Spitting Is Part of Baseball*

*Full title: Spitting Is Part of Baseball, Nobody’s Going to Hit 30 Homers, and 11 Other Things You Should Know Before the MLB Season

First things first: I can’t wait to get back on the field and play.

There’s been so much talk about the return of baseball in 2020, and I’ve contributed my fair share of it. But I actually spent most of my time in quarantine working out and training as if it were another off-season. And except for when I banged my knee on a sharp bedpost in the middle of the night, I didn’t really have any setbacks.

I was in Arizona, near Phoenix, and I was very fortunate. There’s a gym — a private throwing gym — close to where I was staying that was open the majority of the time, so I was able to lift. I basically had a full off-season of lifting. I ended up, at the end of three months, setting new personal records in velocity and lifting and all that stuff. I actually had like five PRs in the last week that I was training.

So I’m ready, and I hope you are, too. What follows is not only my preview of the 60-game 2020 season, but also my take on where baseball stands today … as well as a few other things that have been on my mind lately.

It would have been a huge disaster to not have baseball this year — for so many reasons.
One, think about the Dodgers for a second. The Dodgers traded some of their farm system and top contracts to the Red Sox to get Mookie Betts and David Price. Price isn’t playing now, which is already tough enough, but Mookie Betts is due to be a free agent next winter. And even if there had been no baseball this year, he still would have been given full-service time. So L.A. would have had to try to re-sign him after having gotten nothing out of him in 2020. How do the Dodgers recover from that as an organization? And as a fan base, how upset would people be in L.A.?

We also could have lost a percentage of our fan base when we had a chance to be the only sport on TV and actually attract new fans, younger fans. But we got none of that done. Aside from MLS, which returned a few weeks ago, when baseball comes back later this month, we’re only going to have a week before the NBA and the NHL come back. MLB averted disaster, but it also missed a giant opportunity.

So it’s going to be good to have some baseball this year, for sure, but it’s going to be less good than it could have been at 80 games, or 90 games.
It’s very hard to convince fans that a fight over money is important or worthwhile when 45 million Americans are out of work, and are struggling to figure out how they’re going to put food on the table and survive.
And then you have owners and players arguing in the media about who’s going to get paid more, and what the legal language says? The whole decision to debate the deal in public was bad from the beginning, in my opinion. And then it just evolved into a fourth-grade food fight after that.

The initial agreement said that if games were played, then players would be paid a prorated salary. But MLB argued that would happen only if fans were in the stands, and that we’d have to renegotiate our compensation if there were no fans. In other words, we’d get 62% of our agreed upon salaries if we played 100 games with no fans, or 50% if we played 80 with no fans. So that was what everything came down to.

I think that the agreement that was finally reached is a bad deal for everybody involved, most notably the fans.
I think there was a compromise to be had a lot earlier. There was a lot more baseball to be played. But the owners got exactly what they wanted, aside from expanded playoffs — which was the one thing that they didn’t get. Otherwise, by limiting the number of regular-season games, they got to do just what business owners always want to do: limit costs. (The highest cost comes in paying player salaries.) And they’re not even obligated to pay players at all in the postseason because there won’t be any gate revenues.

The problem is, it’s a short-term play. The owners looked at this year and protected their bottom line. But they did a lot of damage to the sport for years to come. They pissed a lot of fans off. They pissed a lot of players off too. So now there’s more tension in the air. And there’s the very real possibility of a work stoppage after the 2021 season — when the CBA is due to be renegotiated — because players increasingly feel like the owners are trying to screw them.

So in my opinion — and I’m not trying to speak for anybody else — it would have been better for players to play more games this year for the money the owners were offering, which would have meant taking a slight cut on full prorated salaries. That way, players would have more money in their pockets, more games, more stats. It would lessen the blow of what’s going to happen in arbitration and free agency, and all that other stuff next year.

I know Rob Manfred was in a tough spot — and there were certainly a lot of constantly changing factors at play — but I think things could have been handled better.
There were certainly a lot of variables at play, and no one can truly understand his position from the outside. It’s very hard for me to criticize because I don’t have a suggestion of something that I would have done better — except for not making the negotiations public. Now, the owners were probably telling him that it was important to win this fight, and so going public was a fairly effective strategy. I can’t really argue that. But it did a lot of damage — I think, in the long run, it did more harm than good.

I am not tired of being baseball’s designated “outspoken guy.”
It’s just me being me. If anything, I hope to see more players feel comfortable speaking out and sharing their perspectives openly in the future. The game needs more of that in my opinion.

