Paul Sullivan: Even if the 2020 Major League Baseball season is salvaged, will we still feel the same about the game?

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“It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it, to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.” — A. Bartlett Giamatti

Summer is here, and we’re still waiting to find out if baseball will break our hearts.

The words of Giamatti, a passionate fan and former Major League Baseball commissioner best known for banning Pete Rose, has hit home for me this year.

There has been a noticeable void in our afternoons and evenings the last three months with no games to watch or listen to. But the arrival of summer weather makes that void exponentially harder to stomach.

What good is having a front porch without a transistor radio and ballgame?

It’s no one’s fault a pandemic halted the season in the midst of spring training, altering our lives completely and ending the sports world as we know it. But now that we have a chance to salvage some of the lost season, baseball’s owners and the players union continue to play a game of chicken at the negotiating table, toying with our emotions daily.

Even if the 2020 season is salvaged, will we still feel the same about the game?

I’m not sure anymore.

And it’s not just the bickering, greed or obliviousness of both sides.

It’s the possibility of changing the game to something we don’t recognize and knowing it probably won’t come back after we return to normal, whenever that is.

For most of the last month we’ve heard about the agreement for the National League to adopt the designated-hitter rule for the 2020 and ’21 seasons. While I’m opposed to that, I realize it was only a matter of time before the union got its way, keeping more middle-aged outfielders and first basemen employed and making the sacrifice bunt obsolete.

I could live with that, and honestly, many fans hate watching pitchers bat anyway, so dinosaurs such as me will just have to deal with it.

But now they’ve gone too far.

An Associated Press report on Friday revealed the owners and players union have a lot more changes in store, none of which seem to have anything to do with the money issues they’ve been fighting about for so long.

Three gimmicks are being considered that would change the complexion of the game, including extra innings that begin with a runner on second base, reentry of players who had been removed from games and — believe it or not — ties.

Ties, in baseball? There’s no tying in baseball!

This isn’t the game we know and love. It’s ManfredBall, a farce that no doubt will become the new norm if Commissioner Rob Manfred has his way.

The minor leagues already have utilized the rule of putting a runner on second to start extra innings in an attempt to avoid long extra-inning games. But that’s the minors, and no one cares who wins and loses while players are developing.

I’ve never understood why extra-inning games are so bothersome to baseball fans. If they’re bored, they simply can go home or turn the channel. What is wrong with letting a game play out to its conclusion, as they have done since the 19th century?

The players union also wants to discuss ending games in a tie “after a certain number of innings.” This is the equivalent of your mom yelling “Time for dinner!” during your backyard games. Yes, union chief Tony Clark wants to be the designated mom.

The worst proposal, however, is what the union called the “relaxation of substitution rules in extra innings.” In other words, managers won’t have to think twice about taking a player out of a game because he can just stick him back in later. Don’t worry about screwing up.

That’s Little League baseball, which is why it’s cool for Little Leagues and not the majors.

Naturally, the proposed changes will be viewed as “temporary” for 2020 and perhaps ’21. But does anyone really believe that? Remember when Chicago Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts told fans the Toyota sign in left field would be the only advertising sign in Wrigley Field?

Less talked about but equally annoying is the proposal to allow advertising patches on uniforms for 2020 and ’21, continuing the desecration of the classic major league jerseys after a $1 billion deal to add Nike logos to the chest on players’ uniforms this year.

Maybe the Cubs can get the Billy Goat Tavern to sponsor them, and the White Sox can wear a Cork and Kerry patch?

Please. The classic jerseys — the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox and Tigers — should never be tampered with. This isn’t soccer or NASCAR.

Experiments don’t always work, but once they’re in they usually stick.

At the baseball meetings in San Francisco in December 1968, American League President Joe Cronin proposed a plan for the following spring training in which teams would use “designated pinch hitters” for pitchers, allow a pinch-running specialist to be used four times in one game and streamline intentional walks by allowing pitchers to put men on base without throwing a pitch.

The designated hitter was adopted in the American League in 1973, and 47 years later it has made its way to the NL. The designated pinch-runner idea didn’t pan out, but MLB went to the “four-finger” intentional-walk rule in 2019.

Change can be good. But these latest proposals are simply change for change’s sake.

Baseball is a game built on traditions. We don’t have to kill those traditions just because the owners and players union can’t agree on money.


(Paul Sullivan is a columnist and baseball writer for the Chicago Tribune.)


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