Never a dull moment in 2020, eh? Last Friday, just before the final pitch of a win against Pittsburgh, manager David Bell learned that a single player had tested positive for the virus that’s changed so much around the world over the past few months. MLB canceled Cincinnati’s next three scheduled games “out of an abundance of caution,” and the team was kept in limbo almost until the first pitch of the next game back.
Given the uneven start to this abbreviated baseball campaign, perhaps we should be rejoicing over the fact that the Reds lost just one game since last week’s column. Best week yet!
But, of course, it’s often difficult to see the glass-half-full side of this particular season. In fact, since the day that MLB’s owners and players decided to stop whining about each other and committed to actually playing baseball in 2020, there has been a constant stream of grumbling about the sport, at least in some quarters. “This isn’t a real season!” “These new rules are ruining the game.” “Whoever wins the championship will have an asterisk in the history books!” So on and so forth. And frankly, all of that may be completely true. I have one response: Who cares? I saw we should embrace the chaos of 2020.
The Reds returned to action after the brief hiatus with a hastily-scheduled doubleheader in Kansas City on Wednesday night, consisting of two seven-inning games. Sure, the shortened games were reminiscent of a junior varsity baseball twin-bill (with big difference being, in the Reds doubleheader, I didn’t strike out five times in two games like I often did in my JV days). Baseball is supposed to be nine innings, say the hand-wringers in the peanut gallery.
OK, whatever. Hang an asterisk on it if you like, but I got to watch 14 innings worth of my favorite baseball team in the middle of the week. The actual game, not the act of self-immolation from a particular Reds broadcaster, but the baseball on the field … well, it was far better than the three-plus months with no Reds baseball at all, right?
I recommend taking the same perspective with the new rules that have been adopted for the 2020 season. Admittedly, some of the changes are silly. Starting every extra inning with a runner on second base works well in travel softball and baseball, when exhausted parents are eager to get away from the dusty ballfield after a long hot day of watching their little athletes play a kid’s game. But in the big leagues?
Embrace it! As much as the Reds offense has struggled, I love the fact that Cincinnati will have a runner in scoring position in every single extra frame this year. As for the flip side of that argument—that the opponent will also have a runner in scoring position in each extra inning—let’s be honest: With this Reds bullpen, that was probably going to happen even under the regular rules.
What about the designated hitter? Like Crash Davis, I believe there should be a constitutional amendment outlawing the DH. It’s a crime against nature, and the entire concept of a designated hitter needs to be tossed into the dustbin of history. Seriously, I stand behind no one in my hatred of this rule, and its contribution to the continual watering down of baseball strategy. But in 2020? I’m trying to love it. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy the fact that the presence of a DH spot in National League this year has provided all of us with an opportunity to see Matt Davidson in the lineup more often?
On second thought, ignore the previous paragraph in its entirety.
Perhaps the best rule change adopted for this bizarre season is the expanded playoff system. This year—assuming we make it successfully to the post-season—eight teams in each league will qualify. It’s an NBA/NHL-style championship party, to which some bad teams will inevitably receive an invite. Practically no one believes that it’s a true test or an ideal way to crown a champion.
And yet, in the wake of six consecutive losing seasons, Reds fans should be pumped up about any scheme that makes it easier for the home team to qualify for the playoffs. Let’s take what we can get.
After all, and this is the best part, this Cincinnati club is very likely to be a sneaky choice as one of the favorites to win the entire thing, if they can only qualify for the post-season. The pitching trio of Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, and Trevor Bauer will rival any team’s starters, and no one will want to face them in a short series.
Imagine the Reds navigating the expanded playoff rounds, winning the World Series in a tense Game 7, an extra-inning contest in which the winning run is scored when designated hitter Davidson drives home Freddy Galvis, who began the inning standing on second base. Perhaps Game 7 is even the second half of a shortened doubleheader, who knows?
As far as I’m concerned, put an asterisk wherever you want. Put it on a pennant and hang it at the ball park. Flags fly forever, as they say. I’ll take it.
Listen, there are far more important things than sports all around us. But baseball has always been seen as important to our national psyche, “thoroughly worthwhile,” even in some of our darkest hours. Most of us can use a distraction—a positive, uplifting distraction, not the type provided by Thom Brennaman last night. Baseball can be a salve, and I know I need the diversion provided by the game as often as I can get it.
So I’m going to try to enjoy this Reds season, embracing all the chaos surrounding the sport with both arms. Even in a slightly-altered state, it’s still the best game in town.
Chad Dotson authors Reds coverage at Cincinnati Magazine and hosts a long-running Reds podcast, Redleg Nation Radio. His first book, The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Cincinnati Reds, is available in bookstores and online.