Red Sox history shows how schedule can change when baseball returns

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 05: The sun sets behind Fenway Park during the second inning of the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Minnesota Twins on September 05, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 05: The sun sets behind Fenway Park during the second inning of the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Minnesota Twins on September 05, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

The Boston Red Sox and their fellows in the collective known as MLB will have some significant decisions to make regarding the schedule. What are some possibilities?

What will happen to baseball when COVID-19 has finally vanished? There is somewhat of a historical perspective and it was far greater a national trauma than a virus. It was World War II. When the United States went to war baseball did not become a casualty since with the blessings of President Franklin Roosevelt the games were allowed to continue, but the product was certainly not the same.

As the war years went on, players were drafted or chose work in industries related to defense. What was left was a watered down product at all levels. How bad was it? Even one-armed outfielder Pete Gray took to the field. A 15-year-old Joe Nuxhall pitched. The dreadful St. Louis Browns won a pennant. Players long past their prime came back to fill out rosters. Then it all ended.

In 1945, the Red Sox attendance was 603,794 for a fifth-place finish. The poor attendance was symptomatic of the war years, the product on the field, and a melancholy that was national. In 1946, the fans came back all over baseball and the Red Sox stormed to a pennant with 1,416,944 witnesses. Money in their pockets saved from war year rationing started a burst of consumer spending and baseball became part of it.

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That is quite naturally a far more rosy picture and may not actually transpire. At this sad point, baseball and routine life returning to normalcy are all speculative regarding any time frame. Uncharted territory for every aspect of life and certainly speculative. But this is about baseball.

The schedule will be an issue that is of concern since there is a relationship to compensation. Will salaries be adjusted according to the schedule? That is in the domain of management and the union.  Expect WW III on that one. But those games?

There have already been changes with Korean and Japanese Leagues and MLB has canceled series for Puerto Rico and Mexico City.  The London series is still questionable and may actually be the start of a potentially abbreviated schedule.

MLB may look like the short season leagues such as New York-Penn League that has the Red Sox affiliate Lowell Spinners as a team. The schedule is 76 games long and in 2020 will start June 17. MLB could end up with a similar schedule unless they wish to play well into November. Stretching baseball into the winter is impractical unless the games are transferred to dome stadiums. Other attempts to complete the 162 games may result in an onslaught of doubleheaders.

The possibility exists that baseball 2020 may be a blank slate. The President has issued warnings that the crisis may drift well into the summer and at some point baseball will have to decide if a severely reduced schedule is even worth pursuing. A year without the splendid game may just have some positive consequences, but that is individual.

For the Red Sox, the positive consequence most noted is Chris Sale who is borderline for a significant arm operation.  A year off could do wonders. The same may apply to Dustin Pedroia who continues to cling to a diminishing chance of resuscitating his career. Stories like this go all across baseball as each team has players in need of recovery. Rest and recuperation or R & R will certainly take place and already have.

A lost season has potentially negative consequences for players whose skills could rust away. Rust away skills and that means back to WWII.  Not every player returned to pick up as nothing had happened. Those whose skills eroded may be duplicated with the absence of a season – with the season sandwiched between two offseasons this is a hefty bulk of time. Especially for players on a downward career trajectory.

Baseball plans ahead on the micro-scale with each team looking “down the road” regarding free agents, contracts, income, etc. and now I am sure that is being done on the macro scale with various scenarios put in place when the go-ahead is given.  A series of “what ifs” dependent upon issues far outside the control of baseball’s hierarchy.

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Meanwhile, we can do the conjecture thing as I have. The guiding factor is all is now in control of government decisions and common sense – long two areas I have questioned. Maybe it will be different this time?