The Ultimate 2020 Question: Is MLB's 60-Game Season Good or Bad for Baseball?

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistJuly 13, 2020

The Ultimate 2020 Question: Is MLB's 60-Game Season Good or Bad for Baseball?

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    MLB is about to embark on an unprecedented experiment: a 60-game season.

    It's the result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the contentious negotiations over pay and safety between owners and players that followed.

    There will (almost certainly) be baseball. Fans of the game should be happy. But with no fans at games, ongoing health concerns and high-profile players opting out, it's worth asking: Is this good or bad for baseball?

    Let's explore that question one piece at a time before coming to a conclusion, with the obvious caveat that we'll ultimately need to see how this whole strange dance plays out.

Argument for Bad: A Season of Asterisks

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    The length of MLB seasons has varied through the years amid rule changes, world wars, strikes and other factors. But the 60-game slate will be the league's shortest since 1878.

    For a sport built around statistics and milestones, that's a problem.

    If a star player such as the Los Angeles Angels' Mike Trout manages to hit .400 for the first time since the Boston Red Sox's Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941, it will never be seen as fully legitimate. That indifference will be multiplied if the player in question is a relative unknown who happens to get hot for a couple of months.

    The same will go for any other non-counting-stat records. And what about the eventual champion? A World Series win is a World Series win. 

    But consider the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have built a perennial-contention machine yet haven't hoisted a Commissioner's Trophy since 1988. Will winning a ring in a 60-game sprint feel as sweet?

    Or how about the Cleveland Indians, who haven't won a Fall Classic since 1948⁠, the longest active drought in baseball⁠? Obviously, they'd be happy to change that in 2020, but it would always come with a "Yes, and yet..." qualifier.

    In the end, this will be the season that stands apart from all other seasons. That'll make it memorable, but it will also tarnish anything a player or club accomplishes.

Argument for Good: Increased Stakes and Excitement

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Here's an interesting way to view the 60-game schedule: Compared to the 162-game marathon, every win or loss will be the equivalent of 2.7 wins or losses.

    If you enjoy the languid pace of the typical MLB campaign, that might feel like a bad thing. But for those who say the baseball season is too long and slow, this will ratchet up the excitement.

    Every sweep will change the dynamic of a division race. Heck, every rough bullpen outing or even big inning could impact the playoff picture.

    It will lead to small-sample oddities and might disproportionately benefit clubs on the fringe of the playoff picture. But is that a bad thing?

    If up-and-coming teams like the San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox are able to make the dance ahead of schedule and give rising stars such as Fernando Tatis Jr. and Luis Robert a chance to shine, who loses?

    Overall, the short season could excite more fanbases and generate more interest, which is exactly what MLB needs.

Argument for Bad: Being Overshadowed by the NBA and NFL

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    The NBA is also about to return. As with MLB, basketball faces a number of hurdles when it comes to the health and safety of players and the truncated nature of the season.

    But let's face it: The NBA, along with the NFL, has passed baseball in cultural relevance and popularity by most metrics. Soccer, the UFC and other sports are also on the rise.

    By failing to swiftly reach an agreement after the COVID-19 interruption, MLB players and owners set themselves up to compete with the NBA, which will resume July 30 and could hold its Finals in mid-October, up against the baseball playoffs.

    Oh, and football is set to kick off on Sept. 10.

    That could peel eyeballs away from MLB, place NBA stars such as Lebron James and his Los Angeles Lakers in the spotlight and undermine baseball's opportunity to command national attention.

Argument for Good: Something to Cheer About

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    These are tough times. With the coronavirus in the headlines and everything, including sports, struggling to come to terms with how and when to come back, we could all use some entertainment.

    Again, safety is paramount. The 2020 season can and should be shut down again if things get too dicey.

    But assuming this all happens, star players plying their trade and actual baseball being played, empty stadiums or not, will be a welcome sight.

    Sure, baseball could have done better. The acrimonious dispute between players and owners left a stain on the game that called back to the disastrous, tone-deaf strike of 1994. 

    But even a 60-game season will give folks a reason to cheer. It'll give rising stars such as the Atlanta Braves' Ronald Acuna Jr. a chance to demonstrate their skills and thrill us all.

Argument for Bad: Players Getting Sick and Opting Out

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    The health and safety of everyone involved in the games, from players to personnel, is obviously more important than any game.

    So far, MLB's COVID-19 testing has revealed 66 positive results, 58 from players and eight from staff members.

    Players who have tested positive include high-profile stars such as the Atlanta Braves' Freddie Freeman and the New York Yankees' Aroldis Chapman.

    This has led some players to opt out of the 2020 season, including San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey. 

    Posey and his wife are adopting twin girls.

    "From a baseball standpoint, it was a tough decision," the 2012 NL MVP told reporters. "From a family standpoint and feeling like I'm making a decision to protect our children, I think it was relatively easy."

    Many others will be faced with similar decisions. Such is the nature of going back to work in the midst of a pandemic in a profession that makes social distancing difficult if not impossible.

Verdict: Overall...Bad

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    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    This was a tough call. On the one hand, we're glad baseball is returning. We love the game.

    To quote former Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti, "You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive..."

    On the other hand, it will be weird to watch a 60-game season and all the statistical and standings-related irregularities that will bring.

    Even more, we acknowledge and respect the health concerns of players and staff. Anyone who opts out has an absolute right to do so.

    On balance, we're calling the short season a bad thing. It will provide excitement, novelty and, most of all, baseball.

    But we see the difficulties associated with it, some of them seemingly insurmountable. We'll be watching, but it will be tempered with reservations.

    So...play ball?