This week was supposed to include the San Francisco Giants — the only MLB team never to play a game at Target Field — making their first visit to Minneapolis since 2005, and Michael Pineda returning from his PED suspension. Instead, we’re left watching Korean baseball on TV and answering baseball questions on the latest mailbag.
Might as well start with the question on everyone’s mind.
What do you see as the most likely scenario for the remainder of the 2020 season?
— Dan Chang, St. Paul
Phil Miller: Sigh. I hope I’m wrong, I really do. My Twins’ coverage partner, La Velle E. Neal III, insists that the season will be underway by July 4. But I’m a pessimist who remains unconvinced that Major League Baseball, as much as everyone wants it to return within 6-8 weeks, can clear all the obstacles in front of that plan in time.
Around the sport, the feeling is clearly growing that there is an opening ahead, that the majority of teams will soon be able to play in their home stadiums, albeit without fans, and that baseball will be able to cram in 80-100 games per team. I understand the motivation: Many players, particularly those who don’t have contracts guaranteeing them millions, want to play the season, receive their paychecks, and risk the contracting a disease that, I assume, they believe isn’t a life-threatening risk.
Owners, too, want to recoup some of their losses by restoring their cash flow from TV networks, and seize the attention of a sports world that clearly thirsts for actual games.
Maybe it will happen. Certainly there is a growing determination to lay out a definitive path toward Opening Day sometime in the next few weeks. But even the best intentions are subject to the realities of this pandemic, and there are so many things that can go wrong.
The spread of COVID-19 could accelerate — most public models predict this, actually — and it will be nearly impossible to guarantee players’ safety, not to mention that of the coaches, staff and TV crews. Some players, perhaps including a few of the game’s biggest stars, could object to the plan, or even boycott. And as I wrote last week, players and owners could have trouble coming to an agreement about how much of their salaries players will receive
If forced to make a prediction, I would say that baseball’s best-case scenario will take a couple of hits, and MLB will be forced to settle for a token season of fewer than 80 games per team, starting in August — or the season could be scrapped altogether.
Let’s hope I’m wrong. I certainly do.
Instead of starting the season in quarantine in Arizona, why not end the season in Arizona? They could keep playing there through the end of December. How about July, August and September in the teams’ own stadiums, and then October, November and December in Arizona?
— Roger Zahn, Park Rapids
Phil Miller: This is an interesting idea, since it could conceivably allow Opening Day to be pushed back to August or September if necessary. But there is one big hangup preventing baseball being played into the winter: Pitching.The value of good pitching has skyrocketed. Of the 20 MLB contracts worth more than $200, six belong to pitchers. Two of the four Twins who were supposed to earn more than $10 million this season (Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda) are pitchers. And because pitching is so expensive, teams are unwilling to risk those arms. Remember, Stephen Strasburg was held out of the playoffs (the PLAYOFFS!) in 2012.
Teams want their pitchers to rest their arms for several months over the winter, so while your creative calendar might allow more games to be played in 2020, there is no way that MLB teams would then convene spring training camps just six weeks later. After this unprecedented disruption to the game this summer, MLB will want more than anything to have a normal 2021.
I believe your idea could conceivably work in basketball or hockey, but pitchers are protected to such a degree now (even though they seem to get hurt just as often as ever), I can’t see any team ever agreeing to such a short offseason.
I am somewhat interested in baseball, but more interested in fairness. With all the fines for stealing signs and other infractions, isn’t it time to get Pete Rose into the Hall of Fame?
— Betty Wentworth, Minnetonka
Phil MIller: I agree with you, Betty, sort of. Well, I don’t agree that other people’s crimes should lessen a person’s punishment, so connecting Rose’s case to the Astros’ seems a bit of a stretch to me.
But I do agree from this angle: Rose has served his time.
Even when Rose agreed to a “lifetime” ban, it was with the understanding with then-commissioner Bart Giamatti that he could apply for reinstatement at a later date, something that he has done several times with Giamatti’s successors.
And even though Rose denied his crimes for several years, he eventually did admit in 2003 to gambling on baseball. The original suspension was imposed early 31 years ago, and his come-clean confession was 17 years ago. My belief is that his punishment has now fit his crime.
Even if Major League Baseball wants to keep the ban on Rose in place, that shouldn’t affect the Hall of Fame’s consideration, because baseball doesn’t own the HOF. Rose is 79 now, is unlikely ever to be hired for a baseball job, and remains the most prolific hitter in history. Mostly, my position is this: The Hall of Fame is a history museum. It should reflect the game’s history, however scruffy and no matter the miscreants, and Rose was a big part of it. Put it on his plaque, that he served a long suspension because he broke one of baseball’s most important rules. But the Hall of Fame should announce that Rose has finally been paroled.
Target Field photo by Jeff Wheeler