As Covid-19 raged across the world and sports and other forms of entertainment were put on hold, many were left to wonder what "normal" may look like if they returned. We clung to hope as plans were unveiled and negotiated. Unfortunately, many of those hopes soured as it became clear that the MiLB season would be a casualty, and turned even more bitter as we watched billionaires publicly engage in a pissing contest with millionaires over how to divvy money.
In the end, MLB settled on a solution. A 60-game schedule, to be completed in 66 days, followed by a postseason involving 16 of the league's 30 teams. Traditionalists balked yet mostly came to some sort of acceptance; it is what it is. This season wouldn't be like others. Rather than the marathon of the everyday grind and the war of attrition that separates the truly good teams from the bad, this would be a sprint. A sprint in which over half the participants are allowed to continue after crossing the finish line. It is what it is.
To make that happen, MLB had to radically alter a schedule that had been worked on for decades to try to provide competitive balance. In this sprint of a 60-game season, fairness and balance went out the window in favor of limiting air travel as much as possible. Teams were assigned a 40/20 schedule: 40 games against the opponents within their division, and 20 games of interleague play vs. the geographic division in the other league.
In an attempt to further reduce travel, the idea of playing an equal number of games home and away against division opponents was also scrapped. The Cubs, for instance, play each of their NL Central opponents 10 times. However, it's not a 5/5 split. We play St. Louis and Milwaukee 3 games away, and 7 at Wrigley. Cincy and Pittsburgh is flipped, with 3 home games and 7 on the road.
I mention this now because it will certainly come into play later. In years past, teams insisted that makeup games be played in the location they were postponed from, mainly for gate receipts and the accompanying revenue streams. That's probably out the window in 2020 as well.
We've all wondered what would happen with the inevitable positive tests of players and coaches throughout the season. MLB supposedly took this into consideration when they allowed for an expanded MLB roster and the creation of a 60-man "player pool" from which to draw replacement players in the event of an outbreak. So far, for whatever reason, this backup plan hasn't been of much use. Games are being postponed.
The Cubs have been a model of success, through some luck but mostly due to an adherence to protocol, veteran leadership, and personal responsibility. I believe we are the only team without a positive case among players and staff since intake testing began, although coaches Tommy Hottovy and Mike Napoli battled illness before the beginning of Summer Camp. Rumor has it that the Cubs, and Yankees, have been so successful that MLB inquired into their team models to help adjust league requirements following the initial outbreak within the Marlins organization. In a marathon season already compressed to a two-month sprint involving 60 games in 66 days, every advantage could loom large. Things were going swimmingly on the North Side, with the exception of a single rain-out in Cincy.
Then we travelled to the Lou.
FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS
The DirtyBirds were battling the second major Covid outbreak in MLB, following the Marlins. They had several players and staff test positive, forcing the cancellation of a 4-game series with the Brewers and a 4-game interleague set against the Tigers. After a couple days of relative calmness, they were cleared to resume baseball activities and play the Cubs for a 3-game set in St. Louis before another positive test on Friday forced the postponement of the weekend series. The Cubs headed back to Chicago for an extended period of relaxation and rust collection, and the DirtyBirds are now facing playing 55 games in 49 days. With no further delays, mind you.
Good luck with that.
There has been much discussion of punishment for teams that suffer outbreaks and force hardship upon those who are left to scramble through no fault of their own. Suggested penalties range from fines and loss of service time for players found to be reckless to team forfeiture of games. Some more advanced ideas include the reduction of draft position and IFA money, with the thought being that offending teams may actually benefit from reckless behavior by way of a more advantageous (lower) position in the final standings.
I just can't see it.
In order to assess punishment, I think there would have to be clear intent. There have been reports of players from certain teams indulging in casino gambling and taverns that employ the clothing-averse, but launching an investigation, proving intent, and assessing appropriate punishment is a task I don't think MLB wants to take on. The punishment would have to fit the crime. Is a trip to an "adult" club worthy of stripping (pun intended) a 2nd-round pick? A fine for an unauthorized voyage to a carry-out restaurant? We can see how this could be a nightmare, even before the inevitable appeals.
