So, here are my top three thoughts about the 2020 baseball season:
It won’t be a real season no matter how many or how few games they play. This is nobody’s fault; a global pandemic hit. Everybody should have let go of the notion of it being a “real season” a long time ago. There won’t be fans (or many fans). There won’t be pennant races like we have seen in the past. There will be challenges and could be any number of setbacks. This season will, by definition, be unlike anything that has ever happened in the history of the game. To those people who are still trying to bring “legitimacy” to this season: Stop. It won’t be that kind of year.
Because it will not be a real season, there are two main ways to handle things. You can try anyway — out of deference to baseball history — to create something resembling a season. I believe this is pointless. Or, you can embrace the fun. You can try cool new things. You can try to make 2020 — best you can — a celebration of the game, a gift to Americans who are hurting and anxious and fearful and angry and lonely and desperate for something to feel good about.
Everybody — EVERYBODY — in baseball is going to lose money. And you know what? Nobody outside of the game wants to hear about it. Forty million Americans are out of work. One hundred plus thousand are dead from this virus. Millions of people are marching in the street for racial justice. Nobody gives a damn about the baseball money. If you can’t shut up about the money now, in this moment, you deserve all the rage and, even worse, apathy that will rain down on your game.
So, with those three things in mind, I want to talk about something cheerful and thrilling and, yeah, I’m giddy about it. I want to talk about an idea for what the 2020 season could look like. For a long time, I’ve been thinking about how to turn the baseball year into something entirely different, a break from the past, a plan for the moment. So here goes:
As you probably know, owners and players have been arguing about how long the regular season should be. The players at one point talked about a 114-game season, which is a totally unrealistic idea for any number of reasons. The owners have talked about having players take enormous pay cuts to pay for the losses, which is also a totally unrealistic idea for any number of reasons.
And recently the owners have talked about a 48-game season, which I’ve heard people mock.
I think it’s the wrong argument. Who cares about the regular season? To be honest, I would be fine with a 48-game season. I could even love it.
And I’ll tell you why.
First, a 48-game season ends any and all pretense about 2020 being “legitimate” or whatever other word you want to use. And maybe with a 48-game season, the league would try some things to make the game more fun. In-dugout microphones? Sure! Fun new extra-inning rules? Why not? Seven-inning double-headers? Give it a shot! Incentives to speed up the game? Try it! Crazy-marketing plays? New umpiring techniques? Bringing the relievers out in bullpen carts? Having players in bubble-blowing competitions? Players wearing the name and number of their baseball heroes?
Look, anything and everything should be in play in 2020. I’ll say it again: Celebrate the game! I’m sure you have lots and lots of ideas that are way better than these that we could try.
But the second reason a 48-game season would be wonderful is we could do this:
A Major League Baseball version of the College World Series.
Yeah, that’s right: An MLB College World Series. When I think about how great this could be, I can’t stop smiling.
What would it look like? Glad you asked — I’m doing this off the top of my head, using last year’s standings, but I think it will help you imagine it.
OK, so first you would have regionals. The way I figure it it, you would have six regionals — four of them with four teams each and two more with seven teams. The idea would be to get it down to 16 teams. Here’s an example of how that might look, again based on last year’s standings:
Regional 1: Houston would host with Yankees, Minnesota and Oakland. They would play a double-elimination tournament* for seeding purposes. All four would make it (total teams 4).
*In the original of those posts, I kept calling them double-elimination round-robin tournaments — I guess that’s not the right way to say it. The CWS does it with double-elimination. We can decide the format as we go but I’ll just call them double-elimination from here on in.
Regional 2: The Dodgers would host with Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Washington. Again, they would play a double-elimination tournament for seeding purposes. All four would make it (total teams 8).
Regional 3: Cleveland would host with Milwaukee, the Mets and the Phillies. They would play a double-elimination tournament. The top three teams would make it (total teams 11).
Regional 4: St. Louis would host with Arizona, Boston, and the Cubs. They would play a double-elimination tournament. The top three teams would make it (total teams 14).
