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Remembering Baseball's Historic 2020 Season

"Please, Gramps, tell me some stories about baseball and the pandemic, then I promise I'll go to sleep," pleaded the boy.

"Alright, as long as you're asleep by the time your parents come home," replied Grampa. "I don't think they'll let me stay with you again any time soon if they find you still awake at this late hour. What do you want to know about those times so many years ago?"

"Were the White Sox any good?" the youngster asked.

"Well, they hadn't been very good because of what they used to call a 'rebuild,'" Gramps began. "That wouldn't fly today because kids like you wouldn't stand for it. You'd start rooting for the Yankees or Dodgers. But anyway, the season of 2020 was Luis Robert's rookie season for what turned out to be a Hall of Fame career. I'm sure you've heard of him."

"Yeah, I've read about Luis Robert. He was from Cuba, right? He played a few seasons for the Sox before signing for a billion dollars with the Yankees. He musta been really, really good."

"Oh, he was one of the greatest players I ever saw," marveled Grampa. "You have to remember that teams were scheduled to play just 60 games when he was a rookie, so his numbers that season were rather modest, but he gave us a sample of things to come. The team had other good players, too, but they never had enough pitching to get to the World Series."

"What else do you remember about that season?" asked the kid, still wide awake and curious.

"Well, games didn't begin until late July due to the virus which killed hundreds of thousands in this country," replied Gramps. "And once baseball started, players were tested over and over again to see if they were infected. A number were, and games were either cancelled or postponed. It was a huge mess. And they also tinkered with the rules."

"That's crazy," said the kid. "What did they do?"

"Until that time, the National League didn't have the Designated Hitter," explained the grandfather. "The pitchers hit for themselves. So the commissioner ruled that both leagues should have the DH. Of course, today the National League still has the DH, but it also lets the pitchers hit. So instead of nine players in the lineup, you have ten while the American League hasn't changed for something like 125 years."

"You mean the pitchers didn't bat when the pandemic was around?"

"Oh, no. The pandemic was just the beginning of tampering with the game's rules. It was the first time extra innings started with a runner on second."

"Extra innings? What was that?" queried the grandson.

"I should have told you," said Gramps. "There were no tie games in those days like we have today. Football and hockey had tie games many, many years ago. But baseball always kept playing additional innings until one team came out on top. Games could go on forever, which the commissioner didn't like because they took too much time. Baseball had this inferiority complex. The powers kept trying to speed up things because they thought that's what people wanted. They said the game was boring, that people liked other sports which moved faster. Plus, extra innings required lots and lots of pitchers who sometimes pitched to just one batter. So they put in a rule that relief pitchers must face at least three batters unless they closed out an inning."

"How long did the games take? The Sox played the other day in an hour-and-a-half."

"That's another thing," said the old man. "In the pandemic season, because there were so many postponements, they had to play doubleheaders, and those became two seven-inning games, just like all the games today. Before the pandemic, every game was nine innings unless the score was tied, in which case they played extra innings."

"I guess that's why those players had so many home runs and RBIs," said the kid. "They played longer."

"You are a bright boy. That's absolutely right. People like the commissioner who controlled baseball kept making excuses about games taking three hours or more. At the time, tackle football, which you've never seen, was popular because of the violence and all the money that was bet on every game. Of course, fans saw maybe a half-dozen exciting plays during a game, but much of the time was spent in what was called a huddle when nothing happened.

"Football players kept getting severely injured and after a few fatalities, the league couldn't find enough athletes who wanted to play," explained Grampa. "So that's how flag football became a major sport, and baseball does just fine compared to that.

"Another thing to remember about 2020 is that there were no fans in the stadiums. Crowd noise was piped in, and cardboard pictures of people littered the seats. It was really tacky, but, like I said, they really messed with the game that season.

"What eventually happened is that when it came time to build new ballparks, the owners figured that the best way to fill them was to make them smaller," he continued. "The image of empty stadiums during the pandemic really scared them and reminded the owners that television was the best way to make money. Way back before I was born, there were stadiums in places like Cleveland that seated as many as 80,000 fans because many of these places were used for both baseball and football.

"Then the new stadiums were built for approximately 40,000, and today a big ballpark has a capacity of maybe 25,000, just like Reinsdorf Field where the majority of the seats are filled. Of course, tickets cost hundreds of dollars which is why your folks don't take you to many Sox games."

"Gosh, Gramps, it sounds like that pandemic season was the beginning of all kinds of changes in baseball. I love the game today just as it is. I hope nothing about it ever changes again. By the way, how did the season that year wind up? Did they play all the games? Who won the World Series?"

"I'll make you a deal," said Gramps. "You go to sleep now, and I promise to answer those questions in the morning."

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Former Bill Veeck bar buddy Roger Wallenstein is our White Sox correspondent. He welcomes your comments.

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