After months of acrimonious negotiations, there’s going to be a baseball season. It will be the most abbreviated season in the game’s history - 60 games - and brings back memories of 1981, when labor issues couldn’t be resolved and teams played about 105 games each.
So forget about watching those replays of classic historical games. Say goodbye to watching Game 7 of the Braves-Twins World Series in 1991. Or the 1995 American League Division Series Game 5 between the Mariners and the Yankees when former Orioles skipper Buck Showalter, then managing the Yankees, let starter David Cone pitch into the seventh inning, throwing 147 pitches.
Cone struck out five in his last two innings, but still ...
Seattle won the game 6-5 in 11 innings when Edgar Martinez’s double scored Ken Griffey Jr. from first base. But holy cow, the game has changed. A starter throwing 147 pitches in 7 2/3 innings? Would that have happened in today’s game, especially in the postseason?
This year’s 60-game schedule, implemented by commissioner Rob Manfred, will start about July 24 and teams are expected to play those games in a span of 66 days. So it is close to a normal schedule.
And the game will look different, especially in the stands. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic that’s ravaging the country, no fans will be allowed into the games, and the only people seen in the stands will be players, who have been instructed to physical distance at least six feet a part.
There will be no handshakes, high fives or spitting, but the spitting - a constant - will be the most difficult habit for players to kick in a short period of time.
Because of the threat of COVID-19, spring training was stopped on March 12. Spring training 2.0 will start on July 1, only this time it will be held during the summer. The Athletics and Giants, for example, will train in their home parks in the Bay Area and might play exhibition games against each other.
Does that give those teams an advantage when the season starts? Would the Nationals and Orioles be doing something like the A’s-Giants?
And apparently in Texas, state officials will allow the Rangers and the Astros to sell tickets up to 25 percent capacity.
Speaking of the Astros, their garbage-can banging, sign-stealing cheating was the major story heading into spring training. In a normal season, the Astros were not scheduled to play the Dodgers, the team they cheated against to win the 2017 World Series.
Guess what? Because Major League Baseball wants to cut travel, the Astros will play in Dodger Stadium. The new schedule format will have the West, East and Central teams from both leagues playing each other.
This will be a season of experiments. The National League will use the designated hitter for 2020, but it isn’t guaranteed for the 2021 season. But you never know, and pitchers might have hit for the final time in 2019.
So will Ryan Zimmerman be the Nationals’ primary DH?
There will be no free substitution, but extra innings will start with a runner on second base to keep games from lasting in the four-hour range. Health experts say that is a good idea: Play the game, get home and cut down on coronavirus exposure.
By the way, if the runner scores, the pitcher will not be charged with an earned run. The scorebook will say that the runner reached on an error.
The most frightening experiment is not going to happen, referring to advertising on uniforms. Can anyone imagine? Not good.
There will be expanded rosters and taxi squads since there will not be minor leaguers to call up in case of injuries.
There will be an Aug. 31 trade deadline.
There will be 10 teams in the playoffs. One of the proposals during the negotiations was to have a 16-team postseason, a format that would have certainly assured a team with a losing record to be in the World Series.
We have to remember that while baseball is back, it is back not because owners and players agree on labor issues, but rather because they couldn’t agree. Remember that the players proposed more than 100 games. It could set up tension for negotiating a new labor agreement that expires in December 2021.
Baseball has enough problems without extended labor issues. Games are still too long. There are too many strikeouts and walks. Attendance is declining and the average age of fans has moved to the upper 50s.
Baseball is usually a 162-game marathon, but this season will be a sprint. We will have the drama of a pennant race immediately.
For the record, the team with the best 60-game start to a season was the 1912 New York Giants, who won 103 games but lost to Boston in the World Series. The Giants were 48-11 with one tie that season.
The Giants, with pitchers Christy Mathewson and Rube Marquard, were 20-6 and a half-game behind Cincinnati on May 20. But, the Giants were up by 16 ½ games before July 4.
Another hot-starting team was the 2001 Mariners, who started 47-13, thanks to the new arrival of leadoff batter Ichiro Suzuki, who won the AL batting title (.350) along with two postseason awards, the AL MVP and Rookie of the Year.
Seattle lost to the Yankees in the postseason and missed the World Series.
This could be a season where a fluke team gets hot for a 20- or 30-game stretch to make the playoffs.
This is a also a season where time is a factor: A 3-7 record in any span will not be easy to overcome