We all love baseball. That unbridled love sits at the foundation of this site. Yes, we love the Yankees in particular, but we love the sport just as much. The game provides us joy. It teaches us about heartbreak. It has been incredibly difficult living in a world without baseball and sports in general. Despite this truth, it is important to fight the urge of making irrational decisions solely in the name of love. The pending decision of mandating doubleheaders in the potential 2020 season is one of these times.
Bobby does a great job summarizing the recent ESPN report detailing potential options for the 2020 schedule. I share Bobby’s surprise that mandated doubleheaders are a real option. The logic behind the proposal does make sense. There is a strong desire to get as many games as possible. The players want to play and get their service time. The fans want to see as many games as possible. The owners want to make as much money as they possibly can considering the shortened season. On the surface, these are all good reasons to cram in as many games in a finite calendar as possible. On the other hand, there are very real reasons why this is extremely difficult and potentially short-sighted.
The Coronavirus Itself
As we all know, there is a global pandemic still going on. At the moment, New York City is the epicenter of positive coronavirus cases. The state has been aggressive in its measures to “flatten the curve” of the spread. We are all hoping these strategies make a considerable impact on limiting infections. Governor Andrew Cuomo recently mentioned New York state as the test case for how the country treats the pandemic. There is a strong possibility that as positive test results increase across the country more states will be forced to institute shelter in place edicts. This would wreak havoc on a schedule reliant upon maximizing available days in the calendar.
We could be looking at a scenario where one state allows games while another one prohibits them. What if New York allows the Yankees and Mets to play without restriction, but Wisconsin prohibits the Brewers to play? The Brewers could have a homestand that features two doubleheaders. Instead of losing two games on the schedule, two teams would be losing four in just two days. How would these games be made up, if at all? This scenario may seem far fetched, but did any of us think a few weeks ago we would be living through a global pandemic that would change our daily lives? It could happen.
Rob Manfred recently mentioned the league remaining in constant contact with the CDC and leading epidemiologists, but no one really knows how this virus will continue to behave. What does baseball do if this hypothetical becomes a reality? Obviously, there are bigger issues to deal with in this scenario, but it is pretty easy to see this snowballing into a logistical nightmare pretty quickly.
The Baseball Considerations
This idea is putting player health at risk. Yankees fans know all too well what it is like to experience a seemingly endless run of injuries. We have to keep in mind that players will need a second spring training camp to prepare for the season. Players are staying in shape, but who knows to what degree. There aren’t many players with home gyms or personal batting cages at their disposal. Private training facilities are shut down in many areas. The players will need to acclimate their bodies to baseball-specific shape again. You can only get that on the field. The shortened camp will certainly help, but there is a chance their bodies won’t be as prepared for the sprint of a season that may lie ahead.
In a normal season, players and teams hate the idea of playing a doubleheader. They wreck rotations and challenge organizational depth. It also increases the chances of injury. Sure, you get one extra player for that specific day, but that doesn’t mitigate the actual injury risk. That is just an opportunity to replace a player if they get hurt or the team gives a player a breather.
The real chance for injury lies in the bullpen. Starters don’t go deep into games anymore. Most major league bullpens are overworked over a season. The Yankees bullpen was toast in the ALCS. Outside of the elite relievers, many teams view their bullpen pieces as disposable. Managers use these pitchers time and time again because they can demote one guy and call up another. At some point, that strategy catches up to you if you’re consistently playing two games in one day. The workload for every pitcher is going to jump and exposes them to injury risk.
Let’s say the Yankees are playing the Rays with the division crown on the line in early October (that ain’t happening because the Rays get no love around here, but roll with the hypothetical. There is nothing else to do). Could you imagine the anger and frustration there would be if Aroldis Chapman gets hurt during the nightcap of a mandatory doubleheader after pitching the day game? People would lose their damn minds. Given the circumstances, this is a real possibility. Of course, injuries are random occurrences. With that said, it doesn’t make much sense to increase the probability of these random moments happening in the name of playing catch up with the schedule.
The Spirit Is Admirable, But Reality Reigns
I share everyone’s desire to see as much baseball as possible. I love the game as much as all of you. There is a need to take a step back and really evaluate the ramifications of mandatory doubleheaders. Back in 1995, the players were strongly opposed to scheduled doubleheaders for a variety of reasons. Things are much different now. The abbreviated season is due to a pandemic, not labor strife. Players are deservedly concerned with accumulating service time. And the world simply needs some good news. All of this is understandable.
On the other hand, we don’t want to jeopardize the chances for teams winning a title or watching subpar play in the name of forcing games into the schedule. The sheer excitement of every game taking on more meaning due to the truncated schedule may be more than enough to satisfy our desires. I have a feeling the doubleheader idea will happen if the league plays this year. Regardless of how this schedule debate ends, let’s all hope we have a season to enjoy at some point this year.