By Brian Hoffman – Sports Editor
Today is day 112 AG, or 112 days “After Gobert” tested positive for COVID-19 and all sports came to a halt. But the good news is, it looks like we’re going to have big league baseball this summer after all. At least that’s the plan as I write this column three and a half months after the Jazz walked off the court.
“Spring” training is supposed to start this week, followed by a 60 game schedule beginning July 23 or 24. It sounds like it will be a lot like the Korean games, with no fans and lots of rules to keep people safe. I should be plenty safe watching from the recliner in my basement.
Major League Baseball has put out a 101 page “operations manual” for the 2020 season. It includes playing rules, health protocols, travel, media regulations and anything to do with playing the games, and I’m sure lots of stuff will come up that wasn’t anticipated once the season begins.
A couple different rules of note include an expanded 30 man roster. That will go down to 28 after two weeks and 26 after four weeks, but there will also be a “taxi squad” where other players will be available. Remember, there’s no minor league baseball so teams might want to give some of their better prospects an opportunity to see the field.
The “Designated Hitter” rule is always a point of contention and both leagues will use the DH for the abbreviated season. However, it won’t be used in the National League in 2021 if things are back to normal as next year is the final year of the collective bargaining agreement. Then, after next season, it will be on the table to make it universal starting with the 2022 season. Of course, that’s if the players don’t strike over the next agreement, which is always a possibility with baseball.
Another rule of interest is the one used in girls’ softball, where you put a runner on second to start any inning after regulation. In baseball that would be the 10th inning, and the idea is to make for more scoring opportunities to keep games from running long.
Being a traditionalist, I don’t know that I care for that rule. However, as a baseball fan if that’s what they feel they need to get the game back on TV then I’m okay with it.
There are lots of rules in the operations manual about safety measures, and some of them are going to be hard to enforce. People aren’t going to break the rules on purpose, but life-long habits are hard to break.
Players won’t be allowed to spit, and baseball players like to spit. They won’t be chewing tobacco or spitting sunflower seeds, and those are habits that will be hard to break for some.
Pitchers cannot lick their fingers to get a better grip on the ball. From personal experience I have a habit of licking the tips of my fingers when I count paper money. Probably not a good thing, but you know how it is when bills stick together.
Well, I’ve been wearing a mask to the grocery store and when I get to the checkout and pull out my bills I instinctively go to lick the tips of my fingers. I don’t even realize I’m doing it until my fingers hit the mask, usually drawing a chuckle from the cashier.
Pitchers are allowed to carry a small wet rag in their back pocket, but they must dry their hands before pitching so what good does that do? Only water is permitted on the rag and the umpire is allowed to check the rag at any time, but must put on gloves to do so.
See where this is going? There are a lot of rules that seem to be ridiculous among first inspection, but are deemed important to keep the coronavirus from spreading. Players not in the game are allowed to sit in the empty stands to allow for “social distancing,” and leaning on the dugout railing is discouraged. There is not a rule against it, but if you do lean on the rail you have to put a towel on the rail before leaning.
My question is, what is the penalty for failing to abide by these rules? Will someone get thrown out of the game for licking their fingers or leaning on the rail without a towel?
Of course charging the mound or fighting is strictly prohibited due to “social distancing.” Then again, fighting has always been prohibited but players do it anyway.
What happens the first time a pitcher comes high and tight to an Astros’ batter, sending a message they didn’t appreciate last year’s trash-can-banging cheating scandal? Will the umpire warn the pitcher or throw him out on the spot, knowing the batter has little recourse other than to duck. And, as the old saying goes, weren’t rules made to be broken anyway.
It’s going to be interesting, if it happens at all. As I’m typing numbers continue to rise and people are getting stressed out. I look at everything as being day-to-day anymore.
Or, as NBA commissioner Adam Silver succinctly noted months ago, “we’re in uncharted territory.”
JOINING THE ELKS
While we sit around looking for stuff to watch on TV tell me, is it just me or is the NCAA “Transfer Portal” taking the “college” out of college sports? Since the Transfer Portal debuted in October of 2018 it’s had a big impact on collegiate sports. Created as a compliance tool to manage the transfer process for athletes, it empowers the athletes to make known their desire to consider other programs.
