It looks like baseball is on the way.
And basketball, and hockey, too. And for all intents and purposes, football season begins in July, too, nowadays. I’m just not sure how to feel about all this.
For many reasons.
We will begin with the easy one.
Some of my most deeply ingrained routines are being messed with here in a big way. I mean, Opening Day in late-July? NBA Finals over Labor Day Weekend? I’ve spent 50 years both reveling in, and taking comfort from, the seasonality of my favorite sports. Even during those years where we lost games (or seasons) due to some form of labor strife or other, the sports were true to their appointed months on the calendar.
This year started out much the same. Baseball gave us pitchers and catchers in February, and all was right with the world. The NBA was plodding through the dog days of their regular season with an exciting playoff tournament taking shape that would overlap with the early-season MLB games, thus providing the right amount of variety and relevance for fans of both sports. Who’d have guessed that only a few months later we’d find ourselves…
No major sports and a void the size of the Grand Canyon wreaking havoc on all sports fans on a daily basis.
The NFL? Somehow the NFL has managed through this global pandemic “relatively” unscathed. No easy task for a league that can fuck up the most mundane of topics — hey, what constitutes a catch these days, fellas? Preseason camps are getting ready to open, and fans or not, they appear determined to execute on their complete, 16-game schedule come hell or high water.
But here in 2020 — the year of the virus — NFL games will have company on the calendar from both their baseball and hoops brethren, as well as those that earn their living on skates. And I’m sorry, but it just doesn’t feel right.
To get to the core of what’s really bothering me, we can start with baseball.
Yes, the ridiculous, hair-pulling fight between the players and owners was embarrassing for both sides and ill-timed to put it mildly. But what’s emerged from their “agreement” as it pertains to my National Pastime is what is really doing a number on me. Because I’m a staunch traditionalist.
If you ask me (and unfortunately nobody does), there should be no Designated Hitter anywhere in Major League Baseball. I’ve sucked it up with the Junior Circuit flouting the natural order of baseball with their gimmicky use of an extra bat since the early-’70’s, but at least the National League has held the line. Now with this 60-game, farce of a season about to begin, we find a DH thrust upon us in both leagues.
That’s just the crack in the door fans of the DH have been waiting for, and with a new collective bargaining agreement coming our way in 2021, the days of Rick Wise hitting two dingers while throwing a no-hitter may never be seen again. And I’m sorry, but taking the bats out of the hands of pitchers sucks.
But wait, there’s more!
Are they really serious that extra innings games will now begin with a runner on second base? I guess they decided breaking the tie with a home run hitting contest was too cheesy? Good lord…
Maybe we can bring Charlie Finley’s orange baseballs out of hibernation, too, and use them for one hitter a game for each team. The manager gets to choose any hitter he’d like, in any situation. And if the orange ball gets taken out of the park, they award double the number of runs than would have scored if it had been a “traditional” home run.
Genius, I tell you.
Meanwhile, I’ve been applauding the NBA for it’s leadership within the world of sports up until recently. Commissioner Adam Silver acted quickly and with authority getting his players off the court and out of the virus’s way before any of the other major sports leagues decided to take action. So it seemed appropriate the NBA was first to come up with a plan to restart things this summer.
But not so fast…
First Kyrie Irving (who won’t even be in the Orlando “bubble” when games resume) tells his fellow players around the league that restarting the season will take attention away from the inroads being made in the areas of social justice and racial equality. And therefore, they should boycott a season’s resumption.
So Kyrie is worried about hurting the greater good, huh? Or is he just pissed that he’s injured (again) and won’t be a part of the restart. Add to that how his old frenemy LeBron stands a good chance of winning a title while Kyrie rehabs back in Brooklyn, and maybe we need to question his real motivation? Hmmm…based on all we’ve seen of Kyrie through the years, I’m going to wager that he is way more bothered by the prospect of watching LeBron win another title than he is motivated to reinforce peaceful protest.
And what of LeBron? Yes, when not instructing all co-habitants of planet earth on how to think and speak, LBJ is all for getting back on the hardwood. In fact, he counters Kyrie’s social justice argument with one of his own. The King believes that resuming the season will create a more visible platform for players to impact positive change toward racial equality, not hurt those efforts the way Kyrie believes they will.
