It’s been roughly 320 days since MLB sent its players away from Spring Training after at least 12 players tested positive for COVID-19. At the time, 20 states had known infections, and if spring camps weren’t this country’s first super spreader event, they certainly helped contribute to what has since become a global outbreak.
On March 9 of last year, the United States had 233 confirmed infections. By March 26, the day the Blue Jays and Red Sox were to begin the league’s 2020 schedule, there were 101,102 confirmed cases in this country, resulting in just over 1,000 deaths.
COVID-19 rates are falling, however, and there is real hope that the country is about to turn the corner on the virus as immunizations are administered. That said, one state that remains in severe outbreak is Arizona. Leaving baseball politics out of it for a second, it has to be concerning that pitchers and catchers will report to those southwestern sites in two weeks.
As COVID cases in the U.S. decrease and infection rates fall below 1.0, continuing to wear masks and social distance will help keep ourselves and our communities safe. pic.twitter.com/scjxTIHcY4
— Covid Act Now (@CovidActNow) January 28, 2021
In an attempt to delay the ’21 season, MLB owners met resistance from the MLBPA, and their offer, which would have shortened the season by eight games, was rejected. Obviously, league owners want to increase the chances that fans will be able to attend the games, banking on Joe Biden’s promise to have 100 million Americans vaccinated within his first 100 days in office. They even offered to pay the players for a full 162-game schedule, but also wanted to expand the postseason by an extra round again, offsetting that extra pay. The players could have said yes, but they are under no obligation to acquiesce and they declined.
It’s not as simple as a power grab by the union and Cubs Insider EIC Evan Altman provides more details on the decision to decline the offer, including some amendments to the initial provisions of the proposed agreement. Though there are countless articles available online, none consider the perspective of the fans. Where do we stand on this?
Personally speaking, I’ve stopped following sports for the most part and have no idea what other professional leagues are doing. I do know that the NBA and NHL delayed the start of their seasons, but I can’t help but think the late resumption of last year’s schedules was the driver. Though baseball didn’t start until July, the shortened schedule ended on time, even with an extra round of playoffs, and players have had a normal winter to prepare for this year. To me, any decision to delay things is merely an attempt to somehow rob the players of their guaranteed earnings.
As far as attending games, 34% of Americans surveyed were more likely to say they wouldn’t be willing to attend any large indoor or outdoor events (crowds of 200+) right now, even with CDC guidelines in place. Another 15% of those who participated in the poll feel it is most important to require all attendees of a sporting event (or other large gatherings) to be vaccinated. The numbers are significantly higher among Canadian fans.
I was aghast last year that MLB would even attempt to play a season. Now, whether it is pandemic fatigue, mixed messages from our political leaders, or just a feeling that baseball has ably contained the spread of COVID-19 within its environment, I’d rather see the season start on time with or without fans in attendance. I’m less invested in the game than I was 12 months ago and, frankly speaking, I’d have probably moved on by now if I didn’t have this column.
For that reason, it’s more important for both sides to agree to start on time. I can’t be the only person on the cusp of walking away from a sport I’ve loved my entire life, and that should be the biggest concern for an industry comprised of billionaire owners and millionaire players, and one that has become relatively expensive for its fans to enjoy in person.
Cubs News & Notes
- Theo Epstein has a new gig. The former president of baseball operations was named Executive-In-Residence for Arctos Sports Partners, a private-equity firm that buys minority shares of teams and works with owners and leagues in professional sports to increase liquidity and financial flexibility for ownership groups.
- Believe it or not, the recent acquisitions of Kohl Stewart, Joc Pederson, and Trevor Williams has helped the Cubs move up a little in the latest power rankings. To the surprise of no one, the Cardinals surged after trading for Nolan Arenado.
- There hasn’t been much talk about contract extensions for the team’s pending free agents, but Javier Báez and the Cubs would seem to be better together than apart.
- Rick Sutcliffe shared a compelling story of how lifelong Cubs fan Bill Murray helped him collect his first career stolen base.
- Prospect Reginald Preciado, who was acquired in the Yu Darvish trade, is drawing comparisons to Kris Bryant.
- Steven Souza Jr. has signed a minor league deal to play for the Astros.
Apropos of Nothing
According to Spotrac, this year marks the first time the Cubs have been lower than fourth in MLB in payroll since 2017 and the first time out of the top 10 since 2015. Chicago is 12th as of today and sits at number 22 for next season.
Odds & Sods
I don’t know if I believe this about Jake Arrieta. The original source simply compared Arrieta to Corey Kluber, so though I’m sure the former Cubs ace would love to make $8-10 million, I’m not sold that that is current asking price. Arrieta was largely ineffective last season, continuing a downward trend that started in 2018. Then again, the Braves are paying Drew Smyly $11 million, so anything’s possible.
Jake Arrieta is looking for $8-10 million for a 1 year deal.
— MLB News Network (@newsnetworkmlb) February 1, 2021
Angels pitching coach Mickey Callaway has been accused by at least five women of lewd conduct and unwanted advances while working for Los Angeles, as well as when he was in the employ of the
Indians and Mets.
With the Arenado trade officially announced, the Cardinals are now the hands-down favorites to win the NL Central.
St. Louis gets an A for the Arenado acquisition, while the Rockies received an F.
Dustin Pedroia officially announced his retirement, and it was pointed out that he threw some serious shade at the Red Sox immediately after being selected in the second round of the 2004 draft. “Bro, 65th?” the diminutive second baseman said to Epstein, then Boston’s GM. “What took you so freaking long? I got to get to the big leagues and I’m ready to win championships for the Red Sox.”
Pedroia finished his career with a .365 on-base percentage, .805 OPS, four Gold Gloves, four All-Star appearances, one Rookie of the Year award, one MVP award and three World Series rings. That’s enough to garner serious consideration for the Hall of Fame once he’s eligible.
If you’re a fan of minor league baseball this is very good news: The Tulsa Drillers have been given assurances by the city and the league that they will play a full Texas League schedule this year.
PECOTA loves Bryant, Pederson, and Anthony Rizzo this year. Still, the Cubs are going to need a strong effort from their rotation to contend with the Cardinals.
— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) February 2, 2021
They Said It
- “Our 2020 season taught us that when the nation faces crisis, the national game is as important as ever, and there is nothing better than playing ball. We were able to complete a 2020 season through Herculean efforts and sacrifices made by our players, Club staff and MLB staff to protect one another. We will do so again, together, as we work towards playing another safe and entertaining season in 2021.” – MLB official statement
Tuesday Walk Up Song
I Got You Babe by Sonny & Cher – It’s Groundhog Day. Would you expect anything different?