Lack of Winter Meetings reminds us things aren't normal yet

The baseball world should be gathering this morning in Dallas for the Winter Meetings. Thousands of club executives, managers, agents, minor league front office staffers, equipment manufacturers, job seekers and media members should be spending the next four days participating in what essentially amounts to an annual convention for professional baseball.

Except it's not happening.

There are no Winter Meetings in 2020. The coronavirus has claimed another victim, and while this one obviously isn't as devastating as those whose lives are truly at stake, it's yet another reminder that we, as a society, aren't back to normal yet. Not even close.

The notion of bringing that many people from that many different towns to one indoor venue and leaving them to co-mingle in close quarters for several days is absurd right now. There's simply no way to hold such an event under the current conditions.

Major League Baseball, not wanting to completely disappear from the public spotlight, is doing some virtual events, but it pales in comparison to the real thing. The league will be announcing the winners of some notable awards in the coming days - the Roberto Clemente Award and the Hank Aaron Award - and will unveil its All-MLB Team, which perhaps carries some extra weight this year because there was no All-Star Game.

All 30 managers also will be holding media sessions, just like they do at the Winter Meetings, though they'll be video conferences and won't take place until next week. Rest assured, the always captivating Rule 5 draft is being held as usual on Thursday.

Rizzo-with-media-sidebar.jpgEveryone's doing what they can to try to produce something that resembles the Winter Meetings. But let's be honest: This will be nothing like the real Winter Meetings. And the expected lack of major free agent signings and blockbuster trades will confirm that harsh reality.

It's been more than two months since the 2020 regular season ended, six weeks since the Dodgers won the World Series. There's still 10 weeks to go until pitchers and catchers report to spring training.

Or, I should say, until pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report. Truth it, we really don't know with 100 percent certainty if spring training will begin on time and as planned.

Yes, there's a full schedule of Grapefruit League and Cactus League games already out there. And then a full 162-game regular season with cross-country travel and an All-Star break and everything else we used to take for granted. But nobody can say for certain today whether all of this will proceed as intended.

We are once again at the mercy of the coronavirus, which is now wreaking more havoc than it did way back in March, when the whole world shut down for the first time. Yes, the vaccine is coming, but are we to believe enough people will be able to get their shots by mid-February to make a normal spring training possible?

There's so much that still needs to happen. And that includes a whole lot of details about the 2021 season MLB has yet to figure out. (Or, at least, publicly announce.)

Is the designated hitter returning to the National League? Are the extra-inning rules going back to the old format? How many teams will make the postseason? What kinds of protocols will players, coaches and other personnel have to adhere to? Will fans be allowed to attend games from the outset?

Everybody wants answers to all of this. Now. Unfortunately, there's only so much MLB can do. Sure, the league could announce its intentions for 2021. But what if the virus numbers spin even more out of the control over the next two months? What if the vaccine can't be distributed quickly enough to enough people?

We are, sadly, stuck in limbo yet again, just as we were in April, May and June. We want to believe everything will be back to normal in 2021. But right now, we can only hope that proves true. We can't say for certain it will.

And until we can, we'll just have to proceed as best as possible, cobbling together a few virtual events that sort of feel like what we'd experience at the Winter Meetings, all the while acknowledging it's nothing like the real thing.

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