MLB

Steve Cohen, Lifelong Mets Fan (and Billionaire) Takes Over Franchise

By Scott Mandel

Today, for Mets fans, begins what they hope and believe will be viewed someday, as the golden age of the New York Mets Baseball Club. With the transfer of ownership of the team from the Wilpon/Katz families to one Steve Cohen, a financial whiz on Wall Street with a net worth of $14 billion, Mets fans are rejoicing as if Cohen had just defeated Donald Trump for the presidency of the United States.

In a wide-ranging Zoom press conference this afternoon, Cohen laid out his plans for the franchise. If his words and goals are true, the Mets, struggling for decades as an undercapitalized professional sports team in the city of New York, will no longer be limited by the silly question, “So, how much will that cost us?”

Cohen is now the richest owner in the sport, possibly the wealthiest individual owner of a sports franchise in the world. If Cohen wants to sign a free agent because he believes that player is the difference between winning a championship or not, he will not get out-bid.

New Mets owner, Steve Cohen during today’s zoom conference

“If I don’t win a World Series in the next three to five years — I’d like to make it sooner — but if I don’t do that, I would consider that slightly disappointing,” Cohen said. “We are a major market team” that “should have a budget commensurate with that.”

“I’m essentially doing this for the fans,” Cohen said. “When I really thought about this, I can make millions of people happy. What an incredible opportunity that is. That’s how I’m thinking about this. I’m not trying to make money here … it’s really about building something great, building something for the fans, winning and I just find this an amazing opportunity and I’m so excited for it.”

Tom Seaver, Among the Giants of Baseball History, Has Died.

By Scott Mandel

Tom Seaver could be arrogant as a 22-year old rookie righthanded pitcher with the New York Mets in 1967. He could be curmudgeonly as a 40-year old at the end of his career with the Boston Red Sox. Tom Seaver did not suffer fools from the inquiring media or even, his own teammates.

But, Tom Seaver could pitch.

He did it so well, he was elected into the baseball Hall of Fame with 98.7% of the vote, the highest vote tabulation of all time, up to that point in 1990.

But, the most important thing Tom Seaver accomplished in his baseball career was carrying an entire franchise, the forever moribund New York Mets on his shoulders towards more than respectability. Seaver carried them always the worst team in baseball since its inception in 1962, to the championship of the world in 1969, defeating the powerful Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.

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Two superstar pitchers for the Mets, Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden

Fifty-one years later, it might still be the greatest baseball story ever told. The Miracle Mets of 1969, never having finished above .500, going from ninth place in 1968 to the World Series title. The hapless, bumbling, laughingstock New York Mets, most famous for the time Marv Throneberry hit an apparent game-winning triple only to have missed first base, with the Mets instead losing the game. Those luckless, atrocious Mets, whom Casey Stengel explained had selected a certain catcher in the expansion draft because they needed somebody to prevent the ball from rolling to the backstop.

That’s how the Mets were born and, boy, were they bad. They lost 120 games that first season in 1962 and followed up with seasons of 111, 109 and 112 losses. In 1966, they climbed out of last place for the first time — all the way up from 10th place to ninth. The fans in Queens loved them nonetheless. Even though the Mets lost 95 games that year, they finished second in the major leagues in attendance.ADVERTISEMENT

The transformation from lovable losers to champions began in 1967. It began with Tom Seaver.

The story of how Seaver landed with the Mets is a little miracle in itself. The Atlanta Braves had drafted the Southern California right-hander in the secondary phase of the January draft in 1966, a part of the draft that no longer exists and was reserved for players previously drafted who didn’t sign. The Los Angeles Dodgers had drafted Seaver in the 10th round in 1965, but a Dodgers scout named Tommy Lasorda refused to meet Seaver’s $70,000 asking price. Seaver returned to school.

Seaver and the Braves reached a deal in late February for a $40,000 bonus. USC’s spring season had already started, however, and under baseball’s rules, a team couldn’t sign a player if his college season had begun. Commissioner Spike Eckert nullified the contract. Seaver then tried to return to school, but the NCAA declared him ineligible, even though he had yet to accept any money.

It was a classic Catch-22 situation. Seaver’s dad threatened a lawsuit. Eckert, in an unprecedented move, set up a special lottery. Any team willing to match Atlanta’s $40,000 bonus could participate, but the Braves were banned from signing Seaver for three years. Only three teams chose to get involved in the Seaver sweepstakes: the Philadelphia PhilliesCleveland Indians and Mets. The Mets won the lottery.

Eckert explained his decision was “for the interest of the boy and the public. The youngster previously signed a contract with another club in good faith only to learn he had been improperly contracted,” Eckert said. “It was not his fault that the contract was invalidated.”

Did the Mets know what they were getting? It’s perhaps noteworthy that only three teams thought he was worth that $40,000 bonus, though that was a sizable bonus for the time, more than most of the first-round picks would receive that June. Seaver had been lightly scouted in high school in Fresno, California, but he was just 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds as a senior in 1962. He spent the next year working in a packing plant and joined the Marine Corps Reserve. After a year at Fresno City College, he transferred to USC.

Down the stretch in 1969, when the Mets won the division title, Tom Seaver went 8-0 with eight complete games and a 1.00 ERA. Rich Pilling/Getty Images

When Seaver initially agreed to the deal with the Braves, the Fresno Bee interviewed Braves scout Johnny Moore, the team’s West Coast supervisor.

“We’re very high on Tom’s potential,” Moore said. “We have watched him since he was a small lad in Fresno, and we especially kept our eye on him as he developed at Fresno City College and Southern Cal. As far as I’m concerned, there has been only one better deal since the free-agent draft setup [came] in effect last June. That was the signing of Rick Monday by Kansas City.”

Monday had been the first pick in the first draft in 1965.

