“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” — Rogers Hornsby
This far-too-often used quote from the Hall of Fame infielder actually feels fitting now. Welcome to the unending offseason where we stare out of our windows patiently waiting for baseball to return in some way to bring a sense of normalcy to what has been interrupted, postponed and canceled.
Spring is here, well, on certain days. The Twitter mailbag refuses to return to an offseason hibernation. It’s back answering questions without knowing the definite answer to the one question everyone is asking — when will baseball return?
As of now, my bet would be that the regular season starts on July 1, which means some form of organized training and practices would need to start around June 1.
Let me be clear, I have no inside sources telling me that. The people that I’ve talked to, who work in baseball in various capacities, have no more details than what we’ve read in recent stories.
All of the plans written about have been discussed in some form. Some seem unrealistic, others seem possible under the right circumstances and all seem flawed in some way. But that’s where baseball is at right now.
Think of all the annoying brainstorming meetings you’ve sat through in your life. Baseball is basically throwing things on a white board, and trying to find ways to make each of them work under the limitations, restrictions and guidelines that we are all supposed to be living by during this time.
As one source said, “Anyone who tells you that they know for certain what’s happening is lying.”
Perhaps it’s best not to focus on any one plan at this moment, because if circumstances surrounding the pandemic and its spread change, which we’ve seen happen, you want to be flexible enough to adjust. The testing requirements that would be necessary for even a modicum of safety don’t seem to be readily available for MLB or any sport.
The motivation in all of this is money. You can romanticize about the game we all love returning to provide us an outlet or distraction in difficult times. But baseball is a multibillion dollar business and that will be the impetus driving the return.
And it could be money that threatens its return.
The relationship between MLB owners and the MLB Players Association is tenuous to contentious. The report that some owners want players to renegotiate the agreement in March that provided a pro-rated salary for games played is not going to help the situation.
If baseball’s planned return is delayed and scuttled due to that sort of disagreement, the game’s reputation would suffer catastrophic damage.
The last thing people will tolerate in this current environment is billionaires and millionaires arguing over money. It would make both sides seem petty and greedy. There are no good optics in that situation and it can’t be sold to the average fan, who just wants to watch a game on TV.
Some players have been vocal in opposition toward the Arizona sequestration plan first reported by ESPN. Mike Trout, who suddenly has decided to say interesting things after years of saying essentially nothing, is very against that plan. Clayton Kershaw also made similar comments.
But as has been said often, not everyone is in their financial or professional situations. Players on the 40-man roster are part of the MLBPA and there are plenty that haven’t made more than the MLB minimum or even that much in their career. If you took a vote of the 1,200 players on the 40-man rosters of the 30 teams, there would be a large majority that would accept the Arizona plan if it was the only one available. It does seem like that plan is the least likely to come to fruition.
If MLB really wants to return by July 1, they need to move closer to finalizing a flexible plan with some contingencies that the union will approve, it needs to happen in the next week or two.
Recent reports have the draft happening on June 10. There was a provision that it could be pushed back to July if needed. But with no college or high school baseball being played, delaying it may be pointless. MLB and the MLBPA are currently bickering over the number of rounds and the bonus structure, which is typical behavior.
As for the Mariners, they are expected to take a college player. They won’t draft for big league need because that would be stupid. You select the best player available. This regime under general manager Jerry Dipoto takes the draft very seriously. Having such a high pick this year, they were more proactive in preparation. The lack of scouting players over the past few months isn’t an issue. The Mariners already had a good idea of 8-10 players they would be happy to take with the No. 6 overall pick.
The draft is loaded with stud college pitchers. The Mariners have had success with college pitchers the last few seasons. The two best hitters — Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson and New Mexico State second baseman Nick Gonzales — won’t be available when it’s Seattle’s turn to pick.
Unfortunately, I do believe that MLB will eventually finalize the long-rumored plans to reduce the number of minor league teams despite the effort of those minor league towns, fans and even politicians. We can’t seem to agree on much these days in terms of politics, but members of both political parties have come out against this plan by commissioner Rob Manfred.
For a game that is desperately trying to grow itself to a younger audience and increase its overall popularity, reducing actual baseball games and teams doesn’t seem like good thinking. Born and raised in Havre, Montana, going to a MLB baseball game wasn’t simple for me. Actually, Turner, Montana, which is about 40 miles from my hometown is geographically the farthest point from a MLB stadium in the continental United States.
As a kid, most of my professional baseball game experience came from the short-season Pioneer League. We would drive to Great Falls, 113 miles away, to watch the-then Great Falls Dodgers. If we happened to be in Billings or Helena for baseball tournaments, we would go to game if there was one playing. Years later, I was thrilled to play on those same fields in American Legion baseball. There would be no form of professional baseball in Montana.
That experience, which was similar to all my friends, will be taken away. It’s baseball at a grassroots level. That experience isn’t found in Manfred’s office in Manhattan or in an owners’ private jet. And Manfred’s claim that these leagues and teams can survive as independent leagues without the umbrella of MLB is laughable. It will be a sad day when/if it happens.
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.