The prospect of a 2020 Major League Baseball season is bleak. COVID-19, commonly known as coronavirus, has halted all sport in the western world. MLB Spring Training was stopped, the NBA season has been halted, and the Premier League 2019/20 campaign might not get finished. The NHL season is in a similar situation.
MLB has dealt with a scandal all offseason. The signings of Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon in New York and Anaheim respectively were overshadowed by the sign stealing penalties that resulted in job losses, destroyed reputations and hundreds of angry players. The Houston Astros‘ World Series title is now tarred with an asterisks, albeit an informal one. The franchise widely admired for their rebuild were hit with the maximum fine, a banned manager and general manager (both fired), and lost several draft picks.
Cody Bellinger led the way for fury from the Astros’ opponents. Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve were destined for pitches at their bodies throughout the season. Brawls would likely follow. Major League Baseball was hurt by the steroid scandal earlier this century – a season of beanballs risked embarrassing the league further as players deal with the damning revelations that changed public perception of the entire organisation.
Controversy can drive fan interest. People enjoy seeing that extra bit of conflict in sport, the line between fiercely competitive and downright aggressive is popular with many. Perhaps it could be argued that the Astros’ humiliation was a good thing. Perhaps a few baseballs being thrown was a small price to pay for what it could do for the game. There will surely be people making that exact case.
The reality, though, even beyond the risk of serious injury from hit-by-pitches, is that it would make MLB into a circus. Fights and relentless booing, hatred between players, isn’t going to drive a new wave of fans. It might increase interest for one season (with the emphasis on the ‘might’).
The 2020 season was set to be a difficult one. Pitchers would be getting punished for what many would feel to be only minor retaliation. Maybe the postponement of this season, giving fans and players time to cool down, isn’t such a bad thing.
Finding positives is hard right now. It is an alien world for everyone, and particularly bizarre for devout sports fans. Perhaps the delay, or cancellation, of this MLB season can be considered a benefit (albeit a very minor one) for what it could do for long-term interest in the league. Hopefully baseball returns in a better place than it was over the offseason.