Regional 5: Texas would host with Cincinnati, the Angels, Colorado, Toronto, Miami and Detroit. That’s seven teams. I’m not sure the best format for this — maybe a special round-robin tournament and then a final series, we can figure that part out. Point is, though, only ONE team would make it (total teams 15).
Regional 6: San Francisco would host with the White Sox, San Diego, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Kansas City and Baltimore. That’s seven teams. This would be like the fifth regional with only one team making it (total teams 16).
OK, now you have 16 teams.
And you go on to the Super Regional. Those are best-of-three-game series played at the sites of the top eight teams. So again, just playing through, it might look like this (the top seed will have home-field advantage for all games).
No. 1 seed: Houston plays the winner of Regional 6. Let’s say that was San Diego.
No. 2 seed: The Dodgers play the winner of the Regional 5. Let’s say that was Cincinnati.
No. 3 seed: The Yankees would play the Cubs.
No. 4 seed: The Twins would play the Phillies.
No. 5 seed: The Braves would play the Red Sox.
No. 6 seed: Oakland would play the Brewers.
No. 7 seed: The Rays would play the Cardinals
No. 8 seed: Washington would play Cleveland
These would be three-game series for the right to go to the MLB College World Series — we’d have to come up with a better name for that. How about the MLB Free For All? October Insanity? Fall Frenzy? Autumn Meshugaas? Baseball Bedlam? You decide!
Then we’d have the big event, eight teams, one place, a double-elimination salute to baseball. Are you kidding me? It would be like a baseball World Cup. It would be like heaven. I’m imagining the players acting like kids. I’m imagining every game feeling like a carnival. I’m imagining it, and it’s the first time in such a long time that I’m thinking delightful thoughts about what this game could be in these crushing times.
Finally, the winner of each bracket would play in a seven-game World Series.
I’m sure my exuberance is coming in hot and over the top, but I honestly cannot begin to tell you how fired up I would be for this. And here’s the best part: I think it could work. I think this format, in addition to being awesome*. also seems like the best hope to try and combat COVID-19. You would be limiting travel. You would be creating baseball hubs. You would be giving everyone a chance to stay in one place with the expectation of social distancing.
And for the country it would be a big, sprawling, sunny, exhilarating baseball story, wall-to-wall ball, it would be the absolute greatest baseball thing since the bullpen car.
*I honestly think it’s so awesome that we’d never want to go back to the old system but I might be getting carried away.
I fear some people misunderstand why I and so many people I know are so angry at the people who run baseball now. It isn’t exactly that they’re struggling to find a way to play ball — I get that there are various challenges unique to baseball, and this is a hard puzzle, and we are living in unprecedented times.
I sort of get that the trust between players and owners is at low-tide and it’s hard for them to find common ground, even if that’s what the moment demands.
I even get that there are several hundred million dollars at stake and that’s a lot of money, even for some of the richest people in the country.
No, I’m angry because I sense no love for this game that I love. It doesn’t come across at all. At this moment, we could be talking about an MLB COLLEGE WORLD SERIES. Think about how much that would be to talk about, to argue about, to plan for, to dream about? What if Mike Trout’s Angels made a surprising run into the Series? What if the Dodgers lost early in the double-elimination tournament and needed to go on an epic run to make it to the Series? What if someone like Ronald Acuña or Francisco Lindor or Pete Alonso just got super-duper hot and the whole country was fired up about him? What if Max Scherzer or Blake Snell or, God help us, Trevor Bauer just took over because one pitcher could have an ENORMOUS impact in this kind of format.
Point is: We could be spending our time thinking about how cool it will be to see the players out there again, playing the game with a special kind of joy because the real point of this baseball season, the real point of this whole terrible year, should be to pull through together, to encourage and inspire and support each other, to find those thin rays of hope and happiness and common ground.
There’s only so much baseball can do in this obviously, obviously. We all know what’s really important. But baseball should damn well be doing something. An MLB College World Series — I’m telling you, this is it, this is the thing. Come on! Just give us a chance to fall in love with baseball again.