Site Re-Launch – Goodbye, MLB

For the handful of you that have stayed with me even through my irregular postings, I feel I owe you an explanation for my sudden disappearance right at the time the Major League Baseball season was finally set to begin.

The short answer is that I no longer watch or follow MLB, and therefore will no longer cover it. Instead, I will be concentrating on other subjects, particularly fiction, as that is what I primarily have shifted my free time towards. I plan to write at least one post a week, on other subjects.

The long answer:

This is a difficult post to write. But I need to do it, if only to unburden myself and perhaps help others who are feeling the same way. Here (and hopefully only here) I have to break a long-standing principle and discuss in frank terms my political beliefs, which I have studiously tried to keep out of my baseball articles for decades, but can’t discuss this topic without going there. I will keep that particular discussion in a sidebar, though.

I’ve been writing about baseball, on and off, for almost twenty years, a rabid Tribe fan for thirty, and never thought there would come a day when I wouldn’t be tuning in practically every day to watch or listen to every pitch. There have been times, whether they be poor stretches of play or after a particularly brutal offseason, when it was more difficult to get excited about the next game or the next season, but when the time approached, I would always be there rooting the team on.

Until this time. I didn’t watch or listen to a single minute of any of the games over the Opening Day weekend, only checking the scores once or twice. On the following Monday I didn’t even check the score during the game (I guess it got rained out). I haven’t read any articles about the team, or visited Let’s Go Tribe since at least the beginning of the season. If I’m not watching the games, or reading up on the team, there’s no way I can or should be covering the team as if I were. I waited until practically the end of the season to make sure that this wasn’t just a temporary burnout, but it’s clear to me, almost two months later, that it isn’t.

The decline and fall of MLB as entertainment and the sports media as independent journalism

There was no one event that led to this, but an accumulation of them over the years, with the delayed beginning of the 2020 season combined with the political messaging on Opening Day that pushed me away for good.

I watched baseball in part to escape from the mundane and annoying aspects of the real world, and that motivation was incorporated into every decision I made while running Let’s Go Tribe; I wanted others to have that same experience, to join in fellowship with other fans of diverse backgrounds and worldviews from around the world, united by the love of a baseball team. But the industry has changed to the point where that kind of enjoyment is all but impossible to get from following the sport, or that matter, any other major professional sport. Entertainment is no longer the top priority; now that is subservient to affecting the results of elections and passing legislation. In other words, modern politics.*

How did it come to this? I have some insights from my days at Let’s Go Tribe. Part of my duties as editor was to trawl the Internet in search of relevant articles relating to the Indians and baseball so that fans would have a one-stop shop every morning. As time passed I started to notice some disturbing trends among the articles I saw. The sports media was devolving into an imitation of their news brethren, tailoring their coverage seemingly to their peers on Twitter. At first it was fairly subtle, with a couple sites (Yahoo and NBC to name the most blatant) skewing their articles to advance a particular ideological narrative. They generally had a “players good, owners evil” theme, with loaded words, rhetorical tricks and emotional triggers. Oh sure, there were normal news articles about a particular injury or trade, but whenever the opportunity arose these writers would push their ideological agenda, becoming advocates for the whatever political cause was ascendant at the time. They ceased being merely content with allowing the reader to decide what side of a baseball controversy he or she would back, but pushed the reader in one direction or another through various rhetorical techniques.

These techniques are now legion in practically all major sports media outlets. That is only half the issue, though, as if there were some kind of balance between the opinions, one could read a couple different opinions to get the arguments that used to be presented within one article. But that hasn’t happened. On any controversial subject, all opinions are the same; conformity is not just expected, but required. There is no attempt at actual journalism, at least the definition that I grew up with. Instead of being an independent watchdog determining what is happening within the sports world and relaying that, even if it does not conform to their accepted narrative, to the public (in this case the fans), the mainstream sports media has become one of three things: an unpaid subsidiary of the league (and its owners) it covers, an uncritical mouthpiece for the players and their interests, or an evangelist for its own ideology.

As these thought leaders became more and more unanimous in opinion, driven in some part by how Twitter tends to encourage echo chambers, that has begun to influence how players and teams make important decisions. There seems to be little thought given to whether Twitter represents the fanbase at large (it doesn’t) or whether this advice is to the best interest of the long-term viability of the sport. It seems as though the model is now “entertainment with a social conscience,” the equivalent of adding a special segment at the end of old 80s cartoons. In order to get their entertainment, the unenlightened fans most also get moral instruction from their betters.

In a situation like this, a responsible mainstream media’s function is to ask the owners and players hard-hitting questions about why they are doing this. Why are you alienating fans who either disagree with the message or who want no message at all during games? Professional sports is not niche entertainment such as programs like the late-night TV talk shows; it is so lucrative precisely because it appeals to practically every demographic in this country, and is watched by people in many other countries. But not only are sports journalists avoiding asking these questions, they are egging on this insane behavior.

