It took much longer than many fans would have liked, but Major League Baseball finally is planning to return to action amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Commissioner Rob Manfred this week, implemented a 60-game schedule which will begin, for most teams July 24. Spring training (which is really mid-summer training) begins next Wednesday with players reporting to their home markets. Cleveland Indians play-by-play man Tom Hamilton reacted to MLB's return when he joined Joel Riley and me on 610 WTVN Thursday morning. Here are some of the highlights.
On the anger and frustration of many baseball fans, that baseball players and owners constantly bickered during negotiations: "There's no question baseball didn't do itself any favors with how they went through this whole process with the animosity and the acrimony but I think once the games start (fans will come back). The one thing about this game, it's withstood everything possible in the history of this country, when you think of it and in the end, the game is always surviving."
On concerns in the baseball community, that the season still may not get off the ground due to the recent COVID-19 spike which includes several positive tests around Major League Baseball: "The biggest concern is that you start the season and then you have to shut it down without having a postseason. That would be cataclysmic as far as from a financial standpoint and that's their worst nightmare but at this point it's full speed ahead. You just have to realize that no matter what you do, some people are going to catch the virus."
On the responsibility of players to follow the strict safety guidelines designed to reduce the chance of a COVID-19 outbreak: "These are guys in the mid-and-late 20s and it only takes one or two knuckleheads to say 'well the rules are for everyone but me' and sneak out kind of like the old curfew days. That's where some issues could crop up, so I think it's really going to be imperative that these ball players self police themselves."
On the key to success in this unique 60-game season: "The teams that have the most pitching depth are the ones that are going to have the best chance to survive early. Are (the starting pitchers) going to be going maybe four innings tops initially when they are taking their first turns in the rotation, almost like we're midway through spring training? Because of that, the teams with pitching depth are going to be able to survive the fact that they don't have their starters going seven, eight or nine innings."
On the unusual rule being put in place in which in extra innings, the team at bat will begin the inning with a runner on second base in an effort to avoid long games: "I think this is just a one year thing to be honest and they're not going to do it in post-season. I think everything now, you have to be open-minded on because of the circumstances. The reason they are doing that is the same reason they will not play double-headers. They don't want the players exposed to each other for that long of a period of time. You couple the fact that (baseball) can't afford to have a 17 or 18 or 19 inning game from the standpoint of what that would do to your club and its pitching."
We also talked about the Indians, the effect manager Terry Francona has on the Tribe and much more. Thanks as always to Tom for joining us. If you missed the interview, you can check it all out by clicking here to go to Joel's podcast page.