So while Seaver was only the 20th pick in the January phase, it was apparent he was an excellent prospect. The Fresno paper called him a “fireballing right-hander.” It’s possible that Seaver’s bonus demands scared some teams away. His dad also thought Seaver’s military commitment might have been an issue. “The Braves were the only club to go after him,” Charley Seaver said, “possibly because of his military status.”

But it’s also possible some teams hadn’t seen Seaver and that even though he had gone 10-2 with a 2.47 ERA for USC, his fastball didn’t impress. Years later, Baseball America quoted a veteran scout from the area who said of Seaver: “Some clubs wouldn’t give him more than $4,000 because he had a below-average fastball. But he pitched against a team called the Crosby All-Stars just before the draft and was facing active major leaguers. He struck out 12 in five innings.”

The Fresno Bee didn’t mention that game, but it did mention one outing for USC early in 1966 when Seaver threw five perfect innings against the San Diego Marines. The paper also said the Dodgers had reportedly offered Seaver $50,000 to sign in 1965.

Seaver was an immediate star in New York. He spent 1966 in the minors and reached the Mets in 1967, when he went 16-13 with a 2.76 ERA and won National League Rookie of the Year honors. He went 16-12 with a 2.20 ERA in 1968 as the Mets climbed out of the cellar. Still, after going 73-89, they weren’t expected to do much in 1969, the first year the leagues were split into divisions.

Featuring a young rotation with the 24-year-old Seaver, 26-year-old Jerry Koosman, 22-year-old Gary Gentry, 25-year-old Jim McAndrew and 22-year-old part-time starter Nolan Ryan, the Mets allowed the second-fewest runs in the league. Seaver went 25-7 with a 2.21 ERA, winning the first of his three Cy Young Awards.

The Mets were seven games behind the Chicago Cubs on Aug. 21 but went 32-10 the rest of the way to win the division by eight games. Seaver started eight games in that stretch — and went 8-0 with eight complete games and a 1.00 ERA. In Game 4 of the World Series against the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles, Seaver tossed a 10-inning complete game to win 2-1. Koosman wrapped it up the next day.

Seaver became known as Tom Terrific and rightly so. Since World War II, the only pitcher with a higher career WAR is Roger Clemens. Seaver was ahead of his time in more than his bonus demands. A 1972 profile by Pat Jordan in Sports Illustrated dug into Seaver’s dedication to his craft and to lifting weights, an exercise that most players of his era avoided.

“He believes, unlike most pitchers and coaches, that a selective program of weight lifting will add speed to a pitcher’s fastball,” Jordan wrote. Indeed, in one of his autobiographies, Ryan mentioned seeing the “doughy” bodies of his fellow Mets pitchers and he too became an early proponent of lifting weights.

“Pitching is what makes me happy,” Seaver told Jordan. “I’ve devoted my life to it. I live my life around the four days between starts. It determines what I eat, when I go to bed, what I do when I’m awake. It determines how I spend my life when I’m not pitching. If it means I have to come to Florida and can’t get tanned because I might get a burn that would keep me from throwing for a few days, then I never go shirtless in the sun. If it means when I get up in the morning I have to read the box scores to see who got two hits off Bill Singer last night instead of reading a novel, then I do it. If it means I have to remind myself to pet dogs with my left hand or throw logs on the fire with my left hand, then I do that too. If it means in the winter I eat cottage cheese instead of chocolate chip cookies in order to keep my weight down, then I eat cottage cheese. I might want those cookies, but I won’t ever eat them.”

The suggestion was that Seaver wasn’t a natural-born talent. He made himself into an all-time great. “Although he is not conscious of it, Seaver shows his disdain for men who he feels have not fulfilled their potential,” Jordan wrote. “For Seaver, a man’s talent is not just a part of the man. It is the whole man, or at the very least a mirror of the whole man.”

Of course, Seaver wasn’t without talent. I remember once talking to former ESPN baseball analyst Dave Campbell, who was in the lineup for the San Diego Padres the day Seaver fanned a record 10 batters in a row.

“He was so dominant that day, he could have told us what pitch was coming and we still wouldn’t have hit it,” Campbell said.

Now we mourn Seaver’s death at age 75, with 1969 a distant, graying memory. I scroll through Facebook and see all the tributes from those who just lost their childhood hero.

“Thank you for being such a great role model,” wrote my brother-in-law, Jeff Russo.

Geoff Reiss, the man who hired me so many years ago to work for ESPN’s website, wrote: “This is so incredibly sad. He was my Mantle, Kobe, MJ.” He posted a photo of his autographed Seaver jersey.

The legendary baseball writer John Thorn simply wrote: “Tom Seaver … hail and farewell.”

Many Mets fans say the saddest day of their youth was the day New York traded Seaver to the Cincinnati Reds. It’s time to shed another tear.

St. Louis Cardinals: Rob Kaminsky’s winding journey to the MLB

By Scott Mandel

It was a weekend that was filled with major league debuts for the St. Louis Cardinals. One of the players making his debut was Rob Kaminsky.

After a few weeks off the field as the team battled their coronavirus outbreak, the St. Louis Cardinals returned to action against the Chicago White Sox. They had several players making their debuts during the weekend series. Most went well, but one stood out to me. After many trials and setbacks, Rob Kaminsky finally stepped foot on an MLB mound and made his debut with a scoreless inning on Sunday in the 7-2 loss.

DFR: Rob Kaminsky and the young pitching prospects end camp on a ...
Kaminsky, in 2013 as a high school kid just drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals

Fans might remember the name going back all the way to 2013. Kaminsky was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the first round of that draft at the 28th overall pick. As a crafty left-handed starting pitcher, he quickly climbed up the prospect rankings. Reaching as high as number three on the team’s prospect list, he was greeted with high expectations.