To give one example: The Athletic, whose subscription model I thought could have been a way to get back to the sports journalism I grew up reading (in Sports Illustrated or The Sporting News, for instance), used that financial independence to fully embrace the narrative the rest of the sports media is in lockstep with. Any editorial that was published between George Floyd’s death and Opening Day pushed for the teams and players to join the corporate chorus of feel-good slogans and appropriately-worded tweets in black boxes. I don’t mind editorials, mind you, especially if they are well-argued; but the complete unanimity of them over those several months told me that there was an editorial decision to push an agenda. If I wanted ideological purity like this, I would have gone to Salon or Breitbart.

Even before the Opening Day statements, I had already lost a lot of love for MLB. The delay of the season because of a labor dispute, the announcement that the Indians would be reviewing their name (which in today’s environment means it will be replaced), and the general unfairness of how revenue is divided up between small and large markets all made following the sport less compelling. The Indians, no matter how their season ends, were always going to cut payroll again, and although they have done remarkably well over the past 7 years considering the constraints that were placed on the front office, it’s frustrating to follow a team that can never compete on the same financial terms as a team from New York or Los Angeles.

When MLB teams placed political messaging on the field and on the uniforms on Opening Day that violated a principle I hold dear: that entertainment should remain free of overt political messaging, as that destroys the prime purpose of it, which is to provide an escape from the trappings of modern society for fans. It’s why my #1 rule at Let’s Go Tribe, one that I enforced with an iron fist, was no politics*, both in the articles and in the comments. After a difficult day at work or school, you could at least count on plopping down on the couch and forget the controversies of the day by watching a ballgame while chatting with other fans online. That is no longer possible, and so I made the decision to walk away from professional baseball.

*When I say politics, I mean anything regarding a current or recent candidate for office or a controversial issue that has or may be addressed by legislation or other government action. Essentially, any subject that is regularly discussed by a political news site or CNN/FOX News/MSNBC.


Political Sidebar

“But,” I’ve seen some commentators write, “Black Lives Matter is not a political slogan, but a human rights message.” When a movement, however noble you might think it is, is demanding new legislation or government action, it is by definition political, no matter what euphemism you might apply to it. The police, the courts system, and prisons are run by (mostly) state and local governments, and therefore reforming them will require new laws or the removal of old ones.

And that’s not taking into account what Black Lives Matter the organization is calling for, which is much more fundamental changes to American economic and political systems, which I do not think is necessary to address the problems that do exist. It also embraces a collectivist philosophy/religion (Critical Race Theory) that if explained clearly to people, would be emphatically rejected. I think that some police and prison reforms (better training, mechanisms to remove officers who abuse the power given to them, among other things) would be a good thing for all people, not just one race or ethnicity, but fundamentally disagree with CRT’s assumptions, never mind its proposed solutions. When people and companies refer to Black Lives Matter, are they referring to a general movement for police and prison reform, or are they referring to the organization that wishes to also dismantle the nuclear family, among other things? That distinction never gets made because of what I can only chalk up to fear of being labeled a racist, which is poisoning the original consensus that existed in the immediate aftermath of George Floyd’s death. Maybe that was by design.

Another response to objections about politics being inserted into entertainment is “silence is consent,” meaning that if you don’t agree with their politics, you are agreeing with the status quo. To which I would answer: forcing anyone to state their opinion on a subject, especially if they don’t care about it or don’t want to give it, is more likely to result in the answer being “fuck you” than “I agree with you.” Implicit and explicit threats (cancel culture) may work for a time, but then don’t be surprised when the pendulum eventually swings back and hits you right in the face. I would not be shocked if in the near future those who participated in “cancelling” people end getting the same treatment themselves; that’s the only way I see to exit this spiral. Perhaps then we can get back to embracing the spirit of free speech, which is critical to the function of a democratic society, and that includes the freedom to not have an opinion at all.

A final objection made is that the National Anthem, which is played before games, is itself a political statement, therefore the statements made on Opening Day are merely reactions to that. To which I respond: up until just a couple of years ago, the playing of the National Anthem was not seen as a divisive ceremony, as it was (and I still think it is) a unifying event, a reminder that what we as Americans have in common is not genetics or skin color but a creed, with that creed (as embodied in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence) symbolized by the flag and anthem. But if it is now seen as divisive by a significant amount of the fanbase (a similar argument could be made for scrapping the Indians team name), then by all means stop playing the anthem before the game. It would be a sad event in the history of this country, but then MLB at least would have then extricated itself from this mess by standing on principle. Instead, MLB ended up doing the worst thing they could have done; introducing a blatantly political message to one portion of their audience while continuing one that another portion of their audience now thinks as political (or at least controversial).


