ESPN’s senior baseball writer Tim Kurkjian spent time with Wes McElroy to discuss the restart of MLB, its possible challenges, and his passion for minor league baseball.
Question: You love baseball, but how do you feel about baseball trying to come back in the middle of a pandemic?
Answer: Well, I’m really worried about baseball. I’m worried about basketball, hockey, football, and I’m worried about the country. I’m worried about everything right now.
My hope is that baseball can come back. It can hopefully lift the morale of the country to some degree, and it can improve the health of the game, and goodness knows it needs a little boost in that direction.
I’m really worried with everything going on right now all over the country, that it’s going to be an enormous task to play in 30 different ballparks in theory and keep a bunch of players healthy. When unlike the NBA, they’re leaving the ballpark every day. In theory, they’re going to come in contact with some people and they’re coming right back to the ballpark. There is no bubble. They are not secured in any way and we’re asking a bunch of baseball players, some of them really young, to be as responsible, reliable, accountable as they’ve ever been.
They need to do it every second of every day. Otherwise, who knows what this could lead to and it’s just too depressing to think about that. I’m just going to approach it like: Let’s get some guys in camp, let’s see how it goes and let’s hope we’re actually playing on July 23. But I still worry a great deal about it opening on time.
Question: Do you think it’s going to be more difficult to start the season or to finish the season?
Answer: Well, both are going to be difficult, but I think it’s going to be harder to finish the season because once guys are together for three weeks of spring training there’s no telling what that could conceivably lead to.
Then once they start playing against one another and the competitive juices start to flow and there’s contact and there’s everything, it just seems logical that there’s only a matter of time before the virus gets to major league baseball in a bigger way than it has already.
Baseball is not a game that just starts and stops. But if God forbid one team gets 10 guys infected or one team doesn’t even have enough players to play anymore, or something like that, then then you’re really in trouble. I’ve talked to a lot of people in the game and they’re all guessing. They’re all guessing like me and like you, but I’ve had people tell me 40% chance we start, zero percent chance we finish. They are several people out there that I know and trust that have a good feel for the game. I hope they’re wrong.
Question: If everyone can stay safe, how fun could a 60-game season be?
Answer: Well, I know a lot of people that are really looking forward to this, which is great. The purist in me is not looking forward to it as much as they are. I’m just looking forward to anything because anything’s better than nothing, but 60 games, everyone starts in the same place; [It’s a] mad dash to the finish. Everyone has a chance to get to October. You have an absolute free-for-all. Every game matters in the regular season and in the postseason, a bunch of strange rules, some of which I don’t like at all, but they might spice up the game a little bit. Who knows?
It’s going to be the weirdest season ever. Let’s try out whatever you need to try out now as a test case and let’s have a crazy mad dash to the finish. That could really be a lot of fun. I just hope nobody looks at and goes: “Why don’t we play 60 games every year?” No, that that wouldn’t be a good idea.
Question: Tim, we are here in Richmond and are missing the minor league season. With the cancellation this year and possible contraction next year how much could the minor leagues change moving forward?
Answer: Well, I think unfortunately, we’re heading for potential major changes in the minor leagues as you know.
MLB wanted to cut 42 teams before COVID and my worry is that with no games this year, Major League Baseball is going to say we didn’t even play a minor league season and we ended up OK because we had 60 great games and a great October. I don’t buy that at all. I’m a big minor league guy. [I] covered it for two years in the late 70s. I understand its importance to the game and pipeline to the big leagues, the lifeblood of the game, and an incredibly important part of communities, cities and towns all across America, including Richmond, and to somehow get rid of a bunch of teams or just not care as much about the minor leagues, that is a major mistake.
My hope is that maybe with these taxi squads and everything being so bizarre and they’re trying to get work in when they really can’t, maybe they will appreciate it a little bit more.
It’s possible in a terrible year for minor league baseball that we might actually understand how important it is to the game and then not cut some teams.