In 2014, Kaminsky went 8-2 with a 1.88 ERA in Low-A Peoria. Overall, his career minor league numbers are 29-21 with a sub 3.00 ERA, and he also had a 3-0 showing in the Arizona Fall League in 2018.https://9564ad6707f068e96f5c8bb50c62e97e.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.htmlWhich has more buzz in 2020?Tap to voteChicago CubsVSVSMiami Marlins

In July of 2015, Kaminsky was traded. He was sent to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for Brandon Moss. The trade was met with some mixed reactions but Moss performed well for the Cardinals and showcased the game-changing power that he brought to the table.

Kaminsky, meanwhile, dealt with an elbow injury after the trade. While he was solid in 2016, his 2017 season was pretty much lost. He had to deal with some injuries, but he came back and was shifted to the bullpen for the Indians’ minor league system. Because of these injuries, his climb to the majors was stalled for the four-plus years he spent with the Indians.

On December 6, 2019, Kaminsky signed a minor league deal with the St. Louis Cardinals. Back with the team in which it all began, it seemed as though his baseball journey had come full circle. Yet, his first major league appearance still eluded him.

The Cardinals selected his contract from their alternate training site on August 15. Officially a major league baseball player, his debut was made the next day. Kaminsky had achieved his first game in the big leagues, and he was able to do it with the team that drafted him.

Although his baseball journey was a winding one full of twists and turns, he was in the major leagues. Still only 25, he has plenty of time to continue to prove that he belongs in the majors. The transition to a bullpen role could help him carve out a valuable role with the Cardinals moving forward.

To be able to reach the highest level of professional baseball is surely an exciting thing. To be able to do that with the team that drafted him is probably the cherry on top. There’s no way of knowing how his career will play out from here, but for now, we can appreciate the story of how Rob Kaminsky reached the major leagues. Even if his path was an unlikely one, he can say that he is a big leaguer for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Mets’ Marcus Stroman Opts Out of 2020 Season Citing Covid 19 Concerns

By Scott Mandel

Marcus Stroman, a key member of the New York Mets starting rotation, has decided to end his season.

The right-hander becomes the second high-profile Mets player to opt out, joining Yoenis Cespedes, who opted out earlier this month.

Stroman, who was acquired by the Mets from the Toronto Blue Jays at the trade deadline last season, has not pitched this season because of a torn calf muscle.

Stroman has accrued enough service time to qualify for free agency after this season.

New York Mets pitcher Marcus Stroman opts out of season due to ...
Stroman has been recovering from a pre-season calf injury

Stroman, who had been working his way back from the preseason calf injury, said he made his decision with his family and it is purely based on COVID-19, not because of his calf. Stroman, 29, is set to become a free agent at the end of the year without throwing a pitch in 2020. He said the decision was “weighing on” him daily.

“This is not something that I wanted,” Stroman said. “This was a collective decision for my family, for our best interests. Because I’m such a competitor, it was incredibly hard to finally come up with this decision.”

Let’s Get Wally Backman Back in a Big League Dugout

By Scott Mandel

From the “where did this come from” file, I recently listened to a Ron Gardenhire post-game presser. Gardy, a former Met, is a baseball lifer who is transforming the Tigers into a professional baseball team, again.

It reminds me of why guys like him, his buddy, Wally Backman, Bob Brenley, Jim Leyland and the rest of the “old” managers should always have a place in baseball, running a team. Players don’t care how old a manager is. The special ones, no matter their ages, relate to all players and are great at running the games.

Ron Gardenhire on Tigers' elite pitching prospects: 'I hope I don ...
Gardenhire is transforming Tigers from sad sacks to a young, competitive team

Today’s general managers, many in their 30s or 40s, think hiring a young guy who can “relate” better to today’s player, is an advantage. As I watch the new Mets manager, 16-year old Luis Rojas, I keep thinking about Wally Backman in that dugout, winning games instead of losing games, the way the Mets are doing, now. (Rojas is really 38).

Maybe, the new Mets owner will bring Wally back.

Mets’ Cespedes Opts Out from the Baseball Season

By Scott Mandel – sportsreporters.com

Cespedes decided to end his season with the Mets after nine games in 2020

Yoenis Cespedes has decided to opt out of the 2020 MLB season. The news comes hours after the Mets released a statement they were unable to get in contact with him after he failed to show up for the Sunday afternoon game in Atlanta.

“It’s disappointing,” general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said. “This is a disappointing end at least to his four-year agreement with the Mets.”

 Van Wagenen maintained the team had no knowledge of Cespedes’ plan to opt out before sending their statement out before game time on Sunday. The Mets G.M. also did not know whether the slugger was safe and healthy before releasing an initial statement. He explained his statement was made in an effort to be transparent and keep the public informed, “in real time,” the GM said later.

“As of game time, Yoenis Céspedes has not reported to the ballpark today,” Van Wagenen’s statement read. “He did not reach out to management with any explanation for his absence. Our attempts to contact him have been unsuccessful.”

The announcement of the lineup was also delayed, but when Rojas was asked directly if the team was waiting on any players to arrive, the manager chalked it up to the quick turnaround of Saturday night’s game to Sunday afternoon’s early arrival.

”Nothing in particular,” Rojas said on the delay of the lineup announcement. “We’re just arriving from the night-day game.”

Cespedes is in the final year of his contract with the Mets, which was restructured in January following his 2019 accident with a wild boar. He rehabbed from multiple surgeries on his heels and ankle and returned to play Opening Day in his first-big league game since July 2018.

The slugger is batting .161 (5-for-31) with two home runs, four RBI, two walks, three runs scored and 15 strikeouts from the designated-hitter spot across the first nine games of the season.

One suspects there is more to this story than meets the immediate eye. Stay tuned.

Welcome to MLB Season that Starts in the Heart of the Pennant Race

By Scott Mandel

Typically, when a major league baseball season gets to game 102, leaving only 60 games remaining to the season, we have gotten through the All-Star break in the second week of July and we are bearing down on the dog days of August. For those teams still in the pennant race, the high-pressure games of down-the-stretch baseball are about to begin.

