TORONTO – Distractions matter in difficult times, and everyone needs the periodic respite from the grim realities of the COVID-19 pandemic. For me, there’s relief in envisioning the fun stuff that lies ahead whenever normalcy returns to our lives, which is why I’ve often found myself imagining a March Madness style playoff for baseball if and when the 2020 season happens.
My thought is the top eight teams in each of the leagues advance and are seeded 1-through-8, with the best team getting the worst team, etc. The first round would be a best-of-three with the higher seed having home-field for all games, followed by a best-of-five second round and best-of-sevens in the league championship and World Series rounds.
How amazing would that be?
Purists would consider it blasphemy, to be sure, but if there ever was a time for creativity, along with the right landscape for radical ideas to take hold, this is it. Three baseball people I pitched the concept to were all game, one of them saying, “Perfect for a short season.”
“Crazy year. Maximize it. No rules. Need creativity,” said another.
The last part applies to everything, not just the post-season format. A truncated season may need seven-inning games to shoehorn in a longer schedule. Extra roster spots may in part be used to both help level the service-time gap and bolster pitching ranks. Maybe the schedule needs to be solely stocked with divisional games to reduce travel, with lots of doubleheaders.
“Nothing can be sacred,” said the third.
The possibilities are limited to the imagination – and the will. Taking some risks to generate excitement, seeing what people respond to once we emerge from this forced hibernation, may be the right thing to offer a lift to some of the many communities that will need one.
Other random thoughts during an idle time …
• The interim support for minor-leaguers unveiled by MLB on Thursday is a good first step, putting $400 a week until April 9 into the hands of players who desperately need the support. MLB wanted to create a standardized approach on this front, and according to a release, it “intends to continue working with all 30 clubs to identify additional ways to support those players as a result of the delayed 2020 season.” What comes next is far trickier and there are suggestions that it will be related to what type of compensation gets worked out between teams and the players union, which only represents major-leaguers. That process is messy and layered, with questions to be answered piling up much faster than potential solutions. In the interim, minor-league players have some extra money to keep them going, for a few weeks, at least.
• If a team hasn’t already sold a boatload of tickets for 2020, cash flow is going to be become a concern at some point, because games obviously drive revenue and there’s none of those to sell right now. Less clear is what happens with the TV contracts that are the sport’s lifeblood, all of which could force teams to go to the banks for credit. On the bright side, interest isn’t likely to ever get much lower.
• The loonie is among the many things to take a beating over the past week – closing at under 70 cents US on Thursday – and is something to keep an eye on for the Toronto Blue Jays. At the beginning of the century, the Canadian dollar was worth about 67 cents US and two years later, it was down to 62 cents and led to a slashing of player payroll to ease massive losses. Back in 2007, when the Canadian dollar was in the midst of a resurgence, then-team president Paul Godfrey told me that every time the loonie rose one cent the club saved $600,000 on a player payroll in the neighbourhood of US$90 million. In recent years, the Blue Jays did more hedging on their American dollar buys under the auspices of team owner Rogers Communications Inc. If they did that this year, the impact of the loonie drop really occurs for 2021, not now. But regardless, it’s a troubling trend with far-reaching implications.
• The increasing number of NBA players to test positive for coronavirus offers a reminder of the danger for athletes in continuing regular workouts. That’s a challenge for pitchers hoping to keep their arms in shape, and hitters hoping to maintain their swing. To that end, the Blue Jays are trying to keep their minor-league players engaged and working out, in a way that respects social-distancing efforts. For pitchers, rather than trying to maintain a strict pitch count, that could mean more arm-band work, or perhaps throwing a ball into sofa cushions. Complicating matters is that players have access to different things at home, making a uniform approach impossible.