MLB to hold opening day after all

Via Unsplash, courtesy Edoardo Busti

After being initially cancelled in spring, baseball finally has a planned restart date for July 23. This comes after multiple months of negotiations between the player’s association and the MLB that were entirely fruitless. Instead, commissioner Rob Manfred invoked a roughly 60-game season, set to last from July 23 to Sept. 27 before playoffs. The failed negotiations are almost guaranteed to come up during the next “collective bargaining agreement” after the 2021 season, and could have massive implications on the 2022 season. For now, let’s take the time to relish the return of America’s national pastime.

A massively shortened season gives way to all sorts of unpredictability, particularly in terms of standings. In the 2019 season, the World Series champions, the Washington Nationals, went just 33-27 in their first six games, hardly playoff-worthy material. Even though they had fallen back down by then, the Mariners started the season 13-2. The only other team to do that was the Boston Red Sox, who converted that into a World Series victory. Once you start cutting down the schedule, baseball gets even crazier.

If that weren’t enough, the set of opponents for each team has changed massively. Normally, any given team would play a majority of their games against their division rivals or teams in their respective league, those being the American and National leagues. With the pandemic raging, the MLB is cutting down on the amount of travel for each team. Now, each team will play all of their games against their division opponents and their same-division counterparts. For example, the Seattle Mariners exist in the American League West division. In the new schedule, they will play games against their own division and those of the National League West division. This holds true for the Central and East divisions as well. This will bring forth some exciting matchups that fans might not normally expect, headlined by the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers getting to meet each other multiple times in the West.

And if that wasn’t enough, multiple large-scale rule changes have been implemented. The designated hitter rule has been adopted to the NL, finally making it universal. This drew the ire of countless fans, as they felt all baseball players should have to play a position as well as hit, and that the DH allows aging players to essentially smack home runs until they’re 50 years old. This rule has decent logic behind it though. Having AL and NL teams clash more often means the disparity can only cause further disarray. That said, it’s probably easier to allow NL teams to put in an extra hitter than to force pitchers in the AL to learn how to hit.

Somehow, the other big rule change is even less popular: Extra-inning games will lead with a runner on second base. The only possible logic to back this up is to make games shorter. Even I don’t really understand the appeal to it, and there’s widespread fear that both of these rules will become permanent.

Coronavirus restrictions are generally less intense, considering the non-physical nature of the sport. Initially teams argued during negotiations that they would be missing fan revenue due to the virus, but multiple teams have since discussed letting fans attend at roughly 30% of stadium capacity. This will not affect Mariner attendance. Players have currently worn masks during “spring” training, but whether or not that will persist through the regular season is still in question. Baseballs will be changed out regularly during game, and players will not be allowed to spit or chew sunflower seeds or tobacco. Gum is still allowed for some reason. Players will also have the opportunity to opt out of the season if they feel it isn’t safe enough. Former Mariner superstar and current Atlanta Brave Felix Hernandez is opting out. Ryan Zimmerman, the first ever player drafted by the Nationals, is opting out. Other notable opt-outs are former-Mariner/current-Diamondback Mike Leake, star San Francisco catcher Buster Posey, and 2012 Cy Young winner David Price. For a sport often written off as boring, a chaotic shortened season might just bring attention back to what makes it great.