This season is going to be very much like September baseball, but every game will be about two and a half times more valuable than a regular-season game normally is.
If a team comes out of the gate and goes like 1–11 in their first 12 games, they’re out, they’re done. It’s going to be a serious sprint.

There’s the potential that some teams may shorten their starters and leverage their bullpens. I’m thinking about the Yankees of the past couple of years, when their starting rotation was considered a little bit thin but they had a really dominant bullpen. So their strategy for the postseason — when you only have to play one month of baseball — was for their relievers to cover five or six innings a game. Well, with only having to cover two months of regular-season baseball this year, a lot more teams are going to have a chance to go that route. So you might see starters going one time through the order, or one and a half times through the order, and then relievers coming in.

Then again, you might see other teams that rely more on their starting pitching leveraging the top part of their rotation by having just four starters because they don’t have to make it through a whole season.

I would say the top win total for a starter is going to be seven or eight.
With 60 games, if you have a five-man rotation, a pitcher is probably going to make only 12 starts. I’m hoping to get to 15 starts if I pitch every fourth day, but even so, winning like 12 out of 15 starts is ridiculously good. Some people have those types of first halves or second halves, where they just get hot, and their team scores for them, and all the stars align.

You also have to understand that a lot of starters aren’t going to get the chance to even book a win. If you face the order one and a half times, you’re not going five innings. You’re not going to get a chance to win that game.

I don’t think any pitchers are going to abide by the no-licking-the-fingers rule, honestly.
Not intentionally by any means, but it’s hard to imagine being out there in a competitive mindset, trying to get guys out, while also remembering that you’re not supposed to lick your fingers because of COVID-19. When the pressure is on, you’re going to default back to how you’ve played your whole life and how you’d normally pitch.

The spitting rule is going to be … I don’t know how you’re going to tell people they can’t spit when they’re in the outfield. People spit all the time. Spitting is part of baseball. You’re telling me you’re going to fine people? You’re going to watch every position on the field, and if they spit 10 times in a game you’re going to fine them 10 different times? I don’t see how that’s going to be possible.

Nobody’s going to hit 30 homers this year.
If you look at the top home run hitters, guys who have 12 or 13 homers in a month are just absolutely on fire and they don’t repeat those numbers in back-to-back months. Even Bonds, in his record-breaking season, he hit 73. So over six months he averaged 12 per month. I’d be surprised if anyone hits more than about 23, 24. I’d set the high at 24 homers.

Baseball hasn’t forgotten about the Astros, by the way.
What happened with them just hasn’t really been front and center, obviously, with all the negotiations, the pandemic we’re living through, baseball being canceled, and all the uncertainty that has been going on. But I don’t think players have forgotten about it at all, and I expect it to be brought up again in some capacity once baseball starts getting more coverage.

There are certain players out there who feel very strongly about it. I can only speak for myself and I don’t think that anyone should get hit. I don’t think it’s right to be throwing at someone intentionally, and risking injuring them by hitting them in the wrist, or the elbow, or the ribs. Hopefully, that doesn’t happen.

But I’ve got to imagine, for some, it very well could. Just understanding the temperature of baseball players and coaches around the league, and the sentiment of how many players were upset with how the Astros conducted themselves — not only the cheating scandal, but also pointing a finger in everybody’s faces and mocking them. There’s a lot of bad blood toward them.

You’re probably going to see a lot of guys doing elbow bumps this season.
I think that outside is going to be fine. Onfield, you’re out in the sun, you’re in the open. The research that I’ve seen on the virus says it doesn’t do nearly as well in sunlight and outdoors as it does inside. I think it’s mainly when you’ve got 25 or 30 players in the locker room or in the dugout — plus the clubhouse staff, plus the coaches — that’s where it could be a real problem. On the field, the closest you ever really get is the catcher and the hitter, or like the guy on first base being held on by the first baseman.

Somebody’s probably going to go beyond the elbow bumps and make something fun out of it. But yeah, I don’t know. When someone hits a walk-off home run, the tendency is going to be to jump over the railing and go celebrate at the plate. Those knee-jerk responses will be hard to curb and I’ve got to imagine, to some extent, those things are still going to happen.

Players are going to get used to playing baseball after the first week or so. And it’s going to be the only (kind of) normal part of the day, and we’re going to forget about all the rules and just play to compete and win.

And I can’t wait.

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