The Coronavirus pandemic has caused March Madness to be canceled. The NBA and NHL have been put on hold. In golf, The Masters and PGA Championship have been postponed and rescheduled while the US Open and British Open have been canceled. Tennis’ most famous major, Wimbledon, has been canceled. The Indianapolis 500 and Kentucky Derby have been postponed and rescheduled. Major League Baseball had its opening day wiped out, and has been on hold ever since.

Wow, that’s a lot of big time sporting events that have been either canceled or postponed. Judging by ESPN’s prime time Saturday night programming of Putt-Putt, Robot Fighting, Sign Spinning, Slippery Stairs, and Death Diving— yes, these were all real events— we are in dire need of some real sports.

Baseball is working on it, but will they be able to come up with a worthwhile plan?

First came the Arizona plan. This plan had all thirty teams converging on Arizona and using the Cactus League fields along with Chase Field, home of the Diamondbacks. It would have required players to be quarantined and away from their families for an extended time.

Next was the Arizona/Florida plan. With this proposal teams would play out of their spring training facilities, and use some of the major league stadiums in both states. This idea would require a somewhat radical realignment based on each team’s home for spring training.

Then the next machination was a combination of the other two, with Texas being proposed as a playing site as well. With Texas and Houston having major league ballparks it would provide a couple more facilities to use.

Finally, the latest plan came to light this past week. With this plan, teams would play games in their home stadiums without fans. This plan involves total realignment, a compacted schedule, and expanded playoffs. The proposed divisions are based on geography.

Baseball has been very busy brainstorming for ideas. They aren’t good ideas. They may not even be implementable ideas. But they are ideas.

Starting with the obvious, governors in California, New York, and Pennsylvania don’t look like they are going to allow sporting events any time soon. That would mean the Dodgers, Angels, Padres, Giants, Athletics, Mets, Yankees, Pirates and Phillies would not be able to use their home stadiums as proposed. Would those teams be banished to their spring training sites? With no fans at games, does that even create a disadvantage?

What about the optics? The general public has been clamoring for increased testing for weeks. These players would have to be tested, one would assume, on a constant basis. It would create the scenario of sports stars getting preferential treatment while the commoners get to play Russian Roulette with the virus.

Another issue would be the DH being used league wide. That becomes a huge advantage for teams that prepared to play with a DH. Also, realigning divisions after rosters were already assembled seems rather arbitrary.

I’ve heard a lot of people say they love the proposed divisions and would like to see them continue going forward. I am not one of them. I have no interest in seeing ten team divisions. I’m also a traditionalist, and like the National League/American League setup. I do hate Interleague Play because it spoils the mystique of the World Series. I hope this is just an emergency one year plan.

I digress.

No sport wants to throw away a season. Most sports leagues have suffered through interrupted seasons. The NFL, MLB, NHL, and NBA have all had altered seasons because of World Wars, Presidential deaths, 9/11, and, of course, labor disputes. Heck, the NHL threw away an entire season in 2004-05. Obviously baseball wants to have some sort of season. The thing is this isn’t just a shortened season we are talking about. This is a completely altered setup with no fans for the immediate future.

Make no mistake, the underlying reason these ideas are being thrown against the wall is money. As in, with no season baseball owners will lose a boatload of money. Obviously, as with all other parts of the nation’s economy, this is more than a valid reason. Yet, I have little sympathy for people who toss money around like it’s a game of Monopoly but when a crisis hits cry, “Woe is me.”

Baseball is the only sport without a salary cap. Just in the last few years owners have doled out $245 million to Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg, $260 million to Nolan Arenado, $300 million to Manny Machado, $324 million to Gerrit Cole, $325 million to Giancarlo Stanton, $330 million to Bryce Harper, and $426 million to Mike Trout. That is nearly half a billion dollars for Trout. He and the others on this list are great players, but this is ridiculous. 34 of the top 50 sports salaries are baseball players. It has gotten completely out of hand.

Now the owners are up against it. Let’s not forget their own personal greed. They could most likely survive a lost season financially, but it won’t be pretty to their bottom line. Some may have to get creative until the money starts flowing again next season. They are in panic mode.