If games continue to be postponed, to the point they can't be made up (are we already there?), I can see the forfeiture of games. Teams that are having their schedules radically altered, including the addition of double-headers and the increased risk of injury, cannot be penalized for circumstances beyond their control.
The Cubs are now off until next Tuesday when they return to Cleveland to battle the Indians. Players were informed that Saturday was basically optional, show and work if you want, but not required. They will play an intrasquad game on Sunday in an attempt to not resemble the Tin Man following a hard rain.
Theoretically, the 3 games cancelled vs. the DirtyBirds will need to made up. As of Tuesday's game in Cleveland, with the rainout in Cincy and the postponement of the 3-game series in St. Louis, the Cubs will be scheduled for 47 games in 48 days. We are not scheduled to return to St. Louis during this "regular" season. The DirtyBirds visit Wrigley for 3 games from August 17-19, then again for a 4-game set from September 4-7. If these postponed games are to be made up, it would likely be double-headers while they are in Chicago.
I'm sure the DirtyBirds organization and TBFIB are going to throw a fit over that scenario, with all 10 games in the season series being played at the Friendly Confines, but I don't see any other way. Honestly, I don't see all 10 games being played, but we'll get to that in a minute. This might be one instance when the DirtyBirds and Bill DeWitt don't get their way. It isn't our fault.
Here is when we insert the obligatory "the Cards will somehow finagle this into an extra compensatory draft pick for their suffering" joke.
ABACUS VS. CALCULUS
As we see, games are getting postponed, makeups are piling up, and an already-compressed and somewhat meaningless regular season is further compromised. The Marlins and DirtyBirds have had outbreaks, so far. Who knows what team is next?
I can't see teams being expected to play more games than there are days left in the season. It is especially unfair to those who have had no outbreaks but just the misfortune of timing against an opponent. Simply, I don't see teams playing the same number of games at the end of the season. Then what?
There has been talk of figuring final standings and postseason positioning not on traditional standings, but by winning percentage. Like nearly everything else in 2020, this situation is fluid and subject to change. I don't like it, but I don't know what else to do.
Hardcore baseball fans have always known to follow the "loss" column down the stretch. No matter the official number of games back, your team always had a chance as long as you weren't too far back in the loss column. The theory has always held that as long as you had a chance to win a game, you still had a chance. Sort of like "a chip and a chair" in poker.
It will really, really stink if a team that showed a lack of self-discipline wins a division race playing less games than a superior team. We may see that. This is just another potential reality in a fully surreal situation.
CASTLES MADE OF SAND
Of course, this may all be for naught. We could have another outbreak or two and the whole thing gets cancelled. I'm even more concerned about what happens when one contaminated team infects another. I think that will really raise alarms.
As far as the reluctance to call up players to replace those who test positive, I wonder if they just don't want to introduce more bodies into a known contagious atmosphere. That makes a little sense to me.
There's no other way to say this: this is an experiment during an uncertain time. The games are being played for our amusement, and a way to take our money and distribute it to those involved. It's always been that way, but now it's just more blatant. At least in the past there was a sense that it was legitimate, that they were playing for something. Now it's just pure gluttony and semi-clad semi-transparency, which like the possible cause of some of these outbreaks, may end up being the death of the season.
It is what it is.
*I have to add a little edit here in addition to the original article:
I made a couple subtle music references, but I feel the need to be more obvious. Here is one of my all-time favorite lyrics, and I think it fits well with the topic at hand. It is also a lyric I use as a trivia question: why? The answers are usually along the lines of "because he's an alcoholic" or "because he drinks too much", but the answer to that question, like everything in this baseball season, lies in the very next line of the song:
"Well, I woke up this morning, I got myself a beer.
Well, I woke up this morning, and I got myself a beer."
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