The future of the site

Thanks to first COVID-19 and then the labor dispute pushing back the start of the season, I had four months to habituate myself to finding something else to do in the spring and summer evenings. So when the Opening Day political messages appeared, I didn’t feel any great loss by staying away. I hate to say it this way, but I don’t know of any better way to express it: I have been cured of my baseball addiction. In its absence I’ve re-discovered long-abandoned other pursuits that have provided a healthier (and more fun) time than what baseball has become.

With that in mind, I intend to use this space to push back on the polarization and politicization of most aspects of our culture. It does no good to just complain about something; you must also provide an alternative, or in this case, recognize and showcase the good that is already here in our culture and civilization. I’m still not exactly sure format these will take, but here’s a few of the ideas/themes I’d like to explore:

  • The human condition is universal, not dependent on which political party you belong to or what superficial characteristic you happen to have been born with.
  • There is more to life than the acquisition of power, more to living than the struggle against your perceived enemy.
  • History should be learned from, not torn down, obscured, or forgotten.
  • Well-written stories entertain while subtly commenting on timeless themes.
  • Music is a language everyone can understand, and affects us in a way that spoken words cannot.

Tribe Journal: July 19, 2020

Last Night’s Recap

Box Score

Zach Plesac made a strong case for starting the season in the rotation last night, as he allowed two runs in five innings. His first four innings were strong, but he got hit harder in his final inning. It didn’t help him that Domingo Santana couldn’t pull a ball in that was hit deep to left field in that inning; the play was ruled a double, but should have been merely a loud out. Plesac would give up a single to the next batter, and two runs scored. Francisco Lindor then made a spectacular play to turn what should have been a single up the middle to a force out at second base; he dove past second base to glove the ball, then tossed the ball with his glove to Cesar Hernandez to get the force play; the relay to first base was late. Another hard-hit ball was speared by Carlos Santana, who threw to second to get the lead runner. The inning concluded with a strikeout.

Plesac’s fastball sat around 92-93 mph during his outing, and until the fifth his ball had good movement. His pickoff move was in regular-season form, as he easily picked off Colin Moran in the fourth inning.

After the fifth, both teams made wholesale substitutions, so it resembled a early Spring Training game. Oliver Perez gave up a run in his inning of work, giving up a double that bounce off the center field wall to a right-hander Josh Bell, then striking out left-hander Colin Moran, then later giving up an RBI single to former Tribesman (right-handed hitter) Erik Gonzalez.

The rest of the Indians bullpen kept the Pirates off the board the rest of the way. Dominic Leone, Cam Hill, and Phil Maton, all of whom are fighting for bullpen jobs, each threw a scoreless inning. The Tribe scored five runs over their final two at-bats, with Christian Arroyo and Yu Chang, both in competition for bench spots driving in runs. Daniel Johnson and Greg Allen, outfielders who are in the mix for major-league jobs, both got hits in the ninth inning.

News

The Indians have sent Jefry Rodriguez to minor-league camp (Lake County). He hadn’t been able to rehab a back injury suffered in March thanks to the COVID , and so wasn’t ready to go once camp resumed in July and hadn’t appeared in any intrasquad game. Rodriguez’s reassignment leaves 37 players competing for 30 Opening Day spots.

Link to live roster/transactions on OneDrive

Next Up

Sunday: Intrasquad game at Progressive Field

Monday: Exhibition Game vs. Pirates at Progressive Field, 7:05 PM

Tribe makes roster updates, play their first summer exhibition tonight in Pittsburgh

Nothing earth-shattering has happened in camp thus far, which is a good thing. The season begins in less than a week, so the team has begun to pare down the number of players in its major-league camp (Cleveland).

First to be re-assigned to Lake County was Anthony Gose, whose high-90s fastball I think will help the team at some point, but hasn’t been effective in intra-squad games the few times he’s pitched. He’ll get more regular reps in minor-league camp.

Yesterday, the Indians sent two more players to minor-league camp, and notified a third that he’d begin the season in Lake County. Left-handed pitchers Logan Allen and Scott Moss, both of whom were competing for a spot in the rotation or in long-relief, were re-assigned, and utility man Jake Elmore will follow them before this Friday’s season opener.

That still leaves 37 players in major-league camp still competing for 30 spots, including Delino DeShields, who has been placed on the 10-day Injured List, and Jordan Luplow, who might need to start the season on the IL. All of the starting position player spots and 4 out of the 5 rotation spots are locked down, but that still plenty of competition for bench spots (especially with DeShields and Luplow sidelined), as well as the bullpen, which will perhaps be 10 strong on Opening Day.

