Throughout the summer, every completed game has raised hopes that pandemic baseball could succeed, and every positive seven-inch double header and violation of the COWID-19 protocol has reflected institutional recklessness. Away from the noise, the referendum on the 2020 Major League Baseball season was neither successful nor unpleasant, only reinforcing the existential struggles that continue to feel inevitable.
On the field, the action will certainly be remembered; the Los Angeles Dodgers – still dominant, but strangely human enough to lose at their worst – were finally the champions of a season that began bitterly after the Houston Astros cheated and Commissioner Rob Manfred called the World Series trophy just a piece of metal. The season was interrupted in March when the world came to a standstill by COWID-19, and then resumed with concern as the death toll continued to rise. The off-season started with an unprecedented number of 16 teams. Before ending with fireworks all over Los Angeles – in case anyone feels too comfortable with the increasing number of deaths in the world – baseball had the last positive COVID-19 test of the World Series, with the Dodgers six runs off the finish line.
While the validity of the Dodgers’ first championship since 1988 – won with mismatched fans on neutral ground after a regular season of 60 games plus 18 play-off games – may be questionable for some of us in the short term, the long game in history is cold and partisan. The last outing was recorded with Julio Urias catching up with Willie Adames and a remaining team. They’re your winners.
As the Dodgers photographed the championship team with third baseman Justin Turner – a coronavirus that spread through his body when he smiled unmasked next to manager Dave Roberts – the miles travelled during the tumultuous schedule felt as inconspicuous as they did after the trip. But it should be noted that the 2020 season ended as it began, with a question for those involved in the sport: What do you want your game to look like? The demand that arose throughout the season before the end of the pandemic continued to exist in this unique year and will continue to do so until 2021.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Before the opening game in July, members of the Seattle Mariners knelt down after the national anthem in support of the movement for social justice. Abby Parr/Getty Images
The last time the Tampa Bay Rays participated in the World Series, Congress and then President George W. Bush had just saved Wall Street at the taxpayer’s expense after the 2008 financial collapse. They have brought the big companies back to an even more profitable state and have hardly punished anyone for it. One of the best bankers, Karim Serageldin, ended up in jail. None of the other Wall Street executives who cheated on America took their time. The perpetrators of the fraud were not denied a career. Free of charge. No one’s been fired.
Eight years later, before being sworn in, Donald Trump reached an arrangement with the plaintiffs in the Trump University case for $25 million. The trial of a new president who routinely cheated students of hundreds of thousands of dollars could be described as big news, but the New York Times did its own reporting, prioritizing the little battle of words between Trump and Cast Hamilton, when a member of the Broadway showdown gave an admonition to President-elect Vice President Mike Pence, who was on the show that night.
Sensational, high-profile deceptions, with no real consequences for the powerful, are now the order of the day. Nobody seems to care. People who do this are considered naive. The hope that no one will be punished is the only thing less surprising than the fraud itself. For the cynical audience it’s a yawning material. However, at the beginning of spring training, the country spent a lot of time on the Houston Astros, with Manfred reluctant to resolutely punish the players involved and, as the season progressed, the private sector of the baseball industry – the commissioner’s office and the offices of 29 other teams – was reluctant to treat the Astros project as a cultural red flag. Alex Cora, manager of the Boston Red Sox, Carlos Beltran, manager of the New York Mets, and A.J. Hinch, manager of the Astros, all lost their jobs during the championship/scandal year in Houston. Manfred suspended Hinch and Cora for a year, which turned out to be less than six months. The Astros fired GM Jeff Lachnow. Like Enron, the original sponsor of the homeball park, the Astros, with McKinsey as the smartest in the room, fooled the audience and then crashed into the earth.
