• Exclusives

    Baseball 2020 … An Idea What It Could Look Like

    By Bud L. Ellis

    BravesWire.com

    SOMEWHERE IN NORTH GEORGIA – Tomorrow is Sunday … I think.

    A quick glance at the calendar confirms that as fact. The Braves would be home this weekend. I would wake up tomorrow, take a shower, cook breakfast, then steer my SUV toward Truist Park. I’d pull into Lot 29 around 11 a.m., grab a beer in The Battery (off day on Monday, so not on deadline), meet up with some friends, then roll into the ballpark sometime around 12:30 p.m. for the finale of the Giants series.

    Surely, my work buddy who is from the Bay Area would be there in his Willie McCovey jersey. We’d grab a beer together and talk some smack. We always bet lunch on the two regular-season series between Atlanta and San Fran; that reminds me, he owes me lunch. We’ve done that for every Braves/Giants series in Atlanta for close to a decade. We texted Friday; he was planning on throwing some hot dogs on the grill that night and watching a replay of the 2010 NLDS. Obviously, I didn’t join him.

    Sunday would’ve be the 24th game of the season (14.8 percent of the schedule), the sixth I would’ve attended in person. The Braves would be at or near the top of the National League East, I believe. I had pegged these Braves to win 93 games – a tick down in an improved division – but en route to a third-consecutive NL East title based on several factors, including one of baseball’s deepest bullpens, further growth from several young players, a season that would’ve ended in my opinion with at minimum a NLCS appearance and potentially a World Series championship.

    This is where fate intercedes and snaps me back to reality.

    My best friend on the planet has pneumonia and is awaiting test results. His father, in his eighties, is hospitalized with pneumonia. He fortunately tested negative for the virus. I know people who have the virus. I know people who have family members who have died from the virus. It’s serious. It’s real. I’ll save the rest of my thoughts around this for another time, another platform.

    On this Saturday night, I should be on deadline for Sunday’s preview for the freelance company for whom I’ve worked for nearly a decade – a gig that is gone for now, but I’m thankful that my real job is humming along. I work from home most of the time; the only difference in my work day is my “commute” to the Braves Room is a bit more congested, with my bride now working from home, plus two teenagers who are doing school work at 11 p.m. and sleeping until noon.

    So, where are we in this strange, unprecedented environment when it comes to baseball? I have an idea. I shared it on a Zoom meeting Friday night with a few of my Braves tailgate buddies. I shared it with our heating and air guy who had to come out this week when our thermostat went on the fritz. He’s a big baseball dude and he loved the idea.

    We’ve all seen the ideas Major League Baseball has discussed. I have a different idea. You want some baseball content on this weird Saturday night, six weeks after I cheered on Atlanta United in their home opener at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta – the last sporting event I attended – and I have something to offer? Let’s go.

    This plan is not perfect. I don’t think there is any perfect plan, not right now. But it’s a thought process that led me to scribble this in one of those old steno notebooks I’ve used for 30 years one night this week. Let me know what you think, because I have a framework that could (key word here) work to get the Braves and the rest of MLB back on the field.

    Let’s dive in. A couple of caveats/assumptions:

    I do not see all 30 teams being able to play in Arizona. Yes, there are a lot of fields available that are near each other. But with temperatures often spiking to 100-plus degrees there every day for several months in the summer, I just don’t see that as being viable.

    I also do not see the split between Arizona and Florida. That’s the “Grapefruit League” and “Cactus League” schedule that has been reported on, but it’s tough to see that as realistic. In a truncated timeframe, you can’t have teams having days off every day. You also would have to travel to other sites in different locations.

    How about having a group of teams located at one location? No travel. No potential interaction with others. Teams and staffs sequestered in place at one place, in a major city where hotels are close to a ballpark. There are 30 teams in the majors. Simple math says pick five locations, put six teams at each site, and play three games a day, each team playing one game a day without having to travel.

    Pick five indoor stadiums. Six teams located at each. Three games a day; each team gets to play. It’s mostly based on division, with one exception: the American League Central gets “dispersed” among the five groupings. You do this based on geography, so you don’t have the Braves based in Arizona playing games that start at 11:30 p.m. Eastern Time on a Tuesday.

    The NL East goes to Tampa Bay. The AL East goes to Miami. I’m not letting the Rays play in Tampa or the Marlins play in Miami. It keeps it fair. Same out west. AL West games are played in Arizona. NL West games are played in Seattle. The NL Central goes to Texas. The AL Central? A bit of a tough one here, but my best shot: Kansas City draws the short straw; they go to the Seattle pod. The rest are as fair as they can be, given the circumstances: Minnesota (Arizona), Cleveland (Tampa Bay), Detroit (Miami) and the White Sox (Texas).