Here, in 2020, with the condensed schedule of only 60 games instead of 162, all 30 major league teams are officially in a pennant race, with every game remaining having the impact of almost three games. If a team goes on a short losing streak while division opponents are winning games, the distance they fall behind, with fewer games remaining, puts increased pressure on every game and every pitch.

Welcome to the pennant race, from beginning to end of this unique season.

Opening day started yesterday with a Yankee win as their $324 million free agent ace, Gerrit Cole, earned part of his $36 million annual salary (pro-rated to reflect the shortened season), throwing five innings and allowing one hit and one run against the defending World Series champion Washington Nationals, in D.C. as the Bronx Bombers defeated Max Scherzer and the Nats, 4-1. In front of an empty stadium, but a huge television audience, the distinguished Dr. Anthony Fauci was unable to distinguish himself as the opening day pitcher of the First Pitch. The 79-year old Fauci, who was a high school basketball star in New York City, just missed throwing a strike by about 30 feet, with his pitch landing somewhere near the first base foul line.

Today, in front of a small crowd of smiling cardboard season ticket holders at Citi Field in New York, Jacob deGrom, the Mets ace and two-time Cy Young Award winner, threw another gem against the Atlanta Braves, allowing one hit in five innings while striking out eight Braves batters. He left the game but watched Cespedes hit a solo home run in the seventh inning as the Mets shut out the Braves, 1-0.

It sure didn’t take much time for Yoenis Cespedes to swing right into a DH role in his long-awaited return.

Cespedes came back with a bang, immediately capitalizing on the new designated hitter rule in the National League by launching a home run that sent deGrom and the Mets past the Braves in their season opener Friday.

After five dominant innings from deGrom, who was popping the catcher’s mitt with 99 mph fastballs at the start, Cespedes connected in the seventh off reliever Chris Martin (0-1) for his first long ball since his previous major league game on July 20, 2018.

“I’m very excited. It was very exciting just to be able to play again,” Cespedes said though a translator. “I don’t have words for a situation like that.”

“It proved to me that I can still be the same player that I used to be,” he added.

The 34-year-old slugger missed most of the past two seasons with a string of leg injuries, requiring surgery on both heels and then a broken ankle after a bad fall at his Florida ranch in a reported run-in with a wild boar.

“I don’t care if he took a five-year hiatus, when he gets in the batter’s box, you’re worried,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s such a presence.”

Rules changes for this shortened season delayed by the coronavirus provided a DH in NL games for the first time — giving the Mets a perfect slot for Cespedes even if left field presents a problem.

“The funny thing was I joked with him before the game, I said, `Why are you hitting for me?” deGrom said. “Really happy for him.”

With no fans at Citi Field due to the pandemic, it was easy to hear teammates exclaiming in the dugout when Cespedes sent his drive soaring into the empty left-field seats.

“They erupted. They went crazy,” rookie manager Luis Rojas said. “Obviously, it’s a big moment for Ces. He’s been waiting.”

Seth Lugo (1-0) tossed two innings, pitching out of trouble in the seventh, and Justin Wilson whiffed Ronald Acuna Jr. with a runner in scoring position to end the eighth.

Edwin Diaz, who lost his job as closer during a miserable 2019 season, struck out two in a hitless ninth for the save. He worked around a one-out walk, giving the 38-year-old Rojas a victory in his debut.

Afterward, he got a game ball from his players and a celebratory shower that Rojas said was beginning to make his uniform stink.

“I don’t know what they threw on me, but they threw a lot of stuff,” Rojas said.

Coming off consecutive Cy Young Awards, deGrom fanned eight and permitted only a broken-bat single and a walk. He was pulled after 72 pitches following a back-tightness scare early last week. The right-hander extended his scoreless streak to a career-best 28 innings dating to last season, the longest active streak in the majors.

Notes:

The cardboard cutout photos occupying some seats included one of former Braves star and Mets nemesis Chipper Jones.

FAVORITE DAY OF THE YEAR

The Mets improved to 39-20 in openers (despite losing their first eight), the best opening day winning percentage in the majors. They’ve won 12 of their last 15 — and 23 of the past 26 at home.

SENDING A MESSAGE

Both teams wore Black Lives Matter T-shirts for batting practice and joined in holding a long, black ribbon on the field during a pregame message on the video board from many Black major leaguers about eradicating racial injustice.

PREGAME CEREMONIES

The national anthem was performed virtually on the video board by essential workers, each singing their part, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said “Let’s play ball!” It appeared all players on the field stood for the anthem.

MONEY MAN

Because he didn’t begin the season on the IL with a foot injury, Cespedes’ salary rose from $2,222,222 prorated ($6 million before the schedule was shortened) to $4,074,074 ($11 million before the change).

Baseball Is Back, But Is It Really?

By Scott Mandel

That actual baseball is about to be back on the field under the summer sun is one small step for man…and one giant leap backward for mankind.

My god. The moon landing was a piece of cake compared to this. Negotiations are negotiations, yes, and baseball has a long, ludicrous history of turning them into drawn-out battles.

But this…this was a new low even by lower-than-a-worm’s-belly standards.

As more than two million people in the United States have contracted COVID-19, the bickering between players and owners over the path back onto the field commenced.

As more than 120,000 people in this country have died from this pandemic, the bitterness turned toxic.

Then George Floyd was killed after a police officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck in broad daylight on the streets of Minneapolis two months after Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by police in her own apartment in Louisville. Protesters were tear-gassed by United States Park Police on the streets outside of the White House, and the country erupted into a righteous rage.

All the while, the sport former Commissioner Bud Selig regularly referred to as a “social institution with social responsibilities”, abdicated those responsibilities. Not once, but twice—twice!—owners and players appeared to reach a deal (March 26 and June 17) and then couldn’t even agree on what that deal was or that there had been a deal.