When spring training began, the league pitchers applied their version of borderline justice, eliminating the Astros batters. Hinch and Cora were fired, but by mid-summer it was clear that their punishment was not the death penalty, but a time-out. Long before the end of the season, Hinch filled vacant coaching positions in Detroit and with the Chicago White Sox and finished with the Tigers. Cora went back to her old job in Boston. Although Beltran’s future is still uncertain, only Lynov seems to be definitively banned from practising the sport. At the beginning of November, he sued the Astros for breach of contract, claiming more than $22 million in damages.
The spring of 2020 brought back images of the star-identified era and the self-satisfaction and electoral honesty that preceded it. When the host’s deception was mitigated, visitors deserved to be banned, the 2007 Mitchell report, headed by former barely impartial Secretary of State George Mitchell, found the Red Sox outnumbered, reprimanded them, and then let them all go. The then commissioner, Bud Selig, was easily elected into the Hall of Fame. The Astros certainly cheated and questioned the legitimacy of their most magical moments of the World Series 2017, especially the miraculous home run of Marwin Gonzalez in Game 2, the mysterious demolition of Clayton Kershaw in Game 5 and the performance of George Springer as MVP. Although the MLB investigation didn’t reveal the 2019 season and Houston lost the World Series last year and lost all four home games against Washington State, Jose Altuve’s home win over Aroldis Chapman in the ALCS and the team’s .741-winning percentage still stands. The arrest only got worse when Altuve, a triple AL baseball player in 2017, fell to .200 after the first week of the season and beat .219 for the year. He didn’t get the benefit of the doubt. That’s what cheating does.
The real damage of steroids in this game is the reluctance to admit that we have been there before and, as with the financial crisis and the trump scandals, the long-term damage of letting things get out of hand, despite the comfort of the public. It was a spring issue, about the people who run the game comfortably with the creature of baseball, the new generation of owners and executives who run their teams with a Wall Street attitude and the sleazy, booky edges that go with it. The Astros, the new favourites in the smart set, are at the centre of MLB’s attention, but the Red Sox and Yankees have also been warned against using technology to get a lead in the game. Before the pandemic, many players and coaches were also wary of certain other teams. The deceit of the Astros, the reluctant reaction of the commissioner’s cabinet, the appearance that Cora and Hinch got away with a dismissal equal to only half a season barely met the integrity quotient of baseball – if at all. The sacrifice of Jeff Lachnow hardly answers the question.
The scandal resulted in the return of Dusty Baker, who was cynically sacked by the Nationals in 2017 after winning 95 and 97 games in 2016 and 2017 respectively, but did not qualify for the qualifiers. Baker’s return as director of Astros was welcomed. He was a rookie in Atlanta in 1968, a teammate of Henry Aaron, and was with Satchel Paige in the dugout of the Braves when the latter threw to Atlanta at the age of 62. Baker is a living, direct descendant of the early days of organized black baseball, when Paige played in the Andrew Rube Foster National Negro League, which was founded 100 years ago this year in the Kansas City YMCA. Foster shook hands with Paige, Paige with Aaron, Aaron with Baker, Baker with 21st century. He entered the season with 1,863 career victories, the 15th in history, and his decision to use his amazing reputation to cover a notorious organization included his own measure of selfish calculation. Dusty Baker wants the two things he doesn’t have in baseball yet: a World Series management title and 2,000 career wins. He thinks this is his ticket to Cooperstown. I think his ticket should have been hit by now. For all the speeches of the robot judges, button makers and players with the personality of a sandwich, Baker represents the institutional memory and beating heart of the game. Today he’s the godfather of black baseball, where he belongs.
Fault! File name not listed. 1 November MLB awards the African-American Rookie of the Year in both competitions: Seattle’s Kyle Lewis (number one) and Devin Williams of the Brewers. Elaine Thompson/AP Photo
GEORGE FLOYD, OPENING DAY AND BAND
In the blink of an eye the Astros were pushed out of the starting point. They were, to be honest, the last thing that mattered. In the second week of March, the country was paralyzed by a global coronavirus pandemic. At the end of May, when the sport developed a return strategy and briefly seemed more concerned about the health of its players than about money, the murder of George Floyd did what no death could do in a decade of deadly confrontations between the police and the public: It caught the attention of the baseball players.
When the industry was in turmoil and Americans took to the streets, Floyd died so baseball could finally conclude that the sport would not collapse when the game Jackie Robinson, which presents the Roberto Clemente Citizenship Award, shows some support for black communities that have reached a tipping point. In fact, it can be said that this sport has finally shown some humanity. For half a century, baseball has treated public unrest as if it were kryptonite, but it has maintained the call to action. The general managers and directors encouraged the players to give their opinion on the state of the country. The Mets signed Bruce Maxwell’s release. Undecided veteran-black players and refreshing rookies like Cardinal Jack Flaherty realized it was finally time to get out of the dugout. During the opening ceremony black players showed their faces in memory of Floyd and other black victims of police violence. It’s been a long time.
A sport that has been tacitly hostile during the racial turmoil of the past decade, with the number of black players melting like the polar icecaps, had an opening day in July that may have been a little performative with signs, patches and pregame recognitions from Black Lives Matter. But the Milwaukee Brewers, Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres, along with three other teams, decided not to show solidarity with the rest of the sports world – after Jacob Blake was convicted in Kenosha, Wisconsin. It was an important and remarkable change from what baseball is all about.
Baseball has a reputation for being anti-black. It has a reputation for intimidating black players and taking revenge on black players who have the guts to take an interest in the plight of blacks in the world. It has the most conservative actors and has traditionally demanded the most coherence from black actors. Rarely are there African-American candidates for the highest office. The Dodgers are the only of the four largest franchises – along with the Red Sox, Yankees and Cardinals – that have ever hired an African-American manager. As far as the front office is concerned, the Ivy’s heavy recruitment drive has virtually eliminated the possibility of hiring black candidates, as the Ivy League as a whole has an average of around 8 percent black candidates. One franchise, the White Sox, has a black manager running the baseball operation: Kenny Williams.
However, the November prizes were awarded to African-American Rookies of the Year in both competitions: Kyle Lewis from Seattle and Devin Williams from Brewer. For the third time in history, after Cito Gaston did it with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1992 and 1993, a black manager won the World Series.
As the season progressed, the signs stopped, the momentum faded – but baseball wrote a big check that summer, indicating that the sport of Robinson blacks could include the future instead of just celebrating the first defeats. If the move was only a moment for baseball, if the game regains its hostility and the players return to their usual silence now that the protests have stopped, then the summer effort will be remembered as purely performative, a failure. At this point, they have a chance.
Another door opened when Derek Jeter, the only black man who led the daily operations of the team, hired the first female director, Kim Ng. Another flight charge. Ng, 52, is currently the general manager of the Marlins, but it should be noted that after three decades as a baseball executive (White Sox, Yankees and Dodgers), she has almost as much experience as an MLB executive as the Phillies’ general manager, Matt Klentak, 40, another mediocre Ivy whipper-snapper who got the job because he watched the part.
No more Howard Bryant.
The fifth. August – 13 days after the resumption of baseball – 24 teams played at least 10 games. The Marlins and Phillies each played six games and the Cardinals five, thanks to the coronavirus outbreaks that have threatened this season. This immediately raised questions about the meaning of the whole experience. While the NBA and NHL managed to get back on track without major incidents, baseball decided not to play in a bubble-shaped format – with disastrous results. Several stopgap measures – a 60 game season, a 7-inning double playoff, a designated hitter in both leagues, a regional interleague schedule and a 16 team play-off – were set up to launch the game and make it his only one-year stopgap. But the reaction of the game was random, with new rules apparently being introduced every day. Some familiar faces have decided not to play. David Price, recently swapped, dropped a lawsuit for the Dodgers, and before the official games even begin, we learn that some of the biggest stars and some of the biggest names have been diagnosed with VIDOC-19 : DJ LeMahieu and Aroldis Chapman of the Yankees; Charlie Blackmon of the Colorado Rockies; Kenley Jensen and A.J. Pollock of the Dodgers; Randy Arozarena, Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows of the Sooner Rays flags.
The restart is decided and goes hand in hand with the usual baseball grunts; 60 games are not enough to crown a representative champion. Games without fans didn’t have the energy. Every positive COVID test reminded us that the game was hopeless. Restart has the cynical tone of a sport that has decided to give up the health of its players to save what is left of the bleeding. One player, Eduardo Rodriguez of the Red Sox, was absent for a year after contracting myocarditis, a heart condition he contracted after testing positive for the coronavirus.
In the month leading up to the resumption, 17 teams played at least 28 games in a 60-match season. In the end, the Cardinals were a play-off team, playing 22 of the 58 scheduled games in 7 sets. Soon baseball started to look like baseball. In my opinion, the correct reference was not to compare the quality and atmosphere of the game with, for example, the 1993 pennant race between the Giants and the Braves, but with the apocalyptic atmosphere at the beginning of the year, in March and April, where it seemed both plausible and appropriate not to play the sport at all.
The reigning national champions, who are 19-31 in 2019 after 50 games, would not have been miraculously saved this season. Washington lost the first part of the recovery and at some point in 2020 will have no more winning than losing. The national championships have never really lived up to expectations and have suffered an unfortunate loss of the title without having time to rebuild.
ELIMINATION CORRESPONDS TO
Many people in clubs, newsrooms, offices and for television stations across the country were expecting a disaster in the post-season, as the sport used pandemic baseball as a test ball to reshape the game. The regional schedule, the National League negotiation process, the designated hitter, the seven-inning doubles, the extensive playoffs and the post-season playoffs in a neutral location were all discussed once or twice as the next big change in baseball. The only untested innovation in this abridged experiment were the robotic prompters. Sixteen teams were definitely too many, but the best of three playoffs instead of the NCAA’s knock-out basketball tournament was Manfred’s biggest achievement this year. After 60 or 162 games, a series baseball team has won a series. After eight seasons of weird single elimination baseball in October, the sprint to the World Series has finally started in earnest.
All in all, the playoffs were great. The Astros and Brewers started the post-season with a loss of 29-31, the first time a team played under the 500 iron mark. With the exception of the Astros, which built up a record of victories and losses, but turned out to be dangerous towards the end of the season, the mediocre were defeated quickly. In the first round the cardinals defeated the San Diego Padres 21-2 and won only 30-28. The other team that won the game, the Chicago White Sox, finished just worse than their winners, the Oakland A’s, who lost. And they haven’t made the playoffs since 2006. This is the last time they play in the play-offs since their victory in Boston in 1990.
There were glimpses of the future. The Braves wiped out the Reds, who hadn’t scored in two games, even though the first one was in 13 sets. Atlanta and the White Sox proved they were teams to watch, and while it was never entirely clear whether the White Sox and their sparkling 162-year-old talent would survive, the organization clearly felt ready to win now. After losing to the A’s, Chicago separated from manager Rick Renteria and hired 76ers Tony La Russa, whose first full season as manager for the White Sox was in 1980. Minnie Minoso (54), who made her Major League debut in 1951, was on the list this season. He didn’t score on two shots.
Looks like this is goodbye. The Chicago Cubs were quickly overtaken by the incredible Marlins, indicating the ongoing erosion of the core of the 2016 championship. Joe Maddon, the director, is already leading the Angels. After the show John Lester became a free agent for a long time. Shortly after, Theo Epstein, the killer of Bambino and Billy Goat, also resigned. World Series hero Kyle Schwarber has been released. If the rumors are true, former NL vice president Kris Bryant in Chicago is suspended – barely. When that was the end, the Cubs kept their promise, like Epstein did twice in Boston. It will always be oddly unsatisfactory that the Cubs never return to the World Series after being covered, but that doesn’t make the mission a failure. Winning is hard.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Mookie Betts’ home run in the eighth set of Game 6 sealed the Dodgers’ World Series victory at the Rays. Photo: Eric Gay/AP
WHY DO WE OBSERVE
The World Series was a revelation, and not only because the Dodgers were 3-1 behind in the NLCS against Atlanta, which had just arrived. And it’s not because Tampa Bay, the top team in the American League, was pushed by Houston to seven games after taking a 3-0 lead in the CSAA series. It wasn’t a revelation either because of the miraculous breakthrough of Randy Arozarena, a 25-year-old rookie who came to Tampa Bay out of nowhere and played all 42 regular season games in the big leagues. At the end of the six games, John Smoltz, member of the Hall of Famer, rightly and emphatically stated on national television that Arozarena deserved the treatment of Barry Bonds, i.e. that he controlled the batting order so completely that the Dodgers should have given every player on the Rays roster – except him – a chance to win. Arozarena somehow broke the Bond record for the 2002 season with eight homeruns (10). The Dodgers won their championship with a tough, humiliating and necessary 4-2 victory over Clayton Kershaw in match five. Then Mookie Betts ended the Dodger season the same way he started it, with an eight-race insurance homer to set up the last race of the year.
The show could have been a revelation about all these things, but instead I realized that I probably knew it was true a long time ago, but I never articulated it, never felt the need to articulate it: I don’t watch baseball for wins and losses. I’m in the game.
The moment we know now has arrived in the infamous sixth final match. The Rays took an 1-0 lead in overtime and played their best game with top pitcher Blake Snell on the hill. In the sixth, he threw a 73, a single to Austin Barnes, which led Rays manager Kevin Cash to take Snell out of the game. The next three batters that Snell will face, the top players of the Dodgers – Betts, Corey Seager and Justin Turner – are 0-6 with six outs. As Cash approached the hill, a decision for Nick Anderson, Snell rolled his eyes and mumbled something to the tune of You’ve got to be kidding me. And he’s gone.
What happened next, of course, is history. Anderson, exhausted, gave a double to Betts. The Dodgers took the lead for the last time this season and scored twice. Wagers sealed the first title in three decades with a long insurance home run in the eighth. The debate on the methods of Race and the removal of Snell from the scene has officially begun.
Throughout the post-season, each show emphasized the technocratic approach to baseball in the Tampa Bay chain, the way executive offices not only evaluate talent, but impress managers, the goal they set for themselves, the intelligence that leaders will show. You have to have a short memory and thick skin, because that’s how they work, said Fox Microphone Host Joe Buck about Tampa Bay’s organizational approach. In earlier and later conversations about the journey of the Rays, emphasis was placed on analysis, quantifying the approach to the talent acquisition and planning that has been going on for almost two decades. A conversation between the commissioner’s office and the players’ association during a spring training session on how the real-time game, the science of probability versus the art of wrestling, should look like in the graves of the champions. When Theo Epstein resigned from the Cubs a few weeks later, his farewell message was that the game had gotten out of hand due to too much emphasis on analysis. A few months earlier, before closing, Sandy Alderson, one of the sponsors of the analysts and the man who will take over the Mets after their sale to Steve Cohen, had said the same thing. It went the other way, Alderson told me in March. There were several acceptable scientific explanations, based on data, about how Snell got on the hook. His history shows that he was not the same pitcher for the third time in a row. The data showed that in the fifth heat, from which he escaped with minimal damage, his throws were no longer as accurate as before. He hit nine of the first 13 batters he encountered, but none of the last five. He hasn’t thrown six full innings since July ……. 2019.
When I saw Snell Skalk returning to the Dugout, I was forced to look at him and ask him questions that weren’t directed at him, but that would forever determine whether and how he would be remembered: Where’s your poetry? Where’s your line? Baseball hit hard this year. Joe Morgan and Claudell Washington. Jimmy Lee Solomon, once the highest African-American leader in the commissioner’s office and instrumental in his inner-city baseball initiatives. Bob Watson, the first black GM in baseball to win the World Series. Jimmy Toy Gun Winn. Dick Allen. Tony Fernandez. The deaths of Al Kaleen, Lou Brock, Whitey Ford, Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson – and many others.
