,000 to over 153,000 dead and counting, with no signs of slowing down.

Sadly, there are those who will say, “But hey, at least two thirds of the MLB teams haven’t missed any games yet, and the MLB has shown that it is going to come down hard on pitchers who throw at members of the trash can symphony club.”

Yes, there are live sports to watch now, and the NCAA seems determined to ensure that college football returns in the fall despite us not acting anything like a functional society. Why worry about a global pandemic when there are sports to watch?

Sometimes, real life truly is stranger than fiction.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to see if my seeds from China arrived. As crazy as the world is getting, they may grow a magic bean stalk. But that is a story for another day.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

MLB’s Push to Play Ball in 2020 is Heading into Extra Innings

Negotiations continue to heat up between representatives of baseball owners, and representatives of baseball players, in an attempt to salvage some sort of 2020 Major League Baseball (MLB) season.

One of the latest rumors floating around, as reported by several outlets, includes a proposal from the owners to play a 50-game season, followed by expanded playoffs and a World Series. The players representatives have proposed playing as many as 114-games starting around the July Fourth Weekend.

As I have stated many times, I miss baseball and would love to see it played again. I have also said many times, in many ways, that I do not miss baseball to the point that I would want to see a fan-free condensed season just so someone can pat themselves on the back and say, “hooray, we had a 2020 MLB season.” Fifty games a season does not make. Even at 114 games, the risk trade of having a season, versus not having a season does not come out in favor of playing ball.

As part of the proposals being floated around it was reported that players will have the option to sit the season out if they do not feel safe playing ball in the era of the global COVID-19 pandemic. While players would not be paid if they sit the season out, they would get credited with a year of baseball service.

Baseball in the olden days, like during Spring Training of this year, involved crammed dugouts. The baseball in the new time of COVID-19 will look very different.
Photo R. Anderson

Any final agreement on playing the 2020 baseball season must allow players to opt out, and I applaud that position being addressed through the negotiations.

While I am firmly entrenched in my stance that baseball just needs to sit this year out and try again next year, I know that there are people who will disagree. This other side of the coin from my position feels that having baseball, any baseball, is just what is needed during these times of pandemic and civil unrest.

Although I do not agree with that position, I respect that position, just as I would hope that people on the other side would respect mine. Society works best when people can have a healthy productive debate on an issue, agree to disagree, and part with respect for the other person’s opinion.

But from where I am sitting, I have yet to hear a strong enough case that baseball, any amount of baseball, this year would be in the best interest of all involved. Let me state my case.

I get that there are huge financial stakes for both the owners and the players if baseball is not played this year. I also understand that the players in the Minor League Baseball (MiLB) ranks are being hardest hit by a lack of games, as in many cases they are about to lose their paychecks.

Sean Doolittle and other members of the Defending World Series Champion Washington Nationals, committed to give MiLB players within the Nationals organization financial assistance during the time without baseball.
Photo R. Anderson

In regards to the players of MiLB, I am encouraged by the stories of MLB players, like, David Price of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Sean Doolittle and other members of the Washington Nationals, committing to give MiLB players financial assistance.

In making the announcement on his Twitter page, Doolittle noted that, “All of us were minor leaguers at one point in our careers and we know how important the weekly stipends are for them and their families during these uncertain times.”

I am also encouraged by the stories I see of MiLB Ballparks, like the home of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, and Sugar Land Skeeters, finding creative ways to generate revenue inside their facilities during this absence of games.

I do not pretend to believe that financial hardships do not exist in baseball, but in many cases the financial strain that they are feeling is a drop in the bucket compared to the issues being faced by small businesses and employees across the country who have lost their livelihoods and jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A word to baseball as you air your grievances about trying to make sure you get your money by having some sort of season, know the room. You may find that many of the fans that you count on to support you will get a bitter taste in their mouths by reading stories of you arguing over millions of dollars, when many of them are wondering which bill they won’t pay this month in order that they can eat.

The Pensacola Blue Wahoos listed their ballpark on Airbnb as a way to generate revenue during the stoppage of baseball brought about by COVID-19.
Photo R. Anderson

If baseball, any baseball, is played this year, of course the players should be paid.

Furthermore, they should be paid well for risking their lives during a pandemic just to bring people at home some distraction from the world events around them. They just need to ensure that the discussions regarding how much they should get paid do not come off as ignoring the suffering around them, and the bigger picture.

This is a tricky point, as well as a sticky point. With no fans in the stands, creating a strictly made for television game so that networks and teams can make revenue to pay players for playing that game can come across as rather tone deaf.

But wait, the owners will say, “in some cities we are allowed to have up to 25 percent capacity in our Ballparks, so there will be fans in the stands for the games.”

And how exactly is the 25 percent decided upon?

I am sure most teams have season ticket holders for more than 25 percent of the seats in a Ballpark. Let us also not forget all of those corporate funded luxury suites that surround many Ballparks. So, do season ticket holders and suite users get first crack at seeing a game in person, versus someone who just buys a couple of tickets a season? Don’t even get me started on how one would be able to socially distance at a concession stand.

Do teams set up a Hunger Games style lottery where everyone puts their names in a hat and hopes that the Ballpark fortunes are forever in their favor?

I welcome being shown if there is a way to equitably pick 25 percent of a fan base to sit in the stands for a game. Until then, from my seat here, I conclude that more problems are created than solved by starting to let fans into the Ballparks at reduced capacity.

As part of any return to action, players would be socially distanced within the dugout and would be prevented from any physical contact with each other such as high fives, hugs, etc.
Photo R. Anderson

Another issue to consider is the health of both players and fans attending these games. As part of any return to action, players would be monitored for symptoms of COVID-19.

Additionally, as I noted in a previous column, players would be socially distanced within the dugout and would be prevented from any physical contact with each other such as high fives, hugs, etc.

Even if I am willing to concede that players could be socially distanced in the dugout, and on the field, there is still the issue of dirty balls. Most balls I have seen put into play are touched by a lot of people.

A ball that is part of a routine double play has the potential to be touched by up to four players, and that is before the ball goes around the horn in the infield. And telling a pitcher that they can’t lick their fingers before a pitch is probably not going to go over too well.

How to socially distance during mound visits is one of many areas that will need to be figured out before baseball returns during the COVID-19 era.
Photo R. Anderson

Again, make no mistake, I miss baseball. But I have yet to see a proposal where the benefit of a return of baseball outweighs the risks. And I am sorry, but the champion of a shortened, round robin, regionally based, season does not deserve to be called World Series Champion in the same light as a team that battled for a full season in the past.

The record books of baseball would be much better served by a line item saying, “the 2020 season was cancelled due to a global pandemic brought about by COVID-19, but returned even stronger in 2021,” then trying to pass off a team that played a third of the games in a normal season as the champion.

If players and teams want to stage a 50-game exhibition season as a measure of goodwill that is one thing. But, don’t try to play 50 games in empty ballparks and try to call it a season. You are so so much better than that baseball.

So, in conclusion, stay home baseball. Take care of yourself, and I will hopefully see you next spring. I care too much about you to have you risk your health, and the health of those who play you just so somebody can unfurl a “mission accomplished 2020 World Series Champion” banner inside your Ballparks.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some books about baseball to catch up on.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson