By Evan Grant
The Dallas Morning News
No matter how many plans Major League Baseball floated out for cobbling together something resembling a season, there was nothing perfect.
Somebody was going to get the short end of the bat.
Texas Rangers! Come on down!
Yes, in the great restart plan, no team stands to suffer as much as the Rangers. Well, OK, the Astros. But aren’t the Astros due some suffering? Remember way back when the big issue was how the Astros — convicted of cheating their way to the World Series in 2017 — would handle being unmercifully booed by fans? Easy solution: Don’t allow fans into the games. Problem solved. All it took was a pandemic.
Look, before we go further, a disclaimer: Everything that follows could fall apart with another spike in COVID-19 cases or by acrimonious talks between owners and the MLB Players Association. The latter is a very real possibility. Owners voted Monday to send a proposal for re-starting over to the union with the hope of going to late-spring training in early June and starting the regular season right around July 4.
Now comes the harder part: Getting the union to agree to further pay cuts when they’ve already agreed to be paid only on a pro-rated scale for games played. And let’s not even get into the possibility of acquiring enough tests and potential plans for what to do in the event of a positive.
As for the players and finances, the expectation is they will now be asked to divide up somewhere between 48-50% of whatever revenue MLB does bring in for a year in which the entirety of said revenue comes from TV contracts.
Is there a stronger word for “challenging?”
Beyond that, there are all kinds of other bells and whistles to the plan, which might include a universal DH, expanded rosters and a taxi squad that would sub for a team’s minor league system as depth options.
Then there is the schedule.
This is where the Rangers get it right in their new powder blues.
According to the plan, MLB will seek to “regionalize” the schedules, having teams play only divisional opponents (12-14 times) and their corresponding interleague division (6-7 times). In other words, the Rangers, in the AL West, would play other AL West teams and NL West teams. It would result in a schedule ranging from 78-82 games.
“Regionalize,” here being a relative term. For you, it possibly means lots of late-night TV.
In fact, the Rangers would play more games with a two-time zone difference under the 78-game schedule (30) than they would have under the original 162-game plan (28). The Astros would be in the same boat, but then, what consolation is it to be in the same boat with a bunch of drum-beating cheaters?
Compare that with teams in the East, who wouldn’t leave their own time zones for the entirety of the season. The longest possible trip would be Boston to Miami, a flight of 1,260 air miles. The Rangers would have five opponents at least 1,200 miles from Dallas.
A couple of weeks ago, I asked Rangers GM Jon Daniels what was most important about the “integrity” of any schedule baseball proposed for the truncated season.
“I think everybody wants the season to matter, to have some bulk and substance, to have a meaningful sample,” he said. “But we know it’s not a normal year. If we want to play, we’re going to have to be willing to bend a little and make more sacrifices. It may look different, it may not. But if it is going to be different, I’m willing to bend.”
That’s a lot of bending.
Of course, the year being different, there are some ways to address this hard-to-swallow element for the Rangers and their fans. For one, the West Coast teams could be a little more flexible with their start times. After all, they won’t have to worry about start times to accommodate fans trying to get to the ballpark since fans aren’t expected to be allowed to attend games. The West Coast teams could accommodate the Rangers and Astros with earlier start times than the normal 7 p.m. PT. Move the games up 30 minutes or an hour. Now, accommodating and Arte Moreno are two things I’ve never seen in the same sentence, but these are strange times indeed.
There is something else MLB could do for the Texas teams, too. Maybe it could create a few longer homestands. While that doesn’t do anything for fans, it might take some of the strain out of the West Coast travel. It also stands to reason that some longer homestands would mean some visiting teams might be on the third stop of a three-city trip. Which is to say, they’d be tired.
There is going to be no perfect solution to the problems baseball faces before it can get back on the field. If baseball gets this far down the line, the Rangers are going to have to be willing to bend a little. Their opponents will need to do so, too.