Saturday, May 23, 2020

FenwayNation Point/Counterpoint: Just Say "YES" To Baseball 2020

by Bill Collins

As we enter what feels like Day 900 of this pandemic’s social distancing and self-quarantining, the absence of all sports, especially baseball, is glaring. Perhaps now might be just the right time to begin the steps to bring back our National Pastime. With all of the torment and upheaval that COVID-19 has brought to all of us, we can all use a nice, ongoing distraction. And baseball would be that perfect distraction. Just look at the online success of Taiwanese baseball to understand that we need to have it back with us.

But there are people who don’t want to bring baseball back until the world has once again retained its normal orbit. That might end up taking a while. A popular argument against bringing baseball back is that it won’t be anywhere near the same thing we’ve been enjoying for almost 150 years. Well, the game has changed over the years, and it’s had to adapt a bit since it’s humble beginnings. It’s time for that to happen again, even if it’s for a hopefully short while.

If Major League Baseball does return this year, there are a many logistical things that need to happen. Above all else, it has to maintain the safety of everyone involved in the game. If that means quarantining players, umpires, coaches, etc., then that will need to be worked out. If these important details can be addressed, then the only things to overcome are the minds of people who hold baseball to be nothing short of a scared trust that can’t be altered. And from what I’ve heard over the last few weeks, every objection to safely starting the game seems based on quaint notions of how we should preserve this great game and completely skip the 2020 season. As much as I love the game, it’s history, and overall emotional pull, I completely disagree with those who want to live in those halcyon days of Babe Ruth, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, and arguments about who was better, Joe DiMaggio or Ted Williams.

Let’s start with the record book. Many are worried that a significantly shortened season would have one big asterisk attached to it. In a sport that lives for its records, there’s concern that this season’s achievements won’t matter. Well, look around. The year 2020 will have one huge asterisk attached to it, and it will be for every walk of life, and not just baseball. Does anyone actually think that years from now, people will look at the MLB 2020 season, and wonder why the stats are so weird? Of course not. Certain dates live on in history. In this case, this entire year will remain in peoples’ minds for decades, if not forever.

Another argument against restarting baseball is about playing games in empty stadiums. The crowd’s reaction to the game can often be the difference between winning and losing. Home field advantage is a real plus, and makes the game better for the players and fans. But for the safety of everyone involved, this really is an all-or-nothing problem. That is, you can’t have one half, or one third of the fans in a stadium and safely reduce their chances of becoming ill. Perhaps, the Sox could have only 10,000 people show up to Fenway Park for a game against the Yankees? How will that work for transportation, concessions, and bathrooms? We’re not at a point yet where this is an acceptable risk. The only option is an empty ballpark. Which means they could play anywhere, from Fenway Park to a sandlot in Saugus. 

And since this is a game that is so steeped in history, this does have historical precedence. In 1942, with World War Two underway, MLB Commissioner Landis made an offer to President Roosevelt to stop baseball for the duration of the war. Roosevelt disagreed, and immediately replied, “I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going. … they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work even more than before.” We sure could use that distraction now.   

Which brings us to the final reason to play the game. And that’s the game itself. It’s true that the history, stories, emotions, and memories of baseball live in us more than any other sport. Yes, other sports’ seasons last just as long, but baseball games are played at least six days per week during the season. It’s ubiquitous in our lives, and not just a game we look forward to once or twice per week. But it’s the game itself that we love. All of these other things are just a huge bonus to a great sport. It’s better to have the game, and spend an abbreviated season watching and listening to it, than to have nothing at all. To want everything about baseball, and the better times that it represents, is not possible in 2020. Why not accept and enjoy what we can have? There is no downside.

By the way, I’m a lifelong Red Sox fan. And while it pains me to say this, Joe DiMaggio was a better player than Ted Williams. Why? His World Series rings. All of them. Sadly, Teddy Ballgame never won one. That makes Joe D. better. Sorry.
Bill Collins is a world-class chef and operates Chef Bill, Inc. which offers personal chef services, cooking lessons and 'romantic dinners for two' in Amherst, Massachusetts. You can contact him at this email address: or call him at (413) 230-3773.