Once many years ago there was a piece in the New York Times which said that baseball should allow the batter the option of running to either third base or first base after he hit the ball. My immediate reaction was – That’s pretty stupid. If you think about it for just a minute, you’d see all the flaws with that plan. Many people feel that exact same way with the proposal to get the 2020 season underway by having all teams play in Arizona.

The pandemic that we’re experiencing is forcing MLB to look at extraordinary circumstances in order to have something resembling a season. My opinion is that they should absolutely be having these feasibility discussions. Just because you investigate an idea, doesn’t mean you have to actually carry out and do it. The idea that we should just throw our collective hands in the air and proclaim that it can’t be done is one that doesn’t sit well with me.

People far smarter than me would have to sign off on the plan. And it would without a doubt necessitate sacrifices by many individuals, not the least of which would be the players. However, it’s not a major worry of mine that people making at least $550K might have to sacrifice for a few months. Of course, there are plenty of support personnel who would have their lives disrupted, too, in order for this plan to work. And they aren’t in the same tax bracket.

But my concern today is not chiefly about the nitty-gritty details to make the plan feasible. Instead, it’s a big-picture approach. With it being next to impossible to have a 162-game season, what are the things that would have to – or even make sense to do, even if it’s not a requirement – change? In the biggest disruption to the season in my lifetime, the 1981 strike, baseball handled things by having a split season, crowning first-half and second-half winners in each division.

This was not a new concept for professional baseball in this country as it was regularly done in the minor leagues. But it was certainly something different for MLB. While fans of the Reds and Cardinals might feel otherwise, this temporary solution worked. It gave fans a reason to get even more excited about baseball’s return. Say your team was 17-34 when the stoppage hit. When the season returned, it was a clean slate.

Your team could pick up Mike Marshall because you had a chance to win the second half of the season. A 6-2 start to the second half allowed for some dreaming. It had been quite a few years since the Mets were in playoff contention in late August.

Right now, we have the ability to come up with other temporary, perhaps even temp-to-hire, solutions to handle a shortened season in a social distancing world. There have been ideas that have already made it into the public domain. We’ve heard about seven-inning doubleheaders, the universal adoption of the DH and even radical realignment, to base divisions on where teams hold Spring Training.

Truth be told, none of these ideas float my boat. However, there is one that has me excited and that’s the use of an automated strike zone to remove the home plate umpire from always being in such close proximity to the batter and catcher. Last year we saw the computerized strike zone used in professional ball, as it was employed during the second half of the year in the Atlantic League.

It wasn’t perfect and ideally it would have a few more years to work out bugs before it was introduced in MLB. But things are rarely ideal.

There are things that the game should be able to achieve its own equilibrium without outside interference. As much as I despised the LOOGY gambit, it shouldn’t have taken a rule change to make teams stop using pitchers constantly for one or two batters at a time. Whether individually or collectively, teams should have recognized that it was a competitive disadvantage in many cases to run your roster this way.

But a more accurate strike zone isn’t something the game could find on its own. The strike zone should be the same for all players, regardless if a stiff or a star is on the mound or in the batter’s box. And we all know that’s not the case. We may not have strikes being called regularly when they’re a foot outside, like during Tom Glavine’s heyday, but there are no shortage of pitches being missed both ways, often in crucial situations.

My strong preference is to abolish the DH. But if you told me the “cost” of a computerized strike zone was the adoption of the DH, I’d sign on the dotted line. And who knows, we may see both of those things if/when the Arizona plan for the 2020 season goes into effect.

13 comments on “Thoughts on the Arizona plan and a shortened MLB season

  • Pete

    A shortened season with a 30 man roster might be feasible. But I’m wondering what about the minor leagues? Your team would need to “stay” together for fear of catching the virus outside of your quarantined space. Maybe play more double headers with the second game lasting 7 innings. There are just too many unknowns as of today. Finally there has to be “instant” testing where before and after each game players, coaches and training staff are all checked. We’ll see

  • David Klein

    Watching pitchers “hit” is pathetic and the strategy stuff is bs having both Ces and Davison the lineup would be huge

  • TexasGusCC

    Here is something that will probably annoy someone, but…

    We all know some teams don’t want to win. Teams like Miami, Baltimore, Detroit, Seattle, San Francisco, Colorado, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Toronto, Boston, San Diego (owner will escape paying Hosmer, Machado and Myers while not making any money), and Texas will be left out. That will make monitoring players easier and gives you nine games per day at ten available venues. The left-out teams’ reward will be a lottery for the upcoming draft – NBA style. The 18 that are left will play a shortened season.

