Was the 2020 MLB Season the Best Ever?


Courtesy of the Los Angeles Dodgers/Twitter

The Los Angeles Dodgers celebrate their victory over the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2020 World Series in Arlington, Texas.

Owen Brown, Sports Reporter

If someone asked how 2020 can be summed up in one word, chances are that word can be summed up with this simple answer: coronavirus.

Face masks and social distancing are now the new norm, and with more than 231,000 deaths and counting in the United States from the pandemic, people were unsure if life would go back to normal.

Fortunately, life went back on track, and so too have sports. On June 23, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred announced that baseball would return in a shortened, 60-game season, where players would receive a prorated salary based on the number of games.  

Overall, it could be argued to be the hardest 60-game stretch in baseball history. Even before the season started, three months of negotiations between the players and owners went on, arguing over how much money the players could receive and the number of games that should be played.

Fortunately, they ironed out the details and played the season, albeit with restrictions. To start off, Manfred created a manual of more than 100 pages, consisting of health and safety protocols. Some of those rules consisted of no celebrations, including hugs and high fives, no food items, such as gum and sunflower seeds, and players sitting in the stands rather than being crowded in the dugout. 

Overall, the plan had its ups and downs. Teams including the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals faced major COVID-19 outbreaks throughout the season, and many players, including Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher David Price, San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey, and Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Lorenzo Cain, opted not to play.

Even at the very end of the season, Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner faced controversy when he went onto the field without a mask and celebrated the World Series championship with his teammates despite having tested positive for COVID-19.

However, through postponement and rescheduling of games, every team, with the exception of the Detroit Tigers, played all 60 games in the regular season.

Because the season was so short, it provided mixed reactions from baseball fans. Some enjoyed the 60-game season much more than a typical 162-game season, mainly because of the fact it was so short, it provided more competitions amongst the teams. With eight playoff seeds per league, and 15 teams in each league, the sense of competition was more enjoyable, with many teams finishing with close records amongst one another.

On the other hand, there are some fans who beg to differ. Conor Gereg, an English teacher at Nonnewaug and avid baseball fan, did not enjoy the season.

I found myself less interested since each game was much clouded with the uncertainty of COVID,” Gereg said. “Key players and teams abruptly lost time.” 

Gabe Brochu, a senior and Boston Red Sox fan, also agreed with the season being unenjoyable due to the lack of success by his favorite team.

“For a Red Sox fan, it was pretty painful,” Brochu said.

Indeed, the Sox finished with only 24 wins compared to 36 losses, ending with the fourth-worst record in baseball, a far cry from the 108-win season they had just two years ago.

Despite the mixed emotions, what all fans can agree on is there is a bright future with some of the players.

Coming off his heroics during the Washington Nationals run to a World Series championship in 2019, Juan Soto led the National League with a .351 batting average, winning one of three Silver Slugger awards for outfielders, and finished in fifth place in the NL Most Valuable Player award voting. In addition, he is only 22 years old, meaning he will have plenty of years left in the league to keep building off this success.

Gereg had a player in the Bronx in mind when it came to who he thought had a bright future: New York Yankees first baseman Luke Voit.

“Voit took advantage of playing time opportunities and he looks like he’s secured the first base job for the Yankees next year as a result,” Gereg said. “Voit is far from a rookie at age 29, though his 22 home runs in a mere 56 games (he had 21 in 153 games last year) isn’t so much an aberration as it’s a sign of what’s to come.”

Indeed, while Voit is already in his fourth season in MLB, and questions about whether he can be a serviceable player, he was able to silence the doubters by leading baseball with 22 home runs and finishing ninth in the American League Most Valuable Player award voting. Voit is certainly getting up there in age, but he will be able to put up jaw-dropping stats for seasons to come.

Being a Red Sox fan, Brochu was able to witness the first season of outfielder Alex Verdugo in a Boston uniform.

“Alex Verdugo really surprised me,” Brochu said. “I doubt he will ever fill the hole left in the absence of (Mookie) Betts, but he has proven himself as a future star.”

One of the biggest headlines going into the season was the trade of star outfielder Mookie Betts from the Red Sox to the Dodgers. In return, the Red Sox received Verdugo, among other pieces.

Verdugo, in his first season as a starter, finished with a respectable .308 batting average with six home runs and 15 RBI as a leadoff hitter, all while playing stellar defense with his glove and arm in the outfield. Nobody knows for certain what a full 162-game slate looks like from Verdugo, but after this year, it is safe to say the future is bright.

In addition to players, there were moments in the season that were memorable for fans.

One moment came on Aug. 18, when the San Diego Padres and Texas Rangers played against each other in Arlington, Texas.

For years, in order to get more traction from younger generations of fans, MLB started a movement known as “Let the Kids Play,” encouraging players to show off their creativity on and off the field. This includes celebrations such as flipping the bat when celebrating hitting a home run, doing a dance when a pitcher strikes out a batter, and specifically breaking the unwritten rules of respect for baseball.

During this instance, the Padres were leading the Rangers, 10-3, going into the eighth inning when shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. came up to bat. With a 3-0 count, Tatis swung and hit a grand slam, and the Padres ended up winning, 14-3.

Emotions were mixed by this moment. Rangers manager Chris Woodward felt that the swinging by Tatis during a 3-0 count being up by a large margin was disrespectful.

“I didn’t like it, personally,” he told reporters after the game. “You’re up by seven in the eighth inning; it’s typically not a good time to swing 3-0. It’s kind of the way we were all raised in the game. But, like I said, the norms are being challenged on a daily basis, so — just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s not right.”

On the other hand, players sided with Tatis.

Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer shared support for Tatis as he tweeted: “Keep swinging 3-0 if you want to, no matter what the game situation is … Keep hitting homers, no matter what the situation is … Keep bringing energy and flash to baseball and making it fun … The only thing you did wrong was apologize. Stop that.”

Gereg enjoyed the narrative of the two teams that reached the 2020 World Series, the Dodgers and the Tampa Bay Rays.

“The dichotomy of seeing one of baseball’s richest team, the Dodgers, square off against baseball’s most judicious, the Rays, in the World Series was especially memorable,” Gereg said. “The new analytics-driven managerial style of baseball is by far the game nadir.”

The Dodgers, led by Betts, former Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw, and this year’s NL Championship Series and World Series MVP Corey Seager, had a prorated payroll of $108.4 million, second only behind the New York Yankees. The Rays, led by emerging rookie and recent postseason legend Randy Arozarena and ace pitchers Blake Snell and Charlie Morton, had a prorated payroll of $28.3 million, only in front of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles. 

The playoffs were known for the many postseason records broken by Seager and Arozarena, Betts with multiple memorable catches, Kershaw getting over the yips he faced throughout his postseason career, and the Rays defeating the Houston Astros in the AL Championship Series. The Astros were playing in their first season since being caught cheating in multiple seasons, including during their 2017 World Series run.

The Dodgers defeated the Rays, 4-2, to win their first World Series since 1988. 

Betts won his second World Series in his young career. Brochu, despite being sad Betts won in his first year since leaving the Red Sox, was still happy for his success.

“I am happy for him,” Brochu said. “As much as I would want to see him succeed in a Red Sox uniform, I am just thankful to be able to watch such a talent.”

Overall, the 2020 season had its highs and lows just like any other season, but with a time Americans are living in, the season made the hard times just a bit easier. It arguably can be considered the greatest baseball season of all time.