Baseball fans are being asked to swallow a lot of changes this year as Major League Baseball (MLB) plows forward with their plans for a 2020 season like an out of control conductor-less freight train being chased by Denzel Washington and Chris Pine.
Changes being introduced as part of the guidelines to play ball in the middles of the global COVID-19 pandemic include, daily temperature checks for everyone entering the Ballpark, COVID-19 testing, no touching, no fighting, no spitting, no licking, and wearing masks and socially distancing when not on the field.
Of course, problems with timely delivery of the test results in order to clear players to participate may cause the entire operation to topple like a poorly constructed house of cards being built in a fan factory.
Assuming that the 60-games in 66-days MLB season does take place, aside from the player interaction protocols outlined above, one of the biggest changes in the game for 2020 is the introduction of the universal Designated Hitter (DH).
For nearly a half a century the DH was an American League only thing, but now thanks to a shortened season, each of the 30 MLB teams will have a DH in every game.
Make no mistake, MLB has been very transparent in calling their shots the last few years. From looking at ways to shorten the game by limiting the number of pitching changes a manger can make, to exploring limitations on the use of defensive shifts, the MLB powers that be have clearly said, the long ball is good, and 0-0 ties in the 14th inning are bad.
So, it stands to reason that MLB would want a universal DH to add one more “quick bat” in the lineup to replace the pitcher striking out in the “nine hole” in the batting order and killing offensive rallies.
To be fair, there are some pitchers who, as the saying goes, “can rake.” Pitchers known for their ability to throw the ball, as well as hit the ball, include Stephen Strasburg, Zack Greinke, and Noah Syndergaard, to name a few.
Shohei Ohtani is another dual threat as a pitcher and a hitter who has been used as a DH by the Los Angeles Angels on days that he wasn’t pitching.
So, while there are pitchers who swing a mean bat from time to time, the majority of times a pitcher goes to the plate it involves them borrowing someone else’s bat and standing uncomfortably at the plate while either swinging wildly at three pitches, trying to lay down a wicked sacrifice bunt, or refusing to swing and hoping to strike out so they can go back to keeping their arm warm in the dugout.
Whether to leave a pitcher in, or take them out for a pinch hitter, is one of the managerial chess pieces that National League managers have had to juggle. Now, thanks to the universal DH, there will no longer be the need for managers to fret about a pitcher coming up to bat with two outs and the bases loaded.
Mention the designated hitter in polite dinner conversation and one will quickly find out how divisive the topic really is among fans.
The pro designated hitter camp will point to the fact that by eliminating the pitcher as a batter the rallies can continue without the fear of a nearly guaranteed out with a pitcher batting. The DH also allows players to lengthen their careers when their fielding suffers.
The foes of the DH rule will say that having pitchers batting, despite the almost guaranteed out they provide, is a truer form of the game and is more historically accurate while creating more cat and mouse strategy between the managers.
Or as Crash Davis in Bull Durham would say, “I believe there ought to be a Constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter.”
With respect to Crash Davis, having watched both types of games over the years, I have to side with the pro DH camp, but I am totally with him on the need to ban artificial surfaces in Ballparks.
When I wrote about the 40th Anniversary of the DH back in 2013, I mentioned the possibility of pitchers getting injured at the plate as a major benefit of rolling out the DH across the board.
And for all of you out there who say surely a pitcher can’t get hurt just trying to bunt or swinging wildly, I remind you of the story of Andy Pettitte, and his brief tenure with the then National League Houston Astros. Pettitte injured his pitching arm while trying to check a swing in his debut game with the Astros. He missed the next three weeks with a strained left elbow.
While a pitcher is more likely to get injured on the mound than at the plate, the story of Andy Pettitte shows that swinging a bat is better left to the professionals.
Of course, there is still a very real possibility that the 2020 MLB season will get scrapped and we will have to wait until 2021 to see the universal DH. You know, because of that whole raging coast to coast COVID-19 pandemic that is pouring like an avalanche coming down the mountain.
Count me among the people who feel that in the name of player safety, umpire safety, manager safety, sanctity of the game, and whatever else you want to pile on there, that the risks of putting on a 2020 MLB season far outweigh any benefits of starting up a season that may not be able to be completed.
For comparison, Major League Soccer (MLS) resumed at the Walt Disney World Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, FL. this week. MLS is joining the National Basketball League (NBA) in a bubble of safety at Walt Disney World.
Despite all of the precautions being taken, the Dallas and Nashville MLS franchises have removed themselves from the rest of the season because too many of their players tested positive for COVID-19. NBA players are also testing positive for COVID-19 at a growing rate.
MLB, which is using a regional, instead of a bubble approach, is going to have a taxi squad of players in reserve who can fill the holes in any rosters decimated by COVID-19 infection. Before the season has even started numerous teams have reported players testing positive for the virus.
So, while players are going to get sick with COVID-19, it is likely that the MLB will not see whole teams having to skip the season since they will just plug any roster holes with reserve players as they crisscross the country putting on a made for television season.
With the credibility of a 60-game season already being called into question, I can just imagine the raging dumpster fire that would result if say the New York Yankees ran out of reserve players and had to forfeit the rest of the season while leading their division.
Consider how much more widespread the number of MLB players testing positive could be in a non-bubble approach. As I have said for months, MLB needs to just shut it down and wait until next year. That is unless as the band the Butthole Surfers would say they are “sharing Sharon’s outlook on the topic of disease.”
There are times in American history when people have been asked to sacrifice for a common good with the knowledge that they were putting their health, or their lives at risk as part of something nobler than themselves.
Playing baseball, or any sport, right now, does not rise to that level of self-sacrifice and nobility. I do not need people risking their lives, or future health, to play baseball for my entertainment. Netflix is entertaining me just fine right now.
The nobler gesture is for MLB to set an example by not traveling from place to place and staying home, socially distancing and wearing a mask when one has to be out in public.
This isn’t rocket science. We are still in the early innings of a game against COVID-19 that we are currently losing by double digits. At the time of this writing over 133,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. That equates to 41 out of every 100,000 people in the U.S. population dying according to John Hopkins University.
In Houston, 1 in 4 people who are tested for COVID-19 come back with a positive result. And no, doing more testing does not mean more positive results. Other MLB cities are in similar, and even worse positions, than Houston when it comes to being ravaged by COVID-19.
It is time for each of us to step up to the plate and swing for the fences as we try to tame this 100-mph fastball throwing virus that doesn’t care who it strikes out. That is a noble goal for us to get behind in 2020, wanting to see live baseball is not.
Baseball will be around in 2021, if with don’t knock down this virus, many people will not be around in 2021. But you don’t have to take my word for it, just listen to the scientists.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some late 20th Century music to listen to.
Copyright 2020 R. Anderson