    Play three months or so of about 81 games.

  • Pete

    Gus I don’t think MLBPA will go along with that. Why not group your lost causes into 2 divisions with the winner and have them play each other? 9 venues in Phoenix? only if you add Sun Devil Stadium and a few others outside of Phoenix. (Glendale?)

    • TexasGusCC

      I thought that Pete, but only for a second. The owners of those teams aren’t making money either and just as we have business interruption insurance (that won’t pay us), the players should have also. Otherwise, having a ton of worthless games to not hurt feelings but risk spreading the virus to extra people all over unnecessary just to please the MLBPA is not worth it; just screw it and say no go. Tired of hearing about the MLBPA. These guys are so used to the MLBPA doing everything for them, that they don’t take any personal precaution against lost wages? I’m sorry, that’s their problem. They make enough money..

      Tell you what: screw the MLBPA and have every organization bring their AAA team. See how it goes over then.

  • Pete

    But Gus are you asking the players to forfeit their salaries? It’s over a billion dollars

    • TexasGusCC

      I guess that if it won’t work, cancel the season or just bring the kids.

      Not that I don’t see your point, and as I mentioned considered it for a second, but I just don’t see the need of cramming 15 games into a single day to satisfy everybody, and all the extra and unnecessary risk that will go with it. There is enough risk involved already.

      And Pete, I stopped caring about billionaires a long time ago.

      • Pete

        Gus I lived in Phoenix for over 7 years the temperature hits 100 around Memorial Day and stays at 100-110 throughout the summer and into the fall so day night double headers wont work unless they’re indoors

  • John Fox

    Hmm, not surprised that the Times would explore having batters run to third base, on the left side of the infield, because we all know that paper leans to the left…

    • José

      But it’s on the right from the pitcher’s point of view…

  • Chris F

    Very interesting perspective Brian. Thanks for putting this on the table, at a time when my mind won’t permit even thought of baseball when gripped with the reality of a global health disaster.

    On one hand, I agree completely that the league should have be developing at least one feasibility plan, but perhaps 3 is better. In the one feasibility plan world, there would be a target start date, say the week after the ASB which won’t be played, and if the all clear isn’t given, then just zero the season. I think would be smart to develop mid May, mid June, and mid July start time plans, and have them in place with revamped schedules ready to go for each scenario. As you rightly point out, none need be enacted.

    On the other hand, I would not use a panic situation to make major structural changes to the game just to support a shortened (if played at all) season crappy season. Sure, make the games 7 innings, or 6-inning DH’s and 35 man rosters…none of that would last for a second. But making AL style baseball would stay, and that would be a crime, especially in exchange for trackman umps from behind the plate and elsewhere and endless video replay. Simply put: this is coming no matter what; and it’s coming soon no matter what. Giving up NL (real) baseball for something already on the verge of implementation is just too much to give for too little in return. I’d rather bend on some emergency rule change to dissolve after games are played.

  • MattyMets

    Even without fans, you’re inviting at least 100 people to be in one place. 25 players per team, coaches, trainers, umpires, grounds crew, security, plus you’ve got at least a minimum of stadium employees – a parking attendant, a few janitors, etc. You’d have to do away with dugouts and locker rooms. But you still have, in any at bat, the hitter, catcher and home plate umpire all within sneezing distance of each other.

    The only sports that I think could really work are tennis and golf. I suppose bocce too, if managed properly.

  • Pete

    Well the good news if there are no fans then we’ll surely be able to hear garbage cans being banged. Don’t forget you need MLB staff as well-official scorers etc..and what about announcers? More like 200 people at a minimum.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: