MLB: I Was Wrong About the 2020 Season
Written By Gary Morgenstein
Back in May when the millionaires and billionaires were arguing over money while COVID was killing thousands, the popular Red Sox site fenwaynation.com asked me to contribute an essay (http://www.fenwaynation.com/2020/05/fenwaynation-pointcounterpoint-just-say.html) whether there should be a 2020 major league baseball season. With the pain of a lifelong fan who grew up in the shadows of Mickey Mantle’s swing, I said no, fearing the health risks, abbreviated season, expanded playoffs and fan-less games would turn my beloved sport into a farce.
I was wrong. As my wife will attest, I’m always happy to admit a mistake.
Okay maybe you should ask someone else.
While nothing will ever persuade me that cheapening the post-season to dilute an already watery season for the noble goal of TV advertising money wasn’t tawdry, I happily admit that Baseball 2020 provided a desperately needed escape and new normalcy for a world redefining such a concept on a daily basis. Like the decision to play baseball during both our World Wars, this was the right call.
At first, I avoided watching the games because the digitalization of crowds reinforced the artificiality and sent me away with gloomy vindication. Plus I’d made a big public deal about saying no to baseball. Go back up a few paragraphs, it’s all there. C’mon, I got lots of shout-outs for my views on Facebook, the pinnacle of social acceptance. I’d be embarrassed, my cred shredded. How could I suddenly change my mind at the first sound of Michael Kay’s voice?
Because at heart I’m a baseball junkie. I even tried out once for the Yankees. Despite the heresy of seven-inning doubleheaders, the DH infestation of the NL, the end of complete games, bunting…well I’ve also changed a little over the years…this is still the game I’ve always loved and always will. I needed my fix.
MLB 2020 was sort of like being a baseball fan in prison.
When the Yankees started off well, a 60-game season didn’t seem so bad. Maybe it was inspired genius and we’d clinch the AL East by Labor Day. When my team faltered, a 60-game season became a moral aberration and I stomped my Commissioner Rob Mandred voodoo doll. The pandemic lockdown schizophrenia has afflicted us all, hasn’t it?
While the Grumpy Gary would tell friends he doesn’t care about dumb baseball I’m too busy binging on Money Heist, the Real Gary would check his phone post-2AM pee for the late scores if the COVID Malaised Gary had conked out early. The Real Gary would furtively (I didn’t ‘fess up to my wife for a while) turn to the sports section of the New York Post – bless you Ken, Mike, Joel and Phil -first thing every morning for the stories, analysis and aggravation. Like any good baseball fan, the grumbling would begin. How the hell can Gary Sanchez be hitting .130? I could hit .041. What’s with Gerrit Cole and these home runs at 32 mill a year? Gleyber Torres sure ain’t Didi. WTF, Aaron!
As a kid, I was obsessed with the board game APBA (anyone remember that?) and served as Chief Statistician along with Commissioner, Manager, Sportscaster and Deity. I was a lonely child. Converting an E.R.A. in my head is one of my few mathematical skills. To amuse myself in between the next Netflix binge, I began projecting the numbers: If this were a real friggin’ season, how many homers would Luke Voit hit? 71? 102? After it was clear individual Yankees could shatter records (wasn’t DJ on pace to hit .547 at one point?), I mentally broke quarantine travel restrictions and plunged into stats, box scores and standings to immerse myself in the fate of other teams as if this were a real, you know, season. Since I couldn’t go anywhere, I had the time for obsession.
How many hits would Trea Turner get? Would I let anyone except Cole win 20 games? How many ribbies could Jose Abreau end up with? From there it was a walk in the prison yard (taking my dog around the block) to contemplate how God could exist if we have a pandemic and the Cheatin’ ‘Stros return to the World Series. Look at those minimum wage Rays. Please ABLA (Anyone But Los Angeles). Sorry Metsies. Sorry Red Sox.
No not really.
My stubborn pride (definitely ask my wife about that) still wouldn’t let me admit that not only was I now completing games – just call my Cy Morgenstein – I’d added the YES pre-game show and clips at espn.com from the rest of the MLB schedule. A dazzling throw from the hole at shortstop, a leaping grab of a sure double in left-center, a nifty slide at second base, a walk-off home run was a thing of baseball beauty even in a shortened season with no fans and no cries of “get yer cold beer.”
As were the emotions. Very quickly, this became like any other season of manic depression staved off by the 505 Snickers Bars I’ve hidden against The End of the World. When the Yankees fell short – are you serious you don’t even get to the friggin’ ALCS??!! – the excuse that it was only 60 games no longer sufficed. Because it mattered. I was pissed. It was personal. The essence of being a baseball fan.
Cursing Rob Manfred helped a little. Imagining his head stacked on the Stadium brocade in upper left field helped a lot. What if the Commissioner and the Players Association had come to terms sooner? Wouldn’t that have made a difference? Wouldn’t the Yankees depth and talent have prevailed over a longer season? Neurotic self-delusion is also the essence of being a baseball fan.
After calming down with one of the 23 bottles of Woodford Reserve bourbon I’ve stored for The Apocalypse, the anger slowly gave way to grateful understanding. There was a reason for my suffering. In some weird way all too fitting for our weird times, MLB 2020 was a metaphor for all of us. Could baseball make it through COVID to the World Series? Could we all make it through COVID? Baseball reminded America of how long the game has been around and how long we’ve been around and how much we’ve overcome; the list is sadly endless. But like baseball, our flag is still there.
Along with the memory of another season to reach for in the darkness as we wait for the light.
As J.M. Barrie said, “God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.” And the courage of the MLB players and staffers who risked their health – and lives – to give us the National Pastime. Because of them, we could believe. Thank you.
Hopefully that fool Rob Manfred isn’t serious about permanently playing the World Series at a neutral site. Good thing I bought an extra voodoo doll.
Gary Morgenstein’s sixth novel A Fastball for Freedom, the sequel to his critically-acclaimed dystopian baseball-science fiction A Mound Over Hell (“1984 Meets Shoeless Joe”), will be published by BHC Press on March 25, 2021, one week before Opening Day. https://www.bhcpress.com/Books_Morgenstein_A_Mound_Over_Hell.html. An accomplished playwright, his funny new play about racial harmony, A Black and White Cookie, will premiere this January. Morgenstein and writing partner Russell Friedman are developing the scripted television series Joyland, set during the tumultuous 1960s.
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