Now, upon re-entry, the sport looks smaller and smaller. Insignificant.Videos you might like

Commissioner Rob Manfred on Tuesday used his power to unilaterally implement a 60-game season after three months’ worth of “negotiations” ended in a stalemate. Those early-summer dreams about the Sport Formerly Known as America’s Pastime romantically returning in a star-spangled burst around July 4 now lay in storage along with all of the nation’s canceled fireworks.

A game fighting for its patch of real estate on an ever more crowded sports landscape could have had several weeks alone in the spotlight. Instead, it will have a few days, and then the NBA and NHL playoffs will crank up.

The half-full view, of course, is that games will begin again on July 24, or thereabouts, finally releasing us from the grainy hell of replays from the distant past and giving us, finally, nightly options beyond searching the Netflix queue for the 6,000th time.

So now come the tentative first steps back, however belatedly, and we’ll see what the fan reaction is and just how much the sport alienated even its hardcore base. Of course, with no attendance, it may take a while to gauge the true effect. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around…that sort of thing.

Or, maybe by squeezing 60 games in under the wire and dodging the virus, the game will, as ever, rise up and make a disgusted clientele remember why they loved it in the first place.

So, Play Ball!

Right?

Or is it, Play Ball…(sigh)

Unlike any other season in more than a century of Major League Baseball: a 60-game sprint, in empty ballparks, with Opening Day essentially being the start of the pennant race.

The severely reduced game calendar will be by far the shortest in the history of MLB, strike seasons included. Before now, the most abbreviated schedule ever played was in 1981 when a two-month players’ strike caused clubs to play roughly 107-110 games.

Furthermore, by playing only 37 percent of its usual 162-game schedule, this will represent the sharpest reduction of a season of any of the four major American professional sports leagues in history. No league, outside of a full cancellation, has ever played a season with less than 56 percent of its scheduled games.

As a result, the importance of each game for what amounts to the entire season will be magnified tremendously: Each game will carry the significance of nearly three in usual circumstances (2.7 to be exact). Meaning, if there are six scheduled games each week, every club’s weekly schedule will carry the weight of 16 games in a normal season. A sense of urgency will be there from the first pitch.

Because of the brevity, odds immediately increase for flukes.

Teams that get hot for a 20- or 30-game stretch will be difficult to catch. If you look at last year’s schedule on June 4—a date at which most teams had played between 58 and 60 games—the National League division winners would have been Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles. Only the Dodgers, of course, won their division in 2020. (The American League division winners would have been the same as at season’s end: the Yankees, Twins and Astros).

Under the same circumstances in 2018 (June 4 cutoff, most teams at 58-60 games), Boston, Cleveland and Seattle would have won division titles in the AL—and the Mariners are currently dragging the longest playoff drought in the majors, not having played in a postseason since 2001. NL division winners would have been Atlanta, Milwaukee and Arizona. The Mariners and Diamondbacks were the outliers as the Astros and Dodgers wound up winning the Western divisions.

The schedule will be re-configured into, essentially, geographic pods: Western teams will only face Western teams, etc. The Yankees’ schedule, for example, will consist of 40 games against AL East foes with the remaining 20 games against NL East teams. That number of in-division games and interleague games will remain equal for all teams. In a shortened season and with COVID-19 concerns, the idea is to limit travel and, thus, both health and fatigue risks.

That will afford one interesting wrinkle: If you remember back to the halcyon, pre-virus days in February and early March when the Astros’ cheating scandal dominated the baseball conversation…well, the Astros weren’t scheduled to face the Dodgers, their 2017 World Series victims, this season. Now they are. But, alas, in an empty Dodger Stadium.

Rosters will be expanded early in an effort to keep pitchers healthy. Extra innings will start with a runner on second base, largely because health experts advise against games lasting hours and partly because MLB figures this is a good opportunity to test-drive some ideas without any long-term commitments. And the trade deadline will be pushed back a month to Aug. 31.

While the designated hitter will arrive in the NL this year—sorry, purists—because Manfred is implementing as much in lieu of a negotiated agreement, there will not be a DH in the NL in 2021. At least, as of now.

Also, because the season is coming by way of decree and not agreement, forget the notion of expanded playoffs (and free substitution). For now, October, if the virus allows us to get that far, will look the same, with 10 teams in the usual format.

One positive—hello again, purists—is that there will not be advertising patches on uniforms this season (one of the players’ offers to owners included the approval to sell ad space on the unis). In a storied game in which certain uniforms—Yankees, Cardinals, Dodgers, Tigers, Red Sox—are iconic, it would be like spraying graffiti on St. Peter’s Basilica.

So now the question becomes: Given that this season was called to order instead of negotiated, will it essentially be a joyless slog through three months that are simply a prelude to more ugliness when negotiations begin for the next Collective Bargaining Agreement?

There is a chance some stars will boycott in protest and decline to play this year. Unless they’re excused for legitimate health concerns, players refusing to play would not be paid, of course.

Players could display their anger and frustration in other ways. For example, in one of their proposals, they offered enhanced telecasts (essentially being mic’d up during games). Under current conditions, they have the right to decline extras like that—and many likely will.

Two things that are likely to disappear: the All-Star Game and Home Run Derby. During negotiations, the players’ union was discussing ways to hold both after the postseason concludes. Now, both will likely be canceled.

Meanwhile, there is a health crisis to manage, and the genuine concerns about the risks of playing could stretch far and wide among players. For example, the wives of both Angels star Mike Trout and Yankees ace Gerrit Cole are pregnant this summer. Will both men feel comfortable playing given those circumstances, or might one or both opt out?

Sources say MLB has accepted the notion that some players will test positive but believes as long as they can manage the situation and keep the numbers relatively low, they can get through the shortened season.

