Potentially awkward scenes we could see during 2020 MLB season

Potentially awkward scenes we could see during 2020 MLB season

Baseball fans are hoping for the best. 

Everyone that loves the sport is hopeful that the owners and players can iron out their financial differences and come to an agreement that clears the way for a 2020 season. In the meantime, we are left to wonder what a season played in the midst of a pandemic might look like. 

Beyond there being no fans in the ballparks when the season starts, players would also keep their distance from one another, both on and off the field. 

A potentially awkward scene comes to mind. Say the home team wins in walk-off fashion. What would the celebration look like? We're used to seeing the entire team stream out of the dugout and charge whoever delivered the winning hit, mobbing him somewhere along the basepaths and ripping his jersey off.

Or in the case of a walk-off home run, everyone waiting at home plate to dump the Gatorade bucket on the hero and jump around in unison.

We saw Phillies star Bryce Harper in the middle of several such celebrations last season, most notably after his walk-off grand slam against the Cubs. What would that look like in 2020? Harper sprinting around the bases, charging towards home plate where ... no one is waiting for him. Everyone gives him a thumbs-up from a distance and goes their separate ways? It's a weird scenario to think about. But it will likely play out quite a bit should there be a season. 

Former Phillies outfielder Jeff Francoeur was a guest on the Phillies Talk podcast this week and said that if he were still playing, he'd probably still hug a teammate after a walk-off and just pay the fine.  

Back to the possibility of playing in empty ballparks without fans. At first thought, that doesn't seem like too big of a deal for the players. Baseball is baseball, it's still the same game with or without fans. But not having the energy and electricity that the fans provide could have a big impact on certain players, particularly the Phillies' best player. Francoeur, for example, explained how players sometimes really use the fans' energy to get up for day-games when the fatigue of the season mounts.

No one feeds off the fans more than Harper. He loves playing to the crowd at Citizens Bank Park — pumping up the fans sitting behind him in right field and gesturing to the crowd behind the dugout after a big home run. Harper fires up the fans, and vice versa. 

Harper is equally effective in feeding off negative energy on the road. He's probably been booed in opposing ballparks more than any player in baseball and he's been dealing with it since his teenage years. He was heckled throughout a game in San Francisco last season, with one fan yelling 'overrated' each time Harper stepped into the batter's box (a chant Harper hears in most road cities). He channeled that negativity into a pair of monster home runs and made sure to let the fans know about it afterward.

His first game back in Washington last season is another great example. Nationals fans were all over Harper the entire night. He responded by going 3-for-5 with two doubles and a two-run home run into the upper deck.  

Harper is a showman. He relishes his roles of fan-favorite at home and villain on the road. Harper will still be effective playing in an empty ballpark. But it's fair to wonder if the lack of energy could have an adverse impact on him.  

It's one of countless unknowns as we brace for what promises to be a baseball season unlike any we've seen. Of course, there is still plenty of work to be done to ensure there will be a season. The clock is ticking. 

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100+ games? Why MLB players would want it, and how it could work

100+ games? Why MLB players would want it, and how it could work

Unsurprisingly, the MLBPA was not interested in the league's first proposal involving a sliding scale of pay, hating it so much that it didn't feel a counter-proposal based on that format was even necessary.

Nationals ace Max Scherzer, who is on the union's eight-man subcommittee, released this statement Wednesday night.

The players plan to counter with a schedule that includes more than 100 games as opposed to 82. The Athletic reported it could be as many as 110 games.

Why would the players counter with this? Because even without fans in the stands, more games means more money for players and owners via local and national television deals. The players must feel they have a better chance at reaching a compromise with owners for a greater percentage of prorated pay if there are 30 or so additional games.

The next question would be whether a 110-game schedule would even be possible if it begins July 4. And even that July 4 potential start date seems optimistic because it would have to be preceded by 2-3 weeks of spring training and we're already at May 28 with no clear end in sight to these negotiations. Each day without a resolution could push things back.

If the season does begin on July 4, and every team played every day without an off-day (unrealistic), a 110-game regular season would wrap up on Oct. 10. The 14-team playoff format would extend the postseason, which we could see end in mid-to-late November. 

That's without off-days but it's also without doubleheaders, which could cancel out the off-days every few weeks.

The danger of playing too late into the winter, besides the weather, is that it would shorten free agency and the recovery time between 2020 and 2021 for players, especially those in the playoffs. But the free agency thing might not even matter. A shorter free agency could actually be beneficial for baseball without the months of waiting around to see who blinks we've seen in recent years.

Joel Sherman of the NY Post had an interesting idea for a compromise between owners and players:

"Take 60 percent of prorated salaries now across the board in exchange for raising the minimum wage the next two years to $750,000 then $850,000, which helps the bottom end players. Then demand no luxury tax thresholds/penalties for 2021 and 2022. The expectation is that the financial downturn is going to impact those seeking larger contracts, particularly free agents. But if the Dodgers or Yankees or Cubs want to spend, let there at least not be an artificial barrier to doing that."

More about the players' proposal should be known by the end of the week.

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Jeff Francoeur: 'Shame on' MLB owners and players if they don't figure this out

Jeff Francoeur: 'Shame on' MLB owners and players if they don't figure this out

When Jeff Francoeur gazes at his crystal ball, he sees baseball.

This summer.

"I think we're going to end up with baseball being played," the former Phillie and 12-year big-leaguer said. "We need baseball."

Francoeur, now a member of the Atlanta Braves television broadcast team, was a guest on our Phillies Talk podcast Wednesday, a day after baseball owners proposed a salary structure for a shortened 2020 season that was quickly panned by the players.

"My crystal ball says the owners and players will figure this out in the next seven to 10 days," Francoeur said. "There might be a couple shots thrown in the media, but you know what? Baseball's always withstood that. If they open up on July 4, families sitting around with a beer and barbecue watching a baseball game, I think we'll look back and say, 'We did a pretty damn good job with this.'"

The sporting world shut down in mid-March as the coronavirus health crisis surged. Now, leagues are plotting a course to return. Major League Baseball would like to come back in July with an 82-game schedule. For health reasons, fans will not be permitted in ballparks — at least for a while — and players will have to do their best to observe rules of social distancing and other sanitary practices, such as no spitting.

Everybody seems OK with all of this.

Except for one thing.

The money.

Owners have already suffered revenue losses and playing games in empty stadiums will equal more loss. They have proposed sliding-scale salary cuts that could have the game's most highly paid marquee stars making about one-fifth of their 2020 salaries. To wit, Bryce Harper, with an average annual salary just under $25.4 million, would make about $6.5 million.

Management's proposal is viewed by most as a starting point in negotiations that must happen quickly because teams would need to be in "spring training" camps by mid-June to pull off an early July return. 

Francoeur, who retired after the 2016 season, was asked point-blank if he believed either side had "the guts" to call off the season.

"I don't," he said. "I don't. Because I know, as a player, I would be fighting my tail off to tell (union boss) Tony Clark to tell the players, 'We've got to figure something out.' I think the thing that stinks now is (the instant reaction of) social media. If you could put the owners and the players together in a room for three days and say, 'figure it out,' without everybody else knowing one thing or another. That's the worst part, that this is going to play out in the media. I just tell people, 'Look, it's going to run its course.' Eventually, in the next week, you're going to see them come to an agreement and I do believe that in the middle of June, teams are going to be fired back up for spring training.

"As a former player, I'll always be a player, a union guy. Those are my guys, my buddies. But I'll tell you this: There's going to have to be concessions on both sides. Baseball has to figure it out. And if it doesn't, I'll be the first one to say it, shame on them, shame on the owners and shame on the players if they don't figure this out."

Francoeur offered a potential solution.

"I'm not a huge fan of the sliding scale," he said. "I think the best way to do it is deferments. In two or three years, make up the money on the back end for your high-profile, high-paid guys. They don't need the money right now. But I also understand you're asking some of these guys to basically take an 80 percent pay cut. 

"It's tough because you're talking about billionaires talking to millionaires with 30 to 35 million people unemployed. They don't want to hear it and I think we all get that. The whole health protocol, they're going to figure that out. But if there's no baseball because of the financial aspect, if they don't come to an agreement, I'll tell you what, that's going to be sad when all these other sports get playing. Baseball has a chance to be the focal point this summer. I said from Day 1, could you imagine an opening day on July 4? On the biggest independence holiday here, to not have baseball would be a shame.

"If this is green-lighted to go from a health standpoint and you can't get out there because of finances, then shame on baseball."

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