We have just a little over 74 days until Opening Day 2020. It has been a pretty good off-season for baseball, with the biggest names going quick unlike last winter, when last year we had to wait until February 21st and February 28th respectively to see Manny Machado and Bryce Harper sign with new teams. Already this season we’ve seen Gerrit Cole head to the Yankees, Anthony Rendon head to Anaheim, and Stephen Strasburg signing a new deal with the defending World Champion Nationals.
I did just finish a great book long recommended by Buster Olney called Lords of the Realm by John Helyar, which recounts the story of baseball and business. It sounds kind of boring, but it is written very well and tells about how Marvin Miller changed labor relations in baseball. Those changes led to some great things and some not-so-great things, including America figuring out how to wrap its head around greed, money, and athletic talent. The book has some great insight into how baseball evolved into a business, cold hearted at times, yet can still find those glimmers of fun in spite of itself.
“There was something about the national pastime that made the people in it behave badly. They were, perhaps, blinded by the light of what it represented—a glowing distillate of America. Men fought to control it as if they could own it. They wallowed in dubious battle, locked in ugly trench warfare for dominion over the green fields. The money poured into the game and men gorged and gouged over it—made damned fools of themselves over it. And the fans, ever forgiving, were still there.”
Talking about parity, we might actually be seeing some other progress in other sports. The NFL playoffs are here and change is perhaps afoot without some of the usual suspects we are used to seeing around and Tom Brady already sitting at home. Jayson Stark has been writing a column just about every year pointing out how baseball beats parity for the NFL, despite the common misguided assertion that money buys championships. 16 of the last 17 years the AFC QB in the Super Bowl has had the last name of Brady, Manning (cheating here a touch), or Roethlisberger. This will change this year – which is great.
In the NBA we saw the Warriors dynasty finally toppled, and it was nice of Lebron to leave the East to give another team a chance to make the Finals. Which of course the Toronto Raptors took last year in defeating those Warriors, though quickly losing their MVP to ensure it will likely not be a repeat.
In college football we saw Alabama lose a grip on it’s CFP stranglehold, but we do have Clemson and another SEC team back in the championship. UConn in women’s basketball has lost again.
So baseball remains, with another great World Series story if the actual World Series wasn’t as good as what we saw in 2016 or 2017 but we really can’t those kinds of Series every year can we? Also, I would argue the NL Division Series between the Dodgers and Nationals was about as good as it gets, with Howie Kendricks grand slam being my lasting image of the entire 2019 playoffs.
Sure, this sign stealing stuff might blow up in baseballs face, and there is that looming threat of the labor agreement that ends after 2021, but leaves us with 2020.
Many times sit at dramatic crossroads in both leagues and throughout all of baseball really. The defending Champion Washington Nationals recall didn’t even win their division, and now once again have lost their perceived top player (Rendon this year, Bryce Harper last) and look to win without them. The Braves have been touting their youth for a couple of years now – but painfully blew a series against the Cardinals this year and now need all of that “promise” to pan out – and hope that Ronald Acuna’s attitude doesn’t make him a clubhouse pariah. The Phillies of course signed up Bryce Harper and everyone else to win big in 2019…and never really got out of the gate to do so.
What do the Dodgers do? They lost the World Series two seasons in a row, then in the NL Division Series to the Nationals, Just keep trying?
The Yankees haven’t won a World Series in over 10 seasons now, and hope that Cole is that missing piece to bring peace to their clamoring fans.
Remember when the Red Sox were good?
Remember when the Cubs were good?
With all of the analytics and player development, baseball has yet to really figure out how to build a dynasty. No team has repeated as World Series Champions since the Yankees did so in 1998-2000, and no team has even had the chance since the Philadelphia Phillies lost the 2009 World Series after winning in 2008. While the Giants did win three World Series in the Ten’s, they could only manage that every other year.
The Cubs were supposed to have brought a dynasty into play after years of the Royals developing gave them a title in 2015 after losing in 2014, and while their core of their 2016 World Championship team remains they just don’t seem to scare much. Then the Astros came into force in 2017 with a Championship, and while they made it back and forced Game 7 this year, their entire regime is now under scrutiny for those sign stealing concerns.
Who will take control of baseball for multiple years? The talent level in baseball is higher than ever before, top players are younger stronger faster, and all the while we are watching Mike Trout put up numbers that may place him as the greatest player of all time.
Soon, spring training will be here and while we can expect certain things to happen: the Dodgers should still win the NL West this season and the Yankees should win the AL East. After that, it feels like 2020 brings more divisional uncertainty than any year previous. The NL Central has the White Sox looking to challenge in a division that saw a great race between the Indians and Twins, the Angels and A’s look to challenge those Astros in the AL West, and the NL Central will be another dogfight between the Cubs, Brewers, and Cardinals.
Baseball will be back before we know it, and I for one cannot wait to get started all over again.