    Three games a day – remember, six teams at each location – that start at 11 a.m., 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. local time. A few times it’ll mean uncomfortable start times for certain teams and their fanbases back home, but a rotation would be installed to make sure no team gets stuck at playing at 9 p.m. or 11 a.m. every day. Each team would play six games a week; Mondays are a universal off day. No doubleheaders. And here’s how that works to get us a semblance of a season:

    It starts Tuesday, July 7. It ends Sunday, Nov. 1. Each team plays six games a week for 17 weeks, so each team plays a 102-game regular season. You don’t play anybody other than the five other teams in your location. For the Braves, what would that look like? Let’s look at one scenario for the first couple of weeks:

    Cleveland (July 7), Miami (July 8), New York (July 9), Philadelphia (July 10), Washington (July 11), Cleveland (July 12), off day (July 13), Miami (July 14), New York (July 15), Philadelphia (July 16), Washington (July 17), Cleveland (July 18), New York (July 19), off day (July 20).

    What does the postseason look like? Well, for one, it goes to a different location (Houston feels best; it’s not being used during the regular season in my scenario, and it’s centrally located geographically). Who gets there? A quick step back: you can’t have 14-inning games pushing back other start times. Remember, we have three games per day at every location, with start times separated by five hours. You have to give teams time to take BP and fielding drills, on the field. So, you cap games at 11 innings. Tied after 11 frames? It’s a tie, and each team gets one point – think old-school NHL here. Two points for each win. Standings are based on points.

    Take the top team from each location, point-wise. Take the second-place team from each location, point-wise. Take the top two third-place finishers, point-wise. That’s your 12-team postseason. Rank them by points from No. 1 to No. 12. If there’s a tie, default to total number of wins. Still a tie? Second tiebreaker would be fewest losses.

    The postseason also has a twist: the top four seeds get a week off. They get byes. That results in the 8/9 seeds playing to face the top seed, the 5/12 seeds playing to face the fourth seed, the 7/10 seeds playing to face the second seed, and the 6/11 seeds playing to face the third seed.

    These series all happen in one place (Houston), and feature four games a day – at 9 a.m., 1 p.m., 5 p.m. and 9 p.m., local time. All are best-of-three series. It starts Wednesday, Nov. 4, continues Thursday, Nov. 5, and any decisive games are played Friday, Nov. 6.

    There’s an off day, followed by the quarterfinals starting Sunday, Nov. 8. These series are best-of-five affairs. Same start times, four series, each series plays one game a day. It continues through Monday, Nov. 9 and Tuesday, Nov. 10, with if necessary games going off Wednesday, Nov. 11 and Thursday, Nov. 12.

    Two days to catch our breath, and now it’s on to the semifinals (the NLCS and ALCS, if you will) starting Sunday, Nov. 15. Two games per day, 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Houston time. Play the first four games, with if necessary games on Thursday, Friday and Saturday of that week. Yes, Saturday, Nov. 21, could be two Game 7s for a right to go to the World Series. Crazy, right?

    Just you wait. If the two semifinal series go the distance, there would be no rest. I’m starting our World Series on Sunday, Nov. 22. Best of seven, with 8 p.m. Houston time first pitch. We play Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. If the World Series doesn’t end in a sweep, we play Game 5 on Thanksgiving night, with Game 6 on Friday, Nov. 27 and Game 7 on Saturday, Nov. 28.

    I see Thanksgiving weekend as the final line that you can’t cross, time wise. Doing this would require, in my opinion, spring training 2021 not starting until the end of February, with exhibition games beginning in mid-March and the regular season not getting going until the second or third week in April 2021. And that’s OK. If that’s what it takes to have a 102-game regular season, followed by a postseason that I think – even in the midst of college football and the NFL – would capture a large segment of the sporting populace, then factoring in the proper rest the players will need after such a truncated schedule, I’m on board.

    What do you think? I’d love to hear your feedback on social media. We’re all stuck at home right now. It stinks, but I know writing this tonight was good for me. I haven’t gone more than a handful of days without writing something that’s been published since I was 17 years old in 1990 until the past five weeks.

    Appreciate you reading. I miss y’all. Let’s do what we must to get through this. Stay safe, stay at home, and let’s get through this together.

    —30—

    Bud L. Ellis is a lifelong Braves fan who worked as a sports writer for daily newspapers throughout Georgia earlier in his writing career, with duties including covering the Atlanta Braves, the World Series and MLB’s All-Star Game. Ellis currently lives in the Atlanta suburbs and contributes his thoughts on Braves baseball and MLB for a variety of outlets. Reach him on Twitter at @bud006.