One of the fun things that has happened to Your Natterer of late, was that for a four-second period of time, I was part of ESPN’s “The Last Dance,” better known as the Michael Jordan documentary. In the fourth hour of the show, 20 minutes in, a disembodied voice introduces Scottie Pippen in his first All-Star Game, which occurred in 1990 at the Miami Arena. That voice was me. In the game itself, Pippen played 12 minutes, scoring just four points. The talent on display in that game was formidable, with the East Team’s starting lineup including Jordan, Isiah Thomas, Patrick Ewing, Larry Bird and Charles Barkley. The subs for the East included Robert Parish, Kevin McHale, Joe Dumars, Dominique Wilkins, Reggie Miller, Pippen, and Dennis Rodman. The West roster was formidable as well, with starters Hakeem Olajuwon, Magic Johnson, James Worthy, John Stockton and improbably A.C. Green. The reserves included David Robinson, Fat lever, Tom Chambers, Rolando Blackman, Clyde Drexler, Chris Mullin, and Kevin Johnson. Blackman was a replacement for Karl Malone, who was injured. The depth of the East squad prevailed as they won 130-113… I was the public address announcer for the entire 1990 NBA Weekend, which included an afternoon session Saturday for middle-school aged students from Miami area schools who had perfect attendance to that point in the school year. After negotiating with the NBA League Office all morning and into the early afternoon, Jordan decided to attend the event. When I introduced him to the crowd, the screaming and noise generated from the 15,000 students in attendance, in a small building, made the loudest sustained noise I have ever heard. It was good to be like Mike… One note from “The Last Dance” series that does not ring true to me is former Bulls General Manager Jerry Krause being solely responsible for the break-up of the Bulls after their second three-peat. Krause would never have been allowed to make those moves without the express consent of primary Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf. Krause was constantly in search of more credit for the on-court success of the team, and made many remarks he shouldn’t have about the brilliance of the management of the team, but Reinsdorf made the final call… Onto other topics and the sign that Armageddon may be upon us is that ESPN created a three-hour special for the announcement of the National Football League’s regular season schedule. The schedule being released did prompt an interesting fun fact regarding team travel in 2020. The Baltimore Ravens will travel 6,310 air miles during the course of the season, if it is played in its entirety, while the Seattle Seahawks will travel 29,023 miles. Put another way, Baltimore which will leave the Eastern Time Zone only once this season, will make the equivalent of two and one-half trips from New York to Los Angeles (2451 miles) and Seattle will make almost 12 such trips… With no live sports to watch, most notably my Chicago Cubs, there is time to reflect on players from the past. Former Club second baseman Glenn Beckert, a four-time All-Star who finished with a lifetime batting average of .283 over 11 seasons, died in mid-April at the age of 79. Beckert, who also won a Gold Glove at one point in his career, played for the Cubs from 1965 to 1973. Beckert was a really good player, on a Cubs team that included Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, and Ron Santo. Beckert was just short of being a Hall of Famer, and a modern day comparable player to Beckert might be Chase Utley of the Phillies and Dodgers… The recent passing of Baltimore Colts and Miami Dolphins Head Coach Don Shula at the age of 90 was notable for several reasons, including that he was the all-time NFL record holder in most games won by a head coach at 347. Most notably to me, in his Hall of Fame career which covered 33 seasons, Shula had only two losing seasons, and won two Super Bowls… Finally, against the backdrop of live sports of all sorts being cancelled for two full months, Major League Baseball publicly floated their latest trial balloon to try to salvage the 2020 season. Unfortunately, it was also announced Monday that the State of Illinois has projected mid-June as the peak of the Coronavirus Pandemic in the state, almost exactly one month away. And those two statements are unfortunately intertwined.
The particulars of the plan agreed to by the MLB Owners, to be formally presented to the Major League Players Association Tuesday, include resumption of Spring Training in early June; an 82-game regular season will commence in early July; 14 of the 30 MLB teams will qualify for the Playoffs; team player rosters will increase from 25 last season to 30 this season; since no Minor League Baseball will be played this season, each MLB team will have a 20-player taxi squad to draw from; the National League will adopt the designated hitter for this season; no fans will be in attendance at games, at least for the early part of the truncated season; games can be played in a team’s home park if the state where they operate will allow them and if not home games may be played in Spring Training parks in Arizona and Florida; teams will play a regional schedule only with the Padres, as an example, playing their fellow National League West teams the Dodgers, Giants, Rockies and Diamondbacks, and their American League West counterparts including the Mariners, Angels, Astros, A’s and Rangers; and salaries paid to the players, at least as proposed by the Owners, will be a 50-50 split of revenues, which the Players believe to be the first step toward the salary cap concept employed by the NFL, NBA and NHL. The financial issues are very real and could bring this entire plan to its knees.
Basically, the MLB season will become television studio show for local television, plus regional, and national sports networks. Media rights total approximately 60 percent of a team’s revenue and teams are highly motivated to generate revenue. Sales of game tickets, parking, concessions, and novelties comprise the balance of a team’s revenue stream. Another major sticking point may be that five MLB teams are headquartered in California, perhaps the state with the most restrictive public health policies in place to combat the virus. In addition, the owners want the season completed before November, when a feared rebound of the pandemic could occur.
The most complex issue is how to keep the players safe with COVID-19 still very much a presence. Personally, I think the MLB timetable is overly aggressive, and Spring Training should be moved back to July 15th, which would in turn push the start of the regular season back to early August.
Another factor not finalized at this point is what happens when one player tests positive for COVID-19? Will all play stop across Baseball, or will just that player be isolated for two weeks, with everyone else re-tested? I would love to see Baseball return, as you can only read so many books and listen to a like number of podcasts. But the current MLB trial balloon is just too much, too soon.