June 24, 2020

The MLB Season Will Start Too Late To Matter

Well, it finally happened! It felt like pulling teeth, sure, but there will be baseball in 2020. As allowed by the agreement made between the owners and the MLB Players’ Association in March, Commissioner Rob Manfred has exercised his right to begin the 2020 MLB season on July 24.

The second round of spring training will start on July 1, followed by the start of the regular season just three weeks later. Barring a second wave of the coronavirus that makes baseball impossible to play even with extensive health and safety protocols, every team will play a 60-game season followed by a 10-team playoff.

Unfortunately for MLB, the season will start too late for it to matter and too late for fans to care. Here's why. 

It Was Too Long of a Wait

As grateful as fans are that baseball is on its way back and there will soon be live sports again, getting to that point took way too long. It took until June 24 for things to become official and it won’t be until July 24 until regular-season games begin. That will be nearly four months after the season was supposed to start. Granted, the ongoing pandemic is the primary cause for the delay, but the inability of the owners and players to compromise on an agreement added too long of a delay.  

Consider that MLB once dreamed of being able to start the regular season on July 4, which would have been hugely symbolic of the country coming together to combat the pandemic while starting a slow return to normalcy.

In the scenario, players would have already been back at spring training and anticipation would be growing. However, that dream is dead after Manfred had to use his power to begin the season rather than the players and owners agreeing to terms.

Barring a massive resurgence by the coronavirus, the worst is hopefully behind us. States are starting to open up again and people are starting to go back to work again. This diminishes the positive impact that baseball could have had if it returned a month ago. In the middle of May, when cabin fever was beginning to set in and people were at their most restless, we needed baseball or at least the promise that the MLB was coming back soon. But we didn’t get it and now the news of the MLB’s return is less important than it would have meant a month ago.

Outside of hardcore fans, people could be too busy trying to get back to their lives to care that baseball is returning in late July when it could have been back sooner. And although there's a huge appetite for live sports, it will only have a week of no competition before the NBA starts. 

Speaking of the NBA and other sports... 

NFL and NBA Will Be Back Soon

The worst part of baseball not being able to return sooner is that it will barely have the attention of the sports world. Despite plenty of challenges and lingering concerns, the NFL is on track to start its season on time while college football should be back this fall in some form or another. Meanwhile, the NHL and NBA are making attempts to conclude their seasons. In other words, MLB lost its opportunity to be the only major American sport in action. 

If MLB had been able to restart by July 4, the league would have had the full attention of the nation. Even casual fans would have been invested in watching baseball, giving the league an opportunity to score massive TV ratings and win over even more fans. 

Instead, MLB will have only a small window before it has to compete with the NFL, who is planning on playing a full season.

In the end, a 60-game novelty MLB season won’t have a chance of competing with the NFL. And a 60-game season — when longer campaigns could have been played — is a bad look for a sport that cares so much about its history. 

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60 Games is Nothing

Every baseball fan will agree that a 60-game season is better than nothing. But that doesn’t mean it’s enough to satisfy fans. If an agreement could have been reached sooner, it’s likely that a season of 80-to-100 games could have been played. Playing at least half of the normal 162-game schedule would have added some semblance of legitimacy to the 2020 season. It’s at least questionable if a 60-game season will be anything more than a novelty. 

Only time will tell how the 2020 season is viewed historically. Will the World Series champion be viewed as a serious champion? Will winners of postseason awards be looked at the same as previous winners of those awards? After all, what does a Cy Young Award mean for a pitcher who only made 12 starts? A season of 60 games might be better than nothing, but is it enough games for the season to matter?

Poor Optics

Of course, the reason why baseball hasn’t returned sooner (aside from the global pandemic) is the owners and players spent weeks going back and forth in negotiations that grew rather bitter and could lead to bigger problems in labor negotiations down the line. To say the optics of those public and animus negotiations were bad would be an understatement. 

At a time when millions were out of work, filing for unemployment, and facing uncertainty about their financial future, they also had to read reports of millionaires bickering with billionaires over money.

For fans, it was almost insulting to watch take place. Surely, both the owners and players knew how important it was to sports fans and the psyche of the nation to get baseball back as soon as possible.

Given the circumstances, one day of childish arguing over money between two groups of people who are set financially for the long term is too many. Yet, both sides allowed it to go on for weeks, and in the end, they still couldn’t reach an agreement.

As much as fans want baseball back, the optics of the situation are difficult to reconcile while knowing that so many people will spend years trying to recover from the economic repercussions of the pandemic.

Photo: Getty Images