Currently they are at loggerheads with the players over games without fans. The owners want the players to take a pay cut. Obviously, the players disagree. Nothing like billionaires squabbling with millionaires during a pandemic that has many common folks standing in the unemployment line. Baseball has never been able to get out of its own way.

In addition, teams are starting to make tough decisions with their employees. The Pirates have stopped contributing to their employees retirement plans. The A’s, Rays, and Mets are making tiered pay cuts. Many other teams will follow.

The Pirates, A’s, and Rays are three of the poster children for small market/low revenue teams, yet none of their owners ever speak up in favor of a salary cap. In the Pirates Bob Nutting’s case he is more than happy to pocket the revenue sharing money he receives rather than use it on his major league roster. Now a worst case scenario is happening, and they are scrambling.

My biggest hope coming out of this disastrous situation is that these owners finally realize the money has gotten out of hand and threatens to ruin baseball. Maybe owners, and players as well, would see the value of a salary cap LIKE EVERY OTHER MAJOR SPORTS LEAGUE. As Emil Bruner said, “What oxygen is to the lungs, such is hope to the meaning of life.” Or in this case baseball. I always said I would never live to see a salary cap in baseball, but maybe a pandemic changes that thought.

It’s all about that green. They can tell us they want to give us the game we love. They want to give us a much needed diversion. They don’t want players to lose an entire year of their careers. Yada, yada, yada. And no, I didn’t yada over the good parts. All of those statements are true, but make no mistake that it’s about the money.

It seems to me changing all the divisions around, having some teams not be able to have a home stadium, expanding playoffs, and all the rest gives this more of an exhibition feel. It will give players a chance to play. It will give fans a diversion from what has become a harsh reality. It will be baseball. But will it truly be a season anyone cares about? Not because it is shortened so much as because the format will be so contrived.

The other thing that will make this different is having no fans at games. It seems that this may be the new normal for the near future with sports. Maybe I will be proven wrong, but having no fans will also make it feel more like exhibition or scrimmage games. Will Atlanta pump in the always annoying tomahawk chop music? Will the Mets and Yankees have “New York, New York” played on repeat throughout games? Will the Pirates pump in the “Woooo” sounds from the ten drunk guys that stayed for an entire nine innings at all those 10-1 beat downs? Will we now be able to hear the Astros cheating?

Will these two guys be considered essential personnel?

Maybe the Phanatic is still tied up in court anyway.

I think you are going to see Baseball by July 4. The owners can’t afford not to get it up and running. Paying players nearly half a billion dollars can’t be easy without revenue. If this keeps up, Bob Nutting will be the one on the Clemente Bridge playing his oboe hoping people will throw spare change in his instrument case.

It’s going to happen and it’s going to seem weird.

When the games start, despite my complaining here, I’ll tune in and watch. Mentally I can’t afford not to. With Slippery Stairs and Marbles this weekend, can Greased Thumb Wrestling and Hand Grenade Skeeball be far behind?

Two Cent Takes

NFL

~Andy Dalton signed with the Dallas Cowboys. If you are going to earn $3 million holding a clipboard—or is it an iPad these days—you may as well do it close to home.

~The League will release a full 17 game schedule later this week. They plan to start on time and play all games. Obviously that isn’t totally in their control, but just like the Draft don’t bet against it.

NBA/NHL

~The NHL wants to move its draft up to June 5, while the NBA will most likely move its draft back out of its usual late June time slot.

~The NBA is proposing a December start to next season regardless of whether this season gets finished or not. Smart. Even in a normal year, the season starts too soon. Unfortunately this would push the season in to next July or August. Pushing back the start of the season will allow a better chance for fans to attend more games. Again, smart.

College Hoops

~Wake Forest didn’t waste any time hiring a new basketball coach. They tabbed Steve Forbes, who had things rolling at East Tennessee State. How they announced the hiring was…well, bizarre.

~Wake Forest, and third team ACC, center Olivier Sarr didn’t waste any time in hitting the transfer portal. He will be highly coveted by many teams, including two Bluegrass State schools in Louisville and Kentucky.

College Football

~Looking at the recruiting rankings for 2021 and knowing the talent already on campus, it is hard for me to see Ohio State NOT winning the Big Ten. The conference as a whole is going gangbusters in recruiting, including many teams in the much maligned West division. The Buckeyes, to this point, are lapping the field for 2021.

~The results of this month’s vote on the transfer waiver will play a big role in whether the number one target in the portal returns to his original school. JT Daniels, quarterback at USC, is currently in the portal. If the NCAA decides not to grant a one year waiver for transfers then Daniels most likely will return to the Trojans.

Quarantine Boredom Remedies

~NBC Sports Network has been replaying a lot of great old bowl games. Watching the 2005 USC-Notre Dame “Bush Push” game then watching the 1975 Rose Bowl between USC and Ohio State made me realize just how much the game has changed. Quarterbacks Pat Haden and Matt Leinart we’re both big time winners. Haden didn’t get to throw much, but when he did he was really good. Also, John McKay going for two and the win in the ‘75 Rose Bowl shows why he is cemented in USC football lore.

~I watched the original Bad News Bears this weekend and forgot how funny it was. Anyone who has played or coached Little League can relate. Here are seven great lines a little league coach could use(and some probably have), courtesy of Morris Buttermaker(the great Walter Matthau):

  • Listen Lupus, you didn’t come in to this life to sit on a dugout bench did ya? Now get your ass out there and do the best you can.
  • That is a bunt; B-U-N-T. The catcher is supposed to pick up the bunt and throw it to first base.
  • There’s chocolate all over this ball. Engelberg, you couldn’t wait til after practice to eat that?
  • The first inside pitch you get, lean into it and let it hit you.
  • Hey, Ahmad – even Hank Aaron peels the ol’ eyelids before he takes a swing!
  • Now get back to the stands before I shave off half your mustache and shove it up your left nostril.
  • Get your gear on and get your fat ass behind the plate.

Speaking of little league…

A Penny For My Final Thought…

Little League Baseball canceled their World Series for the first time. The event has been held every August since 1947. It really has become a Worldwide spectacle. Thousands from all over the world arrive in Williamsport every August to cheer, buy souvenirs, or even slide down a bank on a piece of cardboard. It is an event that will be sorely missed by many.

In locales all across the nation, including my own hometown, parents are yelling and screaming at governors and local officials to allow youth leagues to start.

My God, what will parents post on Facebook if they can’t brag about their kid’s youth baseball/softball accomplishments. Before you start hurling rocks at me, I’ve occasionally been guilty of this as well.

This really does hit the parents hardest. Many live vicariously through their kids’ accomplishments. They shouldn’t, but they do. Posting pictures on Facebook of how little Johnny won the game, how great the team is, how Johnny made All Stars, and how cute they look in their uniform is just part of it. Not being able to pack up the cooler to go sit with other self absorbed parents and trade brags back and forth will send some parents into withdrawal. Some may need therapy.

The kids will be just fine. If they are playing because they truly love the game then there are plenty of ways to stay active. Ask mom or dad to play catch, throw you grounders and toss you pop ups. Find a wall or set of steps and throw a tennis ball off of them. Find a ball that won’t shatter a window and do toss and hit. Gather a couple friends and play first bounce or fly. Sure it isn’t the same as putting on a uniform and playing games with umpires and bases and scoreboards that let you know who wins, but if you use your imagination it can still be fun.

Kids are resilient. They will let no organized baseball/softball roll off their backs and move on. Parents, not so much. If it was your kids last year in little league they will make memories in Teener League, basketball, wrestling, cheerleading, scouts, band, choir, swimming, golfing, or maybe just hanging out with friends and riding bike. Kids are great at moving on to the next thing.

The Who sang, “The Kids Are Alright.” It certainly fits here. While parents seek therapy, the kids will be just fine.

Of course, my kid isn’t in to sports so what do I know? (Ducks for cover again)

Just my two cents…