The 2020 Major League Baseball season has been in the books for nearly a week. It was the weirdest baseball season we ever saw and, wow, what a year. 

I was critical enough of commissioner Rob Manfred and the owners from the get-go, so let’s point out that the completed season, in my view, was mostly a success… though it concluded on a sour note (and we’ll get to that). So let’s run down what baseball went through in the last nine months. 

We started things off in the middle of February in normal fashion. And then it was all shut down weeks later. And then we waited. 

And waited …

And waited …

Strictly from a calendar standpoint, MLB saw the pandemic strike at the worst possible time. The NFL had plenty of time to wait. Both the NHL and NBA had already paid their players the overwhelming majority of their salaries thanks to having nearly completed their seasons in front of fans. 

MLB was staring down the barrel of a season full of empty ballparks with owners not willing to pay players more than prorated salaries for 60 games. Some didn’t even want to do that. 

As fans, we had to get used to a lot of changes. It was an adjustment to watch games without fans, but the fake crowd noise and fan cutouts were a fun way to help us get used to it. 

The players and all other on-field personnel had to get used to being tested for a virus on a daily basis. There were team-wide shutdowns, most notably from the Marlins first and then the Cardinals. There was frustration with cramming in all these seven-inning doubleheaders and some, like myself, wondered why the taxi squads weren’t used more.

With the dust settled and looking back at a complete season, I have no sweeping complaints. MLB was tasked with navigating waters it never could have imagined back in early March. All decision-making along the way seemed to be a “we gotta do what we gotta do” approach and the league ended up crowning a champion in a shortened season.

Along the way, there was plenty of on-field fun. The players of pretty much every team seemed to have more fun than ever, likely trying to bring extra energy that they sometimes lean on fans to provide. 

Major League Baseball, long accused to failing to properly market its players, worked harder than ever. Among many other things, the league lightened up on rules and allowed the players to do things like wear customized cleats. 

How about the extra in-game use of mic’d up players? I know many fans don’t like this, but it gives us a lot more about player personalities and that’s the league marketing its players. I spoke with several players in the spring about it, and nearly every single one was open to more. Players like Ian Happ and Liam Hendriks talked to me about how it could work and it did. 

(Note: Not all were totally on board. One who asked to remain anonymous said “people don’t need to be hearing what we’re saying all the time.” Though this was before the pandemic-related shutdown, so perhaps he changed his mind these past several months.)

Also, ever been to MLB’s Film Room? While years in the past, MLB was notorious for taking down videos from fans, they’ve been much more loose on this front of late and now have every single pitch loaded within minutes to their video library, where you can string together clips and share on your own. Want to put together a reel of every single Randy Arozarena at-bat from the playoffs? You can do it. You can sort and find anything. It’s amazing. 

The Dodgers in particular kept their fans as involved as possible, as Katherine Acquavella has detailed. 

And then there was the actual play. 

The upstart White Sox and Padres (Slam Diego!) arriving on the scene. The young Blue Jays’ offense. The shocking Marlins making the NLDS round of the playoffs. Young stars like Fernando Tatis, Juan Soto, Ronald Acuna and Dominic Smith strutting their stuff. Veteran stars like Freddie Freeman, Jose Ramirez, Jose Abreu, Mookie Betts and Mike Trout doing their thing. Manny Machado with the bounce-back year. DJ LeMahieu hit .364! Soto nearly had a .500 OBP and .700 slugging!

Shane Bieber, Trevor Bauer and Dallas Keuchel ended up with sub-2.00 ERAs. Yu Darvish was at 2.01. Jacob deGrom is contending for a third straight Cy Young. All the strikeouts with the triple-digit heat and filthy breaking stuff. 

Let’s not discount the defense. It gets used less than it ever has before, but it’s collectively better than it has ever been, too, between the nightly onslaught of spectacular infield plays and outfield catches. It was all on display in the playoffs, too. Speaking of … 

Eight playoff games in one day! 

The Astros embracing their villain side and coming within a game of the World Series despite a losing regular-season record. The Braves powerful and fun offense. The Yankees power. The Dodgers coming back from 3-1 in the NLCS while the Astros nearly came back from 3-0. Randy Arozarena making all kinds of history when most people didn’t even know who he was a month ago. 

Sure, the 16 playoff teams were too many, but it provided all that action and we still ended up with the two best teams in the World Series. The best team won, too. 

Speaking of which, it was a good and fun World Series. There were nail-biting moments, huge plays made by superstars and no-names alike, one of the most amazing endings in World Series history and it all concluded with the Dodgers finally, after years of playoff failures, getting that elusive trophy. 

And then, the Justin Turner COVID incident happened. There are so many questions about this. Perhaps the most fair one if we’re directing ire at MLB: how the hell did he catch it? If it’s a “bubble” and everyone was negative for weeks, how did one of the most prominent players in the series contract the virus ahead of Games 6 and 7? 

It was definitely a PR nightmare, but I’ll say this on the side of Major League Baseball: If it’s true that the officials at the game told Turner and the Dodgers he wasn’t to be on the field celebrating while Turner and the Dodgers essentially thumbed their noses at the directive, what was MLB supposed to do at the time? Send security guards to haul Turner off the field while on camera? That would’ve been measurably worse for the league from a PR standpoint. 

Regardless, the Turner situation was mishandled and that’s one of the reasons I only said the season was “mostly” a success in the intro here. For some, this was an illustration that there never should have been a season and shame on MLB for going through with it. For me it was, as noted, a stain on an otherwise pretty successful season under unprecedented circumstances. 

Let’s use the Turner situation to point out that the next step for Major League Baseball will be to acknowledge everything wasn’t a home run and figure out ways to improve moving forward. As the season unfolded, the league did show a willingness to adjust and that needs to continue to be the case. Beyond that, though, if we head into a 2021 season that might look similar to 2020, everything needs to be better. The protocols, the playoff bubble and everything else absolutely need to get better now that there’s already been one run through everything from which to learn. Learning from mistakes is one of the hallmarks of running a successful business. 

Overall, the 2020 season wasn’t nearly as long as we would’ve liked and, yes, we sure would’ve wanted this thing to be like every other season instead of this one, but MLB pulled it off. This isn’t to say there weren’t problems. As noted, there were. Even before the Game 6 Turner debacle, there were major problems. I’m simply trying to look at everything through the context of the hand MLB was dealt. MLB was forced to do its best with it, including doing things that had never even had to be considered before. For months it looked like there might not be a season. Instead, there was an incredibly weird and yet still very fun season.

As a lifelong fan of the game, I’m thankful for the 2020 season, warts and all.

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