When athletes enter the portal they don’t necessarily have to transfer, but more often than not they do. It’s sort of like becoming a free agent in professional sports. You can still sign with your current team, but you’re letting the others know you’re out there and available and usually it’s for a reason.
Since this portal started I’ve noticed way more football and basketball players transferring than there used to be. Smaller schools are finding it harder to build a program, because if they hit on a good player there’s a great chance he’s going to explore transferring to a bigger and more prestigious school. In the old days players like Seth Curry proved to be good enough to play at Duke after one year at Liberty, and it’s much the same thing only on a wider basis.
Do you remember “The Honeymooners,” with Jackie Gleason and Art Carney? Most of you are probably too young to remember the original episodes but they show up on reruns and are still funny today.
There’s one episode where the “Raccoons,” the lodge Ralph and Norton belong to, are getting ready to name their “Raccoon of the Year.” Norton points out that the previous year’s Raccoon of the Year got such a big head when he won that he quit the Raccoons and joined the Elks.
Well, we have a lot of basketball and football players joining the Elks these days. Anymore, you need to buy a program to identify the players as they come and go on a regular basis.
There’s two ways to look at this and I’ve had some discussions with friends on how it should be. One pointed out, and rightly so, that coaches come and go as they please with little regard to the athletes they recruit. If a high school standout chooses a college because he likes the coach, he has no control over whether that coach will be there for the next four or five years. The degree of loyalty depends on the coach, but money usually rules that situation.
There is one difference, however. Coaches on the collegiate level are professional coaches and not teachers, like they are in high school. However, the players aren’t professional players, they’re supposed to be students. Shouldn’t a high school prospect choose a college because of the institution, and not just the athletic program? That’s certainly idealistic, but it should be a factor.
It all goes to the reality that big time college sports are there to make money for everyone involved, and if the players happen to get a good education, more the better. I don’t imagine all these athletes entering the Transfer Portal are eventually headed to the pros, so shouldn’t their education be of equal importance as to the extra five minutes of playing time they would get by transferring to another school to play basketball?
And then we have the rule that basketball players have to play one year of college ball, and football players two, before being eligible for the draft in their respective sports. What a joke that is! How many players in that category are actually going to college because they want to be a student? Mostly, they want to fulfill their one or two year obligation and leave for the pros.
I would say basketball is worse than football, since the hoopsters only have to play one year before being draft eligible. From what I understand most of them rarely attend class. They can enjoy the social life of college and the thrill of playing big time basketball without worrying about grades, since they plan on making a lot of money as soon as they leave Dodge.
I think it’s interesting that the NBA has started this new G League elite pro team. Players coming out of high school who are big time prospects can opt to play for the G League team to fulfill their one year draft requirement and make money, legally, while doing so. Recently Jalen Green, who many predict will be the number one pick in the 2021 NBA draft, decided to play for the NBA G League team instead of playing in college, where he was being recruited by all the big schools.
In the G League Green will be playing against players who are just below the NBA level, hoping to make an NBA team if they do well. He’ll receive a salary reported to be more than $125,000 a year, and I don’t know what Kentucky is paying these days but that has to be comparable. And, more importantly, Green can use his name to earn money with endorsements from shoe companies and the like. That’s probably happening anyway, but in the G League it’s all above board and you won’t soil your reputation by taking money you rightfully deserve. Ask Zion Williamson how that’s working out for him after one year at Duke.
Brian Shaw, a highly regarded basketball mind, was recently hired to coach the G League elite team. I would think he’d be an excellent choice, having been a head coach for the Denver Nuggets and a long-time assistant for the Lakers, including some of their championship teams.
Of course, folks worry that if the G League team works out, and maybe expands to two or more teams, it will hurt college basketball. I guess that would be the case if the best 20-some high school players opt for the G League every year, but is that worse than having a player come to your school for one year then leave and force the coach to start over? If you’re Duke or Kentucky it’s okay, but if you’re Virginia Tech stability and team chemistry might lend more to a winning program.
Just a few thoughts from someone who enjoys “big time” college basketball but who considers the ODAC to be the real “college” sport.