One day, perhaps in a few weeks, Kurt Schilling will be chosen in the Hall of Fame, and his induction will be cemented by his victory in October, loss and no decision – at times when the Tampa Bay Rays refused to put Snell in place. Louis Tiant has never won a World Series, but for his generation in Boston he will be remembered forever, not for his trend lines, but for what we have seen: three starts in the 1975 World Series, including his final, the Game 6, where he left the game on the back foot and lost 6-3, but made the most of his efforts and competition. That evening, Tiant emerged from the hill with a standing ovation at the top of eighth place, just after hitting a home run and his team was about to lose the World Series, as Carlton Fisk’s famous moment wasn’t part of the drama this season. Tiant is best remembered for his intense and epic fourth game in 163 sets where he stopped six shots and four runs in four sets and maintained a 5-4 lead over the last five sets. We remember him before the game, for what he gave us.
Gibson, the biggest of the modern post-season, who became Bob Gibson as he battled pain, pressure and fatigue in 1964, in the seventh game, and stopped the Yankees in the ninth inning. With a 7-3 lead on the ninth, Gibson gave up two homers in exchange for three outs and one allowed by his manager, Johnny Keane, because, according to Keane, I made a commitment to his heart. From this day forward, he’s no longer Bob Gibson. Now he was scared. A pitcher for the big games. It was Bob Gibson.
In the sixth, I didn’t care if the formula of the Rays told them to go to the pen for another faceless relief while counting the exits. I was worried about Blake Snell, the winner of the 2018 American League Cy Young Award with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and wondered if Snell could find the margin for a championship that the remembered of the not remembered. I wanted him to have the right to fail, in other words, to reap the historical fruits of success – let’s not forget that. Blake Snell can never be a big pitcher without those moments, and without those moments, the game ceases to be big. People may remember the end result, but they do read poetry. If baseball wants to exchange the lyricism of the competition for the maximum mechanical efficiency of recording 27 soulless and indistinguishable outputs, it has already lost. The time that the front office dominates the game to show its insight is during the Winter Meetings, not the World Series.
A week earlier, leading 3-0 against the Rays and clinging to a slim lead with his best pitcher on the mound, Dusty Baker left Zack Greinke in the duel to fight for the privilege to fail. He did not fail, and when Greinke went on stage, the TV presenters treated Baker as if he had stepped on hot coals. Dusty Baker, boat player… …announced the show. It was an example of the distance that separates the game from the reason we look at it and from the people who play it.
The games ended in a pandemic that still continues – and Justin Turner appeared in the picture as a reminder that baseball survived, but not always with honor. Turner, as a mirror of America and baseball, is not punished for making the last game of the year a potentially great sporting event. Nor did baseball recognize that it had finished its precious world series when the COVID-19 cases occurred in Arlington, Texas, where the games were played. Still, the Dodgers and their fans will enjoy their moments: the great Betts, who dominated a series in which he did not hit well until it was time to shine; the champion Kershaw, who is finally free; the bittersweet but still last champion Kenley Jensen, whose last moment on the hill of the 2020 season was a bizarre and painful collapse in the game four that turned what had become a three:The laughter of the first set turned into a nightmare of the second, which the Dodgers avoided by winning the last two games and the championship; and World Series MVP Corey Seager.
The post-season, with Betts and Arozarena, juniors Akuna and Tatis, and all rising stars contrasting sharply with Kevin Cash, who stepped on the butte to eliminate Snell, was the last representative of the central question of what baseball wants to be. Players remain in the game, their courses in the game under the pressure of competition, and perhaps the happy and dissatisfied silhouette of Blake Snell will serve as a reminder, a ghost. If the times when the championships are decided are not up to the players, then there is nothing to see.