Here’s my best guess as to what the Opening Day 30-man roster will look like, with two exceptions (and I’ll explain below).

Link to live roster/transactions on OneDrive

My two exceptions:

  1. Greg Allen will replace Jordan Luplow on the 30-man roster, as Luplow will not have had enough reps before the season begins.
  2. Cam Hill will be added to the 40-man roster before the season and will be final pitcher added to the bullpen.

I’m not sure if the Indians will use Adam Plutko as a starter (which would create a 6-man rotation) or used as a long-man in the bullpen. Regardless, I think he’ll get nearly as many innings, when they be as a starter or in relief, as the pitchers in the rotation.

Next Game

Tonight the Indians play their first exhibition game of the summer, as they will travel via bus to Pittsburgh to take on the Pirates tonight at 7:05 PM. The game will be televised on MLB.tv (I hope it isn’t blacked out in the Cleveland market – fingers crossed) as well as MLB Network, and should be broadcast on many of the stations on the Indians Radio Network. Zach Plesac, who is competing with Adam Plutko for a rotation spot, will get the start.

MLB now offering partial refunds for MLB.TV subscriptions

MLB.TV is the out-of-market online streaming service for MLB baseball. I unfortunately live in the Cleveland market, so I don’t get to watch Indians games live, but it’s a better deal for me than having to fork over $50 a month to buy a TV package that includes STO, as I don’t really watch anything other than Tribe baseball anymore.

Early in March, I was charged $129.99 for the service (I purchase the league pass, because I’m a baseball junky), and as the COVID-related delay continued, a big open question for me was whether subscribers who had already been charged would get any kind of refund if/when the season began again, and if so, how much it would be.

Thankfully, I have good news. I received this e-mail today:

The price per game did go from $.80/game originally versus $1.33/game now, assuming you watched the equivalent of one team’s full season. However, that new price ($45.18) is about $15 cheaper than if you had waited to purchase a subscription until today ($59.99).

Granted, they’ve hung onto my money for over four months, so I was owed some interest, but even so, it’s nice to see. The refund was done via a website, and took about 10 seconds to submit, so there’s no runaround trying to get a customer service rep on the phone. Now, if they really want to get on my good side, MLB could figure out a way to offer live in-market games to fans….

2020 schedule to be released today

And now, back to baseball.

At 6 PM today, MLB will be releasing the new 2020 schedule. This year especially, the schedule will be crucial because there will be so few games and also because games played earlier in the season are not going to be played with teams at full strength (especially pitchers). The season will begin for most teams on July 24, which is less than 3 weeks away.

To limit travel, all 60 games will be played within the geographical region of the team. For instance, the Indians will only play the other teams in the AL Central and all the teams in the NL Central. 40 of the games will be against the other 4 AL teams (10 games against each) and 20 against the NL Central teams, 6 of which will be against the Reds Pirates, leaving 14 to be divided among the other 4 teams (likely 2 teams @ 3 games and 2 teams @ 4 games).

That imbalance in the NL portion of the schedule could prove to be crucial if there are any major disparities between, for instance, the Reds and Brewers, or the Reds and Cubs. Most MLB teams end up winning between 40% and 60% of their games, as opposed to most other leagues. But because MLB’s regular season is so long, even a couple % points in winning percentage will turn into a several game difference by the time September rolls around. But not this year.

To give an example, last year the Minnesota Twins won the AL Central by 8 games, with a .049 difference in winning percentage. If those two teams end up with the same winning percentage this year, the Twins would win the division by just 3 games (37 wins vs. 34). So I would anticipate most divisions not being clinched until the last series of the season.

TeamWin %2019 Wins2020 Wins
Minnesota.62310137
Cleveland.5749334
Chicago.4477227

I’ll update this post once the schedules are released.

UPDATE: Well, I was wrong. The Indians will not be playing the Reds 6 times, but instead will play the Pirates(!) 6 times (they play the Reds 4 times). That’s a nice advantage for the Indians. Here’s the complete schedule:

DatesOpponentGames
July 24-26Kansas City3
July 27-29Chicago White Sox3
July 30-Aug 2@Minnesota4
Aug 3-4@Cincinnati2
Aug 5-6Cincinnati2
Aug 7-9@Chicago White Sox3
Aug 11-12Chicago Cubs2
Aug 14-16@Detroit3
Aug 18-20@Pittsburgh3
Aug 21-23Detroit3
Aug 24-26Minnesota3
Aug 28-30@St. Louis3
Aug 31-Sep 2@Kansas City3
Sep 4-6Milwaukee3
Sep 7-10Kansas City4
Sep 11-13@Minnesota3
Sep 15-16@Chicago Cubs2
Sep 17-20@Detroit4
Sep 21-24Chicago White Sox4
Sep 25-27Pittsburgh3

What’s in a name

Friday the Cleveland Indians released a statement regarding the team name:

We are committed to making a positive impact in our community and embrace our responsibility to advance social justice and equality. Our organization fully recognizes our team name is among the most visible ways in which we connect with the community.

We have had ongoing discussion organizationally on these issues. The recent social unrest in our community and our country has only underscored the need for us to keep improving as an organization on issues of social justice.

With that in mind, we are committed to engaging our community and appropriate stakeholders to determine the best path forward with regard to our team name.

While the focus of the baseball world shifts to the excitement of an unprecedented 2020 season, we recognize our unique place in the community and are committed to listening, learning, and acting in the manner that can best unite and inspire our city and all those who support our team.

The big takeaways I got from the statement are:

  • The organization had been discussing the possibility of a name change internally even before the events of the past months. They probably have been taking place since at least the decision to remove Chief Wahoo in 2018.
  • However, because of the recent social unrest, the team is now making public this fact, and is eliciting feedback from the fan base and other relevant groups on the future of the team name.

Undoubtedly this is a reaction to the Washington Redskins announcing that they would “undergo a thorough review of the team’s name” earlier in the day. In today’s fast-moving, social media-dominated culture, they didn’t want to be the last team with an American Indian-themed name to make a statement.

Commentary

I want to approach this section by asking and then answering questions based on arguments that I’ve seen made in response to this news that cuts to the heart of the controversy. Feel free to use these questions to come to your own conclusions, or perhaps to even modify your existing ones.

Question 1: Is the name Indians objectionable to those it describes?

To answer the question, I want to look at how the name was used in the past, and how it is used today. Meanings of words and symbols change over time, and even those who live in the same era will interpret them differently. Because the name is of a group of people, it is also important to understand what they call themselves.

The name Indians was coined at the time that Europeans reached the Americas. Early explorers, starting with Columbus, mistook the peoples they found in there for Indians because they thought they had landed in the East Indies. In fact, Columbus had underestimated the size of the planet, and had arrived at a completely different continent. Even so, the name stuck, and only in recent years has it been challenged. Before Europeans arrived, there was no agreed-upon name to describe the native peoples of the land that eventually became the United States, and so while the name may be both inaccurate and confusing (especially to those native to the country of India), it’s still in common use today in the United States, by both the American government (Bureau of Indian Affairs, to use one example) and the native peoples themselves.

This video by CPG Grey goes into more detail on the naming convention, based on interviews he conducted at many American Indian reservations.

In the future, we might use a different name (“Native Americans” is the current challenger, though it has its own problems, as mentioned in the above video), but right now “American Indians” or “Indians” is the most commonly-used term by both outsiders and the people it describes.

So on that basis, it is difficult to call the name itself objectionable to American Indians or to the overall population of this country. The Washington Redskins fail question #1, but the Cleveland Indians do not.

Question 2a: Is the name unacceptable because it was associated with the Chief Wahoo logo for a large portion of the team’s history?

Now we are passing from the the land of objective definitions to the realm of opinion.

Chief Wahoo was the team’s primary logo from 1947 to 2019, while the team has been named the Indians since 1915. That’s 72 out of the 105 years the team has been known as the Indians. In my opinion the logo, being a caricature (and not a benign one) of an American Indian, was objectionable, and was glad that the team at first de-emphasized it, then later removed it entirely. However I do not think that the team name and logo are inextricably linked. The franchise had Indian-themed logos in the decades before Chief Wahoo that were not caricatures. Theoretically they could come up with an Indian-centric logo again, perhaps with consultation from American Indian groups, which would alleviate some of the criticisms, but not all of them.

Question 2b: Should (or could) the Indians maintain the name without an Indian-themed logo?

This is a more practical question.

Since dropping Chief Wahoo, the team has defaulted to using the “block C” as their primary logo, which is a callback to the early days of their franchise, an era in which teams generally used a stylized letter or letters (using the first letter(s) of their home city) as their logo. Some franchises never went away from this type of logo; the Detroit Tigers have used the “Olde English D” as one of their primary logos since practically the beginning. Many other clubs, even if their logos are different, have stuck with simple letters on their caps, and as such those letters (NY for New York, B for Boston, LA for Los Angeles, etc), while simple, are nonetheless recognizable because they’ve been associated with the team for in some cases over a century. So it’s possible for the Indians to remain the Indians if they just emphasize the “Cleveland” part of their name, but that might the worst of both worlds for the team, in that one portion of your fanbase dislikes the name, and another dislikes the logo (the “block C” has gotten at best mixed acceptance by fans, even by those that didn’t like Chief Wahoo).

Question 3a: Is the team name objectionable because American Indians were conquered, then mistreated by first by the European empires and later by the United States, and because this name is being used by an American organization?