Admirable? Perhaps, but could there be just a bit of self-interest influencing LeBron’s view? Like how the Lakers stand to be the top seed in the Western Conference if a season is completed? And that this could be his last and best chance to win a ring in a Lakers uniform?
Nah, not LeBron. Not when he has a history of sitting silently watching which way the wind blows on every important national issue, before grabbing the baton and taking his spot at the front of the parade once the lines of demarcation have clearly been drawn by others on social media.
Yeah, it’s all about LeBron wanting that ring.
And we’re not done, NBA. What’s this I see now about players substituting words or phrases concerning racial inequality on the backs of their jerseys in place of their last names when play resumes? C’mon guys, really?
Isn’t the idea of names on the backs of jerseys a fan experience thing? It’s always been done as a way of helping us keep track of who has the ball, or is involved in what activity over the course of a 48-minute game. In fact, those jerseys and their accompanying last names have become such a part of the league’s fabric that we even track which players’ jerseys are “best sellers” over the course of a given season?
Well pardon the skeptic in me, but is it even slightly possible that Commissioner Adam Silver, the owners, and the NBA Players Association may be looking to find alternate revenue opportunities to replace a portion of the money lost due to the pandemic?
C’mon kids, we know you already have the Kawhi Leonard #2 jersey at home, and it’s your most prized piece of NBA apparel. But now to complete the set shouldn’t you pony up another $200 for an official NBA-licensed Clippers #2 jersey? And this one, instead of saying “Leonard” on the back, now says “Equality?” Revenue drivers or change agents? You decide.
Alright, enough negativity. I’ll leave the rest for the Post’s Phil Mushnick. Because there is another side to this coin.
And that’s this — sports are coming back!
I saw that the Nationals and Yankees may be opening the MLB schedule. That means Max Scherzer and Gerrit Cole on the hill, and I’m already excited. I don’t even care if they both go three innings. From there I boomeranged right back into fan mode.
Yup, I’m already hoping that not enough time has passed for Aaron Judge to be fully healthy. And I’m organizing a pool with my friends where we all pick the name of the major leaguer most likely to be sidelined by the virus first. And of course I select Bryce Harper. Because, you know, we all hate Bryce Harper.
The DH? Yeah, I absolutely hate that, too. But let’s pencil in Yoenis Cespedes as league MVP right now, for leading the Mets to the division title (will there even be divisions?) with 30 dingers in 60 games from the blue and orange DH slot. Hey, if there’s gotta be a bastardized form of NL baseball being played, let’s at least have the Mets take advantage of it.
And speaking of the Mets (can you believe it’s taken me over 1200 words to get to them?), if there was ever a season made to order for a New York Mets success story, it is the virus-shortened 2020 campaign. For one, we always get off to a fast start, which has never been more important than this year with the abbreviated schedule. Two, in a year where everything is all f-ed up anyway, what better team than the Mets to lay claim to a World Series title. It’s karmic justice, right?
Too bad the Knicks can’t make such an argument and sneak into the NBA play-in tournament, too. Nah — check that — the Knicks are so bad that it’s probably better we just shut them down now and let them begin interviewing the 20 candidates they’ve “narrowed” their search down to in deciding on a new head coach for next season.
But I’ll root for Brooklyn, for sure. How cool would it be for the Nets to make a little noise in the postseason without either of their two big-ticket free agents lacing up a sneaker in the postseason?
I have to believe Roger Goodell is hard at work in that nicely appointed basement of his, doing his absolute damndest to find something that can blow up the upcoming season. The NFL survived the virtual draft, and even managed to make it must-see TV for many of us. And they finally appear on the verge of framing correctly that patriotism and peaceful protest for social justice and racial equality don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Hell, they’ve even figured out a way to undo the Evil Empire up in New England.
Yeah, there must be an enormous NFL fuck up hurtling toward us like a meteor any day now.
But as Chris Berman says, “that’s why they play the games.”
Okay, bring it on sports leagues — I’m ready.