One universal thing about this season: There are myriad complications around each corner.

And there look to be more on the way.

Players vs. Owners…

MLB Players Association executive director Tony Clark.

MLB Players Association executive director Tony Clark.Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Neither side in this months-long dispute covered itself in glory, and there is plenty of blame to go around.

For those scoring at home, the owners probably came out as the “winners” (very loose definition there) because they were able to control their losses with a 60-game season rather than paying the players full pro-rated salaries for, say, 82 games.

But it’s hard to believe anyone in the owners’ suites are toasting what they accomplished.

Part of what made things so contentious is the fact that both players and owners have (some) valid arguments.

The players, feeling like they got played in the last Basic Agreement, point to the fact that the sport has taken in record revenues in recent years ($11 billion or so last year), and yet the average player salary has decreased in consecutive years for the first time since the MLBPA started keeping such statistics more than half a century ago in 1967.

So the general feeling from them is: If you are going to squeeze free agency and reduce our share of the pie when times are good, then why should we go out of our way to help you share the losses when times are bad?

The owners are taking a shorter-term view of things, arguing that they are hemorrhaging money (“a bloodbath,” one says) this summer and want the players to share that burden. They say that playing without fans means, without ticket revenue, parking, concessions and gift shop receipts, each team is losing (depending on market size) somewhere between $640,000 and $1 million per home game.

Multiply that by 81 home dates and, even if you quibble with the exact numbers the owners are citing, it’s difficult to argue they’re not losing a ton.

The winning play by both sides would have been to give more than they wanted now and save the big fight for the looming Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations that are set to begin within months. The CBA expires after the 2021 season, and each one generally lasts five years.

So in the midst of a pandemic and with the country reeling from unemployment and social justice issues, why not look big now by sacrificing some of what you want to try to get through one partial season?

That’s the question that will be lingering for years.

The cold winter ahead…

Mookie Betts' tenure as a Dodger could be a short one if he leaves the team in free agency after this season.

Mookie Betts’ tenure as a Dodger could be a short one if he leaves the team in free agency after this season.Gregory Bull/Associated Press/Associated Press

Look out.

What we know is that the financial losses this year are enormous, and nobody has promised that things will be back to normal by next year’s season opener in March.

That will likely make for one of the coldest free-agent markets in years. Mookie Betts picked a horrible time to decline Boston’s contract overtures—he reportedly turned down a 10-year, $300 million offer last summer. Several industry sources say he won’t come close to that as a free agent this winter. Some expect him to settle for a one-year deal and try again later.

Other top free agents this winter—catcher J.T. Realmuto, shortstop Marcus Semien, outfielder George Springer and pitchers Trevor Bauer and Marcus Stroman—can also expect to find a hard time generating big offers.

Furthermore, how will arbitration even look this winter? One industry source guesses that those eligible will have to be judged on their 2019 numbers because there is no way to fairly and accurately decide contracts on a 60-game season this summer.

Also, for numbers fans: There will be no revenue sharing this season because there is too little revenue to share. Luxury-tax rules will revert back to 2019; there is no “resetting” of the luxury tax for clubs in 2020.

More trouble looms in 2021…

If only we could flip a switch and everything would be back to normal by Opening Day next year. If only.

Shaded by the effort to get the game back on the field this summer is the bleak outlook for 2021. Will a vaccine be developed, proven, approved and distributed on a large enough scale by then? Will fans be comfortable entering stadiums for mass gatherings? Heck, will governors and health experts even allow it, or will social distancing still be enforced by then?

As one owner says, speaking from the perspective of the clubs: “2021 is going to be ugly, too. A sellout could be 16,000.”

In other words, he’s expecting attendance to be capped by social distancing requirements, at least in the beginning.

Meanwhile, the negotiations for the next CBA will be playing out in the background. Given that the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement this summer, there’s no reason to believe the relationship will do anything but worsen.

The owners believe they made some offers that should have been accepted in negotiations this spring and summer and maintain that the union leaders either misled the players or lied to them. Further complicating things, sources say owners have developed a strong antipathy toward the union’s new lead labor lawyer, Bruce Meyer, and believe that agent Scott Boras overstepped his bounds by meddling in—and helping to torpedo—negotiations.

The players rejected every offer by the owners since the game was suspended in March and, in the end, valued their right to file a grievance that the owners negotiated in bad faith above all else. Not all players seem on board, and Bauer’s tweet Monday night seemed to echo what some owners think, which is that the players didn’t all receive the information they should have:Trevor Bauer@BauerOutage

So we gave up shares of playoff money, eliminating the qualifying offer for 2021, paycheck advance forgiveness, Covid 19 protections, and protection for non guaranteed arb contracts for next year in order to hold on to our right to file a grievance…🤔🤔6,918Twitter Ads info and privacy1,546 people are talking about this

Many players, however, believe the owners have allowed the erosion of competitive integrity via the handful of clubs that tank each year in order to rebuild.

Maybe the best, most positive hope that the two sides will reach an agreement on the next CBA without an interruption to a season is that they are each losing so much money this summer that it’s hard to imagine either side in the industry could sustain more massive losses in 2022 and beyond.

Of course, as we learned this summer, the danger in underestimating them is that there’s no telling how low they will go. 

Astros’ Cheating Won’t be Easily Forgotten by Major Leaguers

By Scott Mandel

Baseball is burning. Opposing players are pummeling the Houston Astros as the fallout from their cheating scandal refuses to dissipate, and fans are frothing for vengeance after the players involved were spared from discipline by the league. Commissioner Rob Manfred is trying to wrap his arms around it all only for the anarchy to keep expanding. Every day is something new. Saturday, it was bad tattoos. Sunday, the commissioner will talk and try to explain how this all unfolded on his watch. Monday, if it came out that the Astros used furtive earpieces or Bluetooth buzzers or a robust artificial-intelligence operation to gain an advantage, it would surprise absolutely nobody.