The usage of names and depictions of other peoples, especially those that have been wronged in the past, have become moral issues, as the usage of names and artwork depicting those people is being seen as a continuation of that wrong. If we can’t go back in time to change history, the argument goes, the least we can do is to distance ourselves from that past, and that means removing any depiction of a wronged group of people, no matter how neutral it might be and under what context that depiction is made.

I think this is an overly broad argument (though I have seen it being made) that leads to many downstream consequences that even its proponents might not want to see realized (such as the renaming of American states), so rather than trying to turn it into a straw man, let me strengthen it:

Question 3b: Is the team name objectionable because the American Indians were conquered, then mistreated by first by the European empires and later by the United States, and because this name is being used as a brand name by an American company?

This is the essence of the best argument I’ve seen in favor of the team changing its name, and brings into the discussion the context in which the name is used, something that can serve as a limiting principle (otherwise there is no foreseeable end to what is objectionable given how many of our words and place names derive from American Indian tribes and languages).

This is an argument I have sympathy for, though it’s a tepid sympathy. Brand names should be almost universally viewed as positive, if not inoffensive, otherwise a business is potentially alienating customers by using it. The bar is going to be (and should be) lower to change a brand name than it would be if we were talking about removing a word from common usage or changing the name of state or a city. If there’s enough of the fan base that wants a name change, then the business should at least seriously discuss it.

That said, I would be interested in learning what the American Indian people think about the team name before making any final decision. Is it seen as positive, negative, or ambivalent? Do they feel strongly about the name either way?

Question 4: Under what circumstances (if any) would you approve of the team keeping its name?

Consulting American Indians and the team’s fan base would help determine not only what objections there are to the team name, but also determine if there is a way to keep the name. Perhaps honoring the history of American Indians and raising awareness of the obstacles that many still face today would do more good than changing the name would.


Thank you for sticking around this long. I hope the question-and-answer format helps you as much as it did me when thinking through this contentious and complex topic. If you’re looking for “on-field baseball” content, I’m planning on returning to that on a semi-regular basis as summer training heats up, along with the other subjects I’ve been dabbling in.

Indians set 60-man pool at 55

Yesterday was the deadline for teams to set their pool of players for the 2020 season. The 60-man pool is supposed to represent the entire pool of players in the organization a club could conceivably use during this season, though many clubs (including the Indians) are adding lower-level prospects that they want to work with this summer. During a normal season, teams will have a 40-man roster, but they’ll substitute in many players that weren’t originally included as the need arises.

Who makes up the 60-man pool? Anyone who is on the 40-man roster is automatically on the 60-man pool, and the remainder will be made up of players signed to minor-league contracts, most of whom would be playing at the AAA or AA levels had there been a minor-league season. Once the MLB season begins, those on the Tribe’s 60-man pool who don’t make the MLB roster (30 players to begin the season, then gradually reduced to 26) or are on a 3-man taxi squad (used only on road trips) will work out in Lake County (Cleveland’s “Alternate Training Site”) until needed by the big league club. During the summer training period, two sites will be used, with the Progressive Field approximating major-league camp and Classic Park in Lake County approximating minor-league camp.

Keep in mind if a player is on the 60-man pool but not on the 40-man roster, the Indians would have to remove a player from their 40-man (via Designation for Assignment) to add that player, just like normal. Teams can also add and subtract players to the 60-man pool whether via trades or signings. Teams can only trade players who are on their 60-man pool.

With all that said, here’s what the projected roster looks like right now. For the purposes of this exercise, I assumed a 26-man major-league roster, even though there will be 4 additional players on the roster to begin the season. For those that aren’t projected to make the 26-man roster, I’ve indicated where they have been assigned to work out (either Progressive Field in Cleveland or Classic Field in Lake County).

View roster spreadsheet

The Indians can add 5 more players, whether that be from other minor-leaguers in the organization, free agents, or via trade. I do not think the Indians are required to have a full 60-man pool, so they could start the season with fewer than 60 players if they wanted to.

Sources:

Tribe announces player pool: 5 spots open (indians.com)

FAQ: Roster and transaction rules for 2020 (MLB.com)

Here’s the Indians’ 60-man roster for 2020 (and how they might use it) – (The Athletic – subscription required)

On the benefits of reading fiction

Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe or take for granted; nor find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider.

Francis Bacon, The Essays

One of the upsides to having to spend several months largely confined to my home and without the normal distractions (read: baseball) is that I’ve been able to devote some attention to pastimes that for many years (decades?) have been largely pushed aside, only dabbled in when I’ve had nothing else to do.

