You don’t have to talk about the idea of a short season for long before it comes up.
While most baseball fans are craving baseball of any kind as we sit here in mid June without the national pastime, there are fans out there who are not at all jazzed about a campaign played during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that could feature as few as 48 regular-season games. But that’s looking more realistic by the day as Major League Baseball could choose to sidestep further financial negotiations with the players’ union and impose a short season that would still pay the players the prorated salaries they agreed to in March.
There’s an argument to be made that such a short schedule in a sport that typically plays 162 regular-season games would be a poor and even illegitimate way to crown a champion. You don’t have to dial your mind back too far for Exhibit A: The Washington Nationals were 19-29 and in fourth place 48 games into last season, which ended with them winning the World Series.
So what would be made of the team that wins the championship in such a shortened season?
A guy with a World Series ring of his own has some concerns.
“That’s my only fear with any of these sports (coming back from their pandemic-caused absences): the Stanley Cup, the NBA Finals, the World Series. Whatever they come up with — because no one really knows what this is going to look like — whoever wins at the end and hoists this trophy up, hopefully it feels good and feels right,” former White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko told Our Chuck Garfien on the White Sox Talk Podcast. “I would hate to see somebody lift that World Series trophy up or lift the Stanley Cup up and there’s some eye-rolling going on. ‘This isn’t even legitimate or real.’
“Unless they reshape it in the way they phrase it all. If they call it something different or just say, ‘We’re putting these games on to entertain people, but we know this isn’t going to be held in the same regard. The winner of this NBA playoff thing, we know this is a different story, but we’re going to play games because we can. Owners will make money from TV. Players make their salaries, make their money from playing games because that’s what they do for a living. And people can enjoy it.’ … But I just hope it doesn’t devalue and get into that whole debate afterward.”
That debate is going to happen. Whether it’s on TV, sports radio or in barrooms — that is, if it’s ever going to be safe to go back into barrooms — it’ll be a talking point.
No one had to question when Konerko and the 2005 White Sox won the World Series 15 years ago. They won 99 games during the regular season and went 11-1 in the postseason. But this year’s champion could wind up winning the World Series in fewer than 60 games. Even if there is a deal for a greater number of regular-season games, that number will be fewer than half the games played in a normal season.
Konerko thinks it will lead to, unfortunately, “a bunch of crap.”
“Let’s say the White Sox go out and win the World Series,” he posited. “Now they’re going to take a bunch of crap because, ‘Oh, it’s not a real World Series.’ That would be my fear, because you know it’s going to happen if it’s not the Yankees or the Red Sox or some team like that. If they win, they’re going to be like, ‘Oh, they never would’ve won in a full year.’
“Maybe they need to make those statements right at the beginning and say this is up and up. Whoever wins this, is this like a real thing?
“But that definitely crosses my mind. If I was a player and had just won the World Series and then someone wins it the next year under a different set of circumstances, it’s kind of like they’re equal now, but are they?”
Really, it’s more of an in-the-moment conversation than something that will be accompanied by a tarnished legacy of any kind. There isn’t much talk about stripping the titles of championship teams from 20 years ago that featured players who have since been revealed as steroid users. Even the furor from earlier this year over the Astros’ 2017 championship has seemingly subsided as the world was confronted with more important matters.
Are the 1981 Dodgers remembered as illegitimate champions because the regular season was just a little more than 100 games that year? Is Frank Thomas’ 1994 AL MVP still a point of contention even though that season ended in mid August?
Twenty years from now, will anyone really care if the 2020 champs only did it in a total of 60-something games?
“Whatever happens, there’s going to be a lot of talk initially, but then 20 years from now, they’re going to be like, ‘Who won the 2020 World Series? Oh it was the, whoever. OK, who won next year?’” Konerko said. “They’ll just be grouped in as a winner.
“But I know in the short term, there’ll be a lot of debate.”
Listen to more of Our Chuck Garfien's conversation with Paul Konerko on the latest White Sox Talk Podcast.