There is no order. Just pure, distilled chaos.

It’s not going away any time soon. This is a reality every person involved should learn to understand sooner than later. Not because this is some media creation that thirsts for the mother’s milk of controversy and giddily gawks at the overnight transformation of Major League Baseball from the league of Charlie Chaplins into a full-flavored copy of the NBA, where no sacred cows exist. No, this is now about something much more primal: survival.

The tentacles of baseball’s cheating scandal are long and abundant. All of the Astros players, past and present. Their front-office members. Their opponents. Manfred and his associates. The MLB Players Association. Team owners. Fired general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch. Alex Cora and Carlos Beltran, both of whom lost managing jobs on account of their involvement. It is a wide swath of characters with competing interests and self-preservation in mind, each with a story to tell. Already those involved are trying to game the timing, to ensure that their version does not find itself lost amid the morass of takes.

The prevailing narrative Saturday came from Astros shortstop Carlos Correa, who originally declined comment through a team spokesman and then granted a wild interview to MLB Network in which he told the reigning National League MVP to “shut the f— up,” reiterated that the Astros’ 2017 World Series title was not won through ill-gotten gains and introduced the world to Jose Altuve ‘s unfortunate collarbone tattoo.

A quick backgrounder, since that last sentence sounds like a Mad Lib: Los Angeles Dodgers star Cody Bellinger unloaded on the Astros on Friday, a day after the beginning of their mea culpa tour turned disastrous, by saying Altuve “stole” the American League MVP award from New York Yankees star Aaron Judge in 2017 and that the Astros “stole the ring from us” by beating the Dodgers for the 2017 championship. Bellinger was the latest player to flout the game’s long-held omertà and unload a shotgun into the barrel in which the Astros swim these days. Dragging the Astros is the sport within a sport.

Correa decided to come clean with something that data compiled by an Astros fan named Tony Adams had seemed to show: Altuve did not like when his teammates banged on a trash can adjacent to the dugout to alert him of the coming pitch type. Adams logged more than 8,000 pitches from home games during the 2017 season and heard trash-can bangs on 13.2%. Of the 866 pitches to Altuve, there were bangs on only 24 — 2.8%.

MLB punishes Astros

“For [Bellinger] to go out there and defame Jose Altuve’s name like that — it doesn’t sit right with me,” Correa said. “‘Cause the man plays the game clean.”

Knowing the data, and having been told by another player on the 2017 Astros that Altuve did not engage regularly in the trash-can scheme, I had asked him Thursday to explain why.

“I know your question,” Altuve said. “I really appreciate your question. It’s good. But I want to take this as a team. I think we’re all at the same level right now of feeling the way we’re feeling about doing what we did. I’m not here to say you and you more than you and you. We’re a team. I’m not saying this today. I always say this is a team. And if we are something, we all are something.”

For all of the fallout from that day, particularly after owner Jim Crane’s contraction of foot-in-mouth disease, Altuve’s answer stood out as not just sincere but commendable — the sort of thing other players in baseball in different circumstances would respect and the rare instance, in this whole scandal, of someone not obviously acting in his own self-interest. Altuve could have absolved himself. He could have gone full Shaggy. He instead subjected himself to the fusillade of condemnation that would come.

Because it’s true: He didn’t stop it. No one did. And that’s a question the players lobbing grenades at the Astros ought to ask themselves, too. If they truly plumb the depths of their self-awareness, how many believe they would not simply be conscientious objectors as the data suggests Altuve was but entirely blow up a scheme being used by a team barreling toward 101 wins?

Social media vs. MLB

How the internet helped crack the Astros’ sign-stealing case.

What the Astros did was clearly cheating, clearly wrong, clearly a black mark on their championship. It is also naïve to think less hubristic versions of sign-stealing weren’t going on elsewhere and that had those been accelerated the players would have put a stop to them.

The defiance emanating from the Astros’ clubhouse, even after their apologies, is coated in this let-he-who-is-without-sin-cast-stones mentality. Correa besmirched Bellinger for suggesting Houston was cheating for the last three years, saying it occurred only in 2017. Ken Rosenthal immediately corrected him, saying Manfred’s report said the Astros had stolen signs in 2018, too. Correa danced around this, landing ultimately on a judgment of Bellinger daring to vilify Altuve and the Astros: “With me, that doesn’t sit right.”

The problem, of course, is that the moment the Astros decided to start banging on trash cans, they forfeited any sort of moral authority that allows them to differentiate between right and wrong. They might as well have KICK ME stitched across the backs of their jerseys instead of their last names, and it’s because of their collective action. So as satisfying as it feels to try and speak into existence this notion that their championship isn’t irreparably tainted, to drop F-bombs on the haters, to stand up for Altuve like Altuve stood up for him and the rest of the Astros who did think enough of the trash-can scheme to use it for months, it runs the risk of sounding like Charlie Brown’s teacher.

Correa’s defense stretched past aggrieved and into comedic during his denial that the Astros had used wearable buzzers during the 2019 season to signal the coming pitch. Bellinger and Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez had questioned why, after Altuve hit a walk-off home run to send the Astros to the World Series this year, he did not want his jersey ripped off. First, Correa said, Altuve’s wife had expressed discomfort with it when he and Kemp unclothed Altuve earlier in the season.

“The second reason that he don’t want me to talk about this, but I’m gonna say it, is because he’s got an unfinished tattoo on his collarbone, right here, that, honestly, looked terrible,” Correa said. “It was a bad tattoo. And he didn’t want nobody to see it. He didn’t want to show it at all.”

A bad tattoo. Welcome to baseball in 2020.

There’s more to come. There’s always more with this Astros story that drips out with all the efficiency of a broken faucet. The coming days, weeks, months will teem with more details, explanations, facts. Manfred’s report looks more and more like a Polaroid that needs to be shaken. The manifold characters all have their versions of the story to tell. There are reputations to be salvaged, careers to be saved, sides to be taken. This is the just the beginning.

It’s never too early to start or join a fantasy baseball league for the 2020 season.

The next step is Manfred addressing the media Sunday in North Port, Fla. As commissioner, the sport’s well-being ultimately falls on him. And while the ultimate fallout of the scandal is unclear — is it, in a perverse way, actually driving interest to baseball, or does the stench of misconduct have the opposite effect? — he must answer for his role in it reaching this point, where a new fire smolders every day.

And rest assured, potential arson abounds. What will Beltran, slimed and smeared, say when he speaks out? How will MLB, if at all, punish the Boston Red Sox, whom they’re investigating for stealing signs in 2018? What will the punishment for Cora, who is expected to be suspended, be? How can the MLBPA preach solidarity when its members attack one another on the daily? Will others join former MLB pitcher Mike Bolsinger and a daily fantasy player in filing lawsuits against the Astros and the league? Who will speak out next? What will he say?

In a week, spring-training games begin. The Astros will play the Washington Nationals, who beat them in the 2019 World Series. Across the sport, eyes will be trained on the game to see if Nationals pitchers intentionally throw at Astros hitters. Houston manager Dusty Baker tried to preempt any retaliation Saturday, asking MLB to do all it can to prevent premeditated beanings. It only served to draw the ire of those who see the inevitability of what is to come: a pitcher who dots an Astros hitter with a fastball to send a message that what they did is indefensible will receive a longer suspension than any of the Astros did for their indefensible acts.

Yes, baseball is burning, and nobody — not the Astros, not Manfred, not the rest of the players — can stop it. Only time will slow it, and until then, as baseball’s cheating scandal metastasizes, as it dirties all it touches, remember that what caused it in the first place will guide its direction going forward: the choices of individuals looking out for themselves.

Mets Introduce New Manager, Luis Rojas After Beltran Fiasco

By Scott Mandel

The New York Mets today introduced their second manager of this off-season, Luis Rojas, at an afternoon press conference at Citi Field.

Rojas, the 38-year old son of former major league great, Felipe Alou, has been a member of the Mets organization since 2006, when the Mets signed him to a players’ contract in his native country, the Dominican Republic.

After 13 years in the organization, mostly working in the minor leagues, Luis Rojas realized a dream Friday, when he became the 23rd manager in Mets history — amid unusual circumstances.

“I feel like the most lucky person in the world right now as the manager of the New York Mets,” Rojas said at Citi Field, where the team announced a managerial hiring for the second time this offseason.

Rojas received a two-year contract to replace Carlos Beltran, who departed after only 77 days on the job in the fallout from the Astros’ illegal sign-stealing scheme in 2017. Beltran, a player for that Houston team, was named in an MLB report that outlined the Astros’ use of electronic surveillance to steal catchers’ signs.

Rojas served as the Mets’ quality control coach last season and received multiple interviews for the managerial position following Mickey Callaway’s firing in October. That search yielded Beltran and also included names such as Eduardo Perez, Derek Shelton and Tim Bogar as candidates.

“I felt prepared then and I feel prepared now and I feel pretty good with what we have,” Rojas said. “We have a good team and we have a great staff. The staff is going to help me and we have already collaborated and we’re looking forward to break ground in spring training.

“I will lead this team into success.”

Rojas, whose father, Felipe Alou, managed the Expos and Giants and whose brother, Moises Alou, was an All-Star outfielder, was joined at the news conference by his wife Laura and son Louie, in addition to his mother and two of his brothers. Neither Felipe Alou nor Moises Alou was present.

In introducing the new manager, Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen focused on Rojas’ consistency as a person and professional.

“Last Thursday was a tough day,” Van Wagenen said, referring to the announcement Beltran had parted ways with the Mets. “We had a number of difficult days leading into Thursday’s decision and ultimately the parting of the ways with Carlos, but this is a very good feeling today and we’re excited about that. It’s an unfortunate circumstance for baseball, but today is a good opportunity and it’s an exciting time for the Mets as we continue to charge forward.”

Though managing experience wasn’t a prerequisite when Beltran got hired, Van Wagenen pointed to Rojas’ eight seasons as manager in the minor leagues at various levels for the Mets as a positive.

“In-game decision-making is an important part of the job and when you assess people’s strengths and weaknesses, no two candidates are the same,” Van Wagenen said. “And Carlos had different traits than what Luis has, but in [Rojas’] experience and actually calling the shots and running the game and running the base running, controlling the offense and having to make decisions about which pitchers get warmed up and which pitchers come into the game, I think all of those assets will be evident for us this year.”

Rojas takes over a team expected to compete for the NL East title, led by a potentially dominant starting rotation and last season’s major league home run leader, Pete Alonso. Rojas indicated he already has spoken with Jeff McNeil, Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard, among others.

“It’s according to the team that you have,” Rojas said. “You have a team that can run, you run. You have a team that plays that way, you play that way, so it’s according to what we have. We have a really good roster, we have really good starting pitching, we have a really good bullpen and we can score some runs, so I feel pretty good about it right now.”

Rojas was hired as a coach at the team’s academy in the Dominican Republic in 2006 and later managed in Rookie-ball, Low-A, High-A and Double-A for the Mets before becoming the quality control coach under Callaway last season. As quality control coach, Rojas brought analytical information to the players and field staff. Rojas said his loyalty to the Mets was born when he first started working for the organization.

“When I saw that the Mets were not only developing baseball players, but they were developing men, that right away we had an educational program, back then it was a complex with two fields and we got the job done,” Rojas said of his arrival at the Dominican academy in 2006. “We moved into a bigger complex afterwards and just the love for the organization started growing and then it just kept growing and growing as I went along.”