When I was a kid, reading books was one of my main ways of entertainment. I didn’t have the Internet or cable TV to fill up my free time, so most summer vacations were primarily spent playing baseball or reading. We would head to the library at least every couple of weeks, participating in the summer reading program, and once school was back in session I would use the school library and the Bookmobile (essentially a bus with books from the local library in it) to get my fill of books.

But as time went on and technology entered our house less and less time was spent reading. First came cable TV when I was about 10 years old, then a couple years later dial-up Internet, and then when I went away to college, high-speed Internet. I still would haunt the shelves of whatever library I was near, but more and more time was spent in the digital world. And after a while I practically stopped reading fiction, or anything that wasn’t posted on a website.

That was fine at first, given that in the early days of the Internet most content was written in the style of print articles at the time, but as people adapted to the medium so did the style of article as well as the mechanism for reading them. Because users could and often did quickly click away or scroll past an article once they read the headline, it became more and more important to grab your attention. It was no longer profitable to cover an issue in a nuanced way, leaving it up to the reader to make his or her mind up. Instead, the average article not only told me who was right or wrong in stark moral terms, but told you how to feel about it. I was outsourcing not only my thinking, but also my emotions.

So when I first committed to reading fiction again, it was difficult to not fall back into “Internet reading mode” in which I was just skimming the words and not trying to understanding the content. I didn’t even know I was doing this until I sat down with a book; I had to force myself into reading each word aloud to follow the story, and then it slowly sunk in how screwed up my reading habits had become. I kept looking for the phrase or sentence that would tell me how to feel about a topic or a character, looking for that hit of emotion. But no, the novels I read didn’t reward in you that way. There would be heroes and villains, but the heroes would have their flaws and the villains their rationales. I had to supply the conclusions, the reasons why the decisions made were good or bad. I had to determine which characters I liked or loathed, and the reasons why. And it wasn’t as if I was reading some stuffy literary fiction that concentrated purely on character, but bog standard science fiction and fantasy. One of the novels was about a group of settlers on an alien planet taking on what essentially were intelligent giant gila monsters. Another one was about the travels of a young sorcerer who carries a chaos demon (and the memories of its 12 previous hosts) inside him. These were plot-centered novels in strange and interesting settings, but all of them, even those I ultimately didn’t enjoy, had far more subtle characterization than the typical online article.

As the weeks passed, I began to get used to this different mindset, and suddenly the online articles that used to appeal to me seemed simplistic, and in some cases, fraudulent and pandering. It was like drinking a pop after months of abstention. Before, I limited my social media exposure because I knew it was bad for me; now I limit it because I just don’t like it.

Reading fiction is an active form of entertainment, meaning that your mind needs to construct a picture of the action, the characters, and setting, things that spark creativity in ways that more passive forms of entertainment (TV, movies, etc) won’t do because entire picture is already there for you to see.

Reading fiction has also been a way to get my mind into a different place, at least for a couple of hours a day. Escapism seems to have become a dirty word in some circles, but I maintain it is a helpful way to reset your mental state; it isn’t healthy to constantly immerse yourself in whatever conflict is raging online or in the real world. Besides, by inserting yourself into another world, seeing it through a fictional character’s eyes, you can gain a new perspective on fundamental questions. Perhaps seeing how a fictional character deals with a similar situation in a different time and place may at least help you to understand another point of view better.

From a practical standpoint, reading for pleasure is one of the cheaper (and accessible) sources of entertainment out there if you know where to look. Sure, if you only buy new hardcovers at the bookstore you’ll exhaust your budget quickly, but there are many ways to get many hours’ worth of great reading material for much less than the equivalent of other forms of media. The obvious example would be your local library (meatspace or cyberspace versions), but there are many other ways to get your fix, such as used book sales, buying e-books instead of paper books, utilizing public domain sites like Project Gutenberg, or buying bundles of books. I’ll go into more detail on this in a separate post.

I’d like to end with a callback to the epigraph at the top. Many problems, whether they be of the moment or inherent in the human condition, have no easy answers. Fiction, while ostensibly taking place in far-off places and populated by beings that may have little relation to us, can still address these fundamental questions in subtle yet profound ways. By taking the time and space to carefully and honestly examine a character or situation, a book can not only entertain you, but (done right) can gently reveal new avenues of thought. To weigh and consider, not to contradict or confute.

Overview of 2020 MLB rule changes

Here’s an overview of the rule changes added specifically to deal with the COVID pandemic and the shortened 2020 season. In addition to these, there are a number of rules designed to limit physical contact (such as no fighting, no getting close to umpires, etc), but I’m only listing changes affecting gameplay, schedules, and rosters.

In-game changes

Universal DH. This means all games, including those between National League teams, will have the DH. This is supposed to be temporary, with the National League reverting back to no DH in 2021.

Extra Innings – runner on second to start each inning. The runner would be the player that made the last out in the previous inning.

Position players will be allowed to pitch. A rule that was supposed to virtually eliminate this was supposed to take effect this year, but will not be implemented until next year. This is to protect pitchers who may yet be fully stretched out for the season.

If a game is suspended due to rain before it is official (before the top of the 5th is completed), when it is made up it will resume from where it was suspended rather than started from scratch.

Schedule

The MLB season will be 60 games, starting July 23-24. The end of the season remains September 27, and the postseason format will not change (for now).

The Tribe’s schedule will consist of 40 games against AL Central teams (10 each), 20 against NL Central teams (6 of which will be against the rival Cincinnati Reds). The official schedule should be released in the next couple of days.

The games are scheduled to take place in the normal home stadiums without fans, though that is subject to change based on local conditions. For example, a team whose home city/state has issued restrictions may have to play on the road or at a neutral site.

Rosters/Transactions

60-man roster. Teams have to submit a roster of 60 eligible players by Sunday, June 28. This will include the current 40-man roster plus 20 minor-leaguers. This is cover for injuries or players who contract the virus. Any player not on the MLB roster will train at a nearby minor-league facility (likely Lake County), as there will be no minor-league season. Teams can only trade players that are on their 60-man roster, so that limits the types of deals that can be made during the season.

Major-league roster will be 30 players for the first two weeks, 28 for the next two weeks, then the normal 26 for the remainder of the season. This is to compensate for a short Spring Summer Training. There will no limit to the number of pitchers allowed on the MLB roster.

The trade deadline is now August 31, and the postseason roster deadline is now September 15.

Injured List is 10 days for all players (was 15 days for pitchers). The 60-day Injured List is now 45 days. There will also be a special COVID List for players that either test positive or have a confirmed exposure; teams will not be able to activate a player who tests positive until he tests negative twice.

Sources:

Rosenthal: Blockbuster trades are less likely; Schedule complaints; scramble for jobs (The Athletic – subscription)

FAQ: Roster and transaction rules for 2020 (MLB.com)

FAQ: All you need to know about the 2020 season (MLB.com)

With no agreement, the 2020 MLB season is announced

What a waste of time. Instead of the 2020 MLB season beginning in early July, with almost no competing sports, it is now set to begin on July 23 or 24, when it will be directly competing with several other sports.

The more aggravating aspect of this delay is that it did nothing to smooth over the underlying labor dispute. When it became apparent that no fans would be allowed into stadiums when the season did begin, the owners and players were at odds over how long the season would be because the two sides had earlier agreed that the players would be paid on a per-game basis. The owners now wanted as short a season as possible, as they would be losing money for every game they played, while the players would be losing money for every game they didn’t play.

So, you might be thinking, the owners actually won this battle by delaying the start of the season. No, because the players are undoubtedly going to file a grievance to get back the money they would have made had the season started on time. The grievance will work its way through the laborious legal process in parallel to games being played, and won’t be resolved for months, even years. The potential of losing the grievance (and having to pay hundreds of millions as a result) is going to hang over the owners in the meantime. That’s why one of their key demands in a settlement was the players agreeing not to file a grievance.

The players, meanwhile, are only going to get 60 game checks instead of 82, and although they could possibly get more if they win their grievance, aren’t going to get some of the benefits they would have got had they signed an agreement, such as a higher share of playoff revenue (plus an expanded playoff), and a universal DH through 2021 (which would effectively make it permanent).

What makes this non-agreement even worse is that this was a chance to repair some hurt feelings, and perhaps make a future work stoppage less likely. Because the entire if going to lose billions of dollars, this coming offseason is going to be brutal to any free agent, as there are likely going to be a record number of non-tenders flooding the market. That will make the relationship between players and owners even worse, and then of course the CBA expires after the end of 2021 season. If a strike or lockout affects the 2022 season, then even more financial and reputational damage will be done to the sport.

Meanwhile, fans will have been without baseball for four months by the time the regular season begins, and with nothing gained; no labor peace and no financial stability. I fully expect many teams, including the Indians, to dump players after this season as possible in an attempt to cut costs. And if there are as many teams doing that as I think there will be, they’ll be trading for pennies on the dollar.But before that horrible scenario plays out, the Indians are going to have as good a shot of any team of winning the World Series. I say that because their revised 60-game schedule will be played solely among AL and NL Central teams, meaning that the Indians will have one of the easiest schedules in baseball.:

MLB has submitted a 60-game regular-season schedule for review by the Players Association. In order to mitigate travel, the schedule would include 10 games for each team against its four divisional opponents, along with 20 games against the opposite league’s corresponding geographical division (for example, the AL East will play the NL East, and so on).

There’s all kinds of other changes because of the shortened season, which I’ll go over next time.