Neither of my parents were sports fans but they had six boys so they ended up with lots of games being played on the TV in their living room. One thing my mom could never understand is why when one team was way behind that they couldn’t just say “uncle” and have the game be over. No attempts to discuss the sanctity of the game and the season ever resonated with her. Finally, the response that satisfied her was, “that’s when they earn their money.”

Those conversations came to mind here recently with all of the talk about how the 2020 season was going to play out. Players are getting pro-rated salaries, which seems very fair. Players can opt out of the season now over health concerns, whether due to significant health factors or just personal risk tolerance. They’ll be paid for the former but not necessarily the latter. Again, that seems fair. But there doesn’t seem to be any limit on the second option, which is at least a little curious.

We know that multiple players on the Nationals and at least one player on the Braves have already opted out of the 2020 season. So, let’s pick on the Phillies. Let’s say that halfway thru the 2020 season, the Mets are in a heated race with the Nats and Braves for the division lead. But for whatever reason – injuries, bad luck and, um, just spit balling here … talent – the Phillies fall off the pace and are under .500 and competing for last place rather than first.

What’s to stop a significant group of their players from saying “uncle” and bailing on the lost season?

Ordinarily the twin pillars of personal pride and future contract considerations keep this from ever being a thing. But now we’re essentially tossing away the second pillar and placing an awful lot of faith in the first one. Especially considering the restrictive conditions that players will need to acquiesce to just so that we can have a season.

In the country as a whole, we see a significant part of the population react negatively to having to wear a mask in public. But now we’re asking baseball players to undergo various forms of testing multiple times a week, social distance from their own co-workers, ones they’re unusually close to, more than anyone else and there will be unstated peer pressure – to say nothing of fan pressure – to self-isolate once the games are over to limit exposure risk.

Let’s pick a player to use as an example. It’s important to note that this is just a hypothetical and not an indication that said player would actually do this. But let’s say that you’re Jake Arrieta. According to Baseball-Reference, you’ve already made over $106 million and you also have had great personal success, playing for a World Series winner and going 2-0 as a starter in the Fall Classic. Why would you subject yourself to playing out the string on an also-ran in the middle of a pandemic when you have a Get Out of Jail Free card in your back pocket?

And what if three of Arrieta’s high-profile teammates then decide to follow his lead? We already have the pitfalls of a 60-game season to deal with but just imagine how it would be if the second half of the season, one of the teams was the Triple-A version of a cellar dweller. What if the schedule has the Mets playing the Phillies significantly more in the first half and the Braves (because they have this type of luck) get them more often in the second half? And then just imagine if instead of just one team it ended up being six or eight of them.

We can disagree about how likely this scenario is but we cannot dismiss it out of hand.

Essentially, as long as we want to have a baseball season, this is something that we’re going to have to accept. There might very well be good reasons for a player to bail on the season midway thru a tough year. If Arrieta opted out because his wife came down with the disease and he wanted to care for her – no reasonable person would object to that decision. You could probably think of a bunch of other cases that would be legitimate, too.

But you know that no one will be honest and say, “This stinks and I’ve had enough.” It will always be couched in terms of concern about their family. It’s a little bit like the old NBA Draft rule, where no one was allowed to leave school early and join the draft unless they had financial hardship. Every player magically had financial hardship and not one of them left because they were flunking out or simply didn’t want to get up for 8:00 a.m. classes.

If players leave mid-season, it will be up to the fans to determine if they think the reason is legitimate. And that’s okay. Fans are used to applying their own judgment to events. You have a significant number of people who refuse to acknowledge Barry Bonds as the Home Run King because of his use of steroids. Others recognize that the accomplishments of players in the first half of the 20th Century aren’t quite as impressive because they came in a segregated league.

To bring it back to the Mets, I always invoked a penalty against Rick Reed, because he was one of the guys who crossed the picket line when MLB used “replacement players” in Spring Training in 1995. Other people thought that was ridiculous. And that’s what it will be like if and when people quit on the 2020 season. Let’s just hope that no Mets player decides to do that.

5 comments on “The 2020 season will try certain players’ souls

  • Chris F

    I thing anyone can say that about any season. One doesn’t have to leave to quit playing and in many regards does the team good by opening a roster spot. It’s better than having a retired person on the bench eating resources.

    All that said, there’s one thing I would add: love of the game, with the privilege of donning a major league uniform. For all athletes, That run is too short, as in all sports. Most contract negotiations prefer longer years even if the salary is less.

    I’m sure that in baseball as in any employment sector some number of folks might opt for the checking out option, but I don’t see that as being a big deal especially in a super short season. Take Arrieta- he’s got 12 starts to make. Hard to believe a competitor of his type walks away from time on the mound or the money.

    I also think There’s a lot to the choice with regards to health. The situation shifts daily. The risk changes daily. The anxiety and stress change daily. In short, I think it would be foolish for fans to judge what any player’s decision is at any time in the season as we will never know the internal workings of how it got there.

  • Terry

    Is it me or does Thomas Paine look a little bit like Bernie Madoff?

  • Mike W

    This will probably happen. What may be more likely is that a couple of players get it then others drop out.

    This happened during the war years from 1942-1945, when a lot of players went off to war. Teams made due with the players they still had left.

    Teams will do their best and it will open up new opportunities for players to step in. If ths Mets are in this situation, I would rather see some young players get playing time, rather than old washed up veterans.

    • Name

      I agree with you. I think we won’t see many players drop out solely because they are losing. It would take some cases of teammates testing positive for them to consider doing so.

      Arrieta is probably also a bad example in this case as he’s still making prime money $20 mil prorated this year so it’s a big chunk of change he’s giving up.
      Most of the players who have thus opted to sit out either have contract security in 2021 (Posey, Price, Desmond) or veterans who are making relatively small salaries compared to their career earnings(Zimmerman, Markakis)

      I could also see a case where pending FAs take this route and end their season early if they are doing well. Say for instance with the Mets Stroman is 5-1 with a 2.75 ERA with 3 starts left and the Mets are out of it. He might just opt to sit out the final few starts to keep his stats intact and not risk hurting his payday.

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