By TIM DAHLBERG
There’s a chance baseball will still be played this summer, though pettiness, intransigence and the sneakiness of the coronavirus may dictate otherwise.
Just as well. Because it’s not baseball I want to see.
A schedule with so few games that the regular season is meaningless. A postseason with so many teams that it’s not special.
A game bastardized by made-up rules where everything is dictated by the chase for the almighty dollar.
Why even bother?
Declare defeat now and spare us all the arguing between players and management. Come back next year with a plan that respects both the baseball of today and the past it so glorifies.
Let the Grand Old Game take a break while there’s still something grand about it.
We’ve been without baseball for more than three months now, so it’s not like we can’t live without it. Yes, we’d like to see Clayton Kershaw pitch his way out of a jam or Mike Trout come to the plate with the bases loaded, but there’s no case so compelling for the sport returning that we can’t sit out the rest of the year.
Especially when the alternative is the Mickey Mouse assortment of rule changes for the short season that threaten to make it unwatchable.
That comes with apologies to Mickey, who would be ashamed to have his name attached to what this once great game is trying to become.
Sure, there are changes that baseball could make for the better. The sport is in urgent need of some tinkering if it ever hopes to regain its spot as America’s Pastime.
Unfortunately, none of those changes are contained in proposals from either the players or the owners. Both sides are so consumed with greed that the things they offer seem more intent on destroying the fabric of the game than preserving it for the future.
The DH will be implemented across baseball, that’s pretty much a given. Pitchers will no longer swing bats, which basically means the elimination of the sacrifice bunt, too.
The subtle strategies that have delighted baseball fans for more than a century will be no more. A game of nuance and complexity will become little more than a glorified Home Run Derby, with pitchers throwing as hard as they can and batters swinging even harder.
Tune into a game and you might recognize the Yankee pinstripes or the Dodger home whites. I say might, because they’ll be covered with ads for Verizon, Budweiser or even the My Pillow guy.
Don’t worry about staying up too late to watch. If a game goes into extra innings, they will likely start just like your high school softball games — with a runner on second base. If that runner doesn’t score, the game may simply be called a tie.
Doubleheaders could be reduced to seven innings. Starting pitchers may have to beg their manager to get to the fifth inning to get an official win but could conceivably return later to the game for the save.
And it will all take place in empty stadiums, with players grumpy they’re playing in a bubble and even grumpier they’re not getting their full $30 million salary.
What’s the point? Who would even begin to care enough to tune in?
Other than degenerate gamblers, my guess is not many. Baseball struggles to get eyeballs on TV in the regular season in normal times and even fewer fans will care when they figure out the entire regular season is as irrelevant as spring training.
That could, of course change. The great baseball minds who have gotten us this far might have even more ideas to really get the juices flowing among fans.
Orange baseballs? Check. A fourth “rover” outfielder to fill in those gaps in the shift? Sure, why not.
How about allowing managers to reshuffle their lineups in the ninth inning if they’re behind? And who ever said the three-strike, four-ball rule had to be set in stone?
They’re all the same thing, gimmicks for what would be a gimmicky season. Actually, it wouldn’t even be a season, just a series of games to try and get fans to somehow care about the playoffs.
And in a game of numbers the only number that would really matter is how many players test positive for the coronavirus.
In the end, there’s simply no compelling reason to play baseball this summer. And there’s certainly no reason to radically change the game just to do it.
It’s likely the virus will eventually make the final determination whether to spare us from the worst laid plans on both sides of the table.
But there’s no reason to wait any longer to call it quits.
AP Baseball Writers Ronald Blum and Ben Walker contributed.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg