You know what would be really sweet right now?
It’s Valentine’s Day, and many of us are already thinking warm thoughts about the game we love, even as others are reliving glowing memories of last night’s Super Bowl.
But for those of us looking for a real change of seasons, the Super Buzz is as far gone as if the big game hadn’t been pushed back a week on the calendar.
Once upon a time, our social media memories tell us, we woke on a Feb. 14 to the news that pitchers and catchers were reporting to some Spring Training site. We easily shifted our minds and dreams to warmer days, even if they weren’t in the immediate forecast.
Baseball fans awaken this Valentine’s Day to just another Monday in the middle of winter, with no signs of spring, spring training, or even hope for a 2022 season.
Commissioner Rob Manfred and the owners won’t acknowledge any delay until it’s time to cancel actual Spring Training games. But locked-out major league players have nowhere to go and are nowhere close to agreeing to the owners’ structural demands.
It’s not appropriate this year to write poetry to the game I love, when our relationship is as strained as it’s ever been. Instead, my muse moves me to beg, “When will I see you again?”
At any rate, there will be plenty of time to cry about baseball’s labor situation in the coming weeks when we might otherwise be working out depth charts and bullpen rotations.
Instead, I choose today to be thankful for one positive development.
The owners’ acceptance of a designated hitter in the National League, if the two sides do complete a new CBA, didn’t get close to the attention it deserved because of baseball’s typical marketing “genius.” But it is a huge development for the stability and future of the game.
Do you think Manfred even realized his announcement and the latest round of “negotiations” went head-to-head with baseball’s biggest competition in its championship week?
Perhaps baseball’s best brains have at least figured out that Super Bowl week would be the best time of year to NOT announce a new collective bargaining agreement, had they miraculously reached one.
The purist in me still mourns after this rule change because of baseball’s unique rule that keeps teams from running out lineup shifts or platoons: A manager has to account for a corresponding defensive position to every spot in the batting order.
Knowing that no player could return to the game after skipping a turn at bat or an inning in the field, and playing it to the letter, led to a style of play that was more focused on pitching and defense than it would have been with the DH. There was also an overall sharper pace of play, even if every pitcher had made an out every time at the plate, which did not happen.
However, the greater evil was having interleague play between two supposedly independent circuits with different sets of rules.
We can argue until the 18th inning about which league’s teams were at a bigger disadvantage away from home, but it’s clear that the old rules were not really fair to either.
The American and National Leagues were once separate business entities and operated every day in competition with one another. Now there is absolutely no difference between them except for unique franchise locations. This week’s announcement simply aligns the on-field product with the merger of the two leagues into a single business unit, which happened 22 years ago.
Now teams can build their rosters according to common guidelines. The issue also now no longer drives a wedge between players and owners who both recognize that ambiguity is bad for the game and allow them to focus on the economic issues that are the far bigger problem.
This is also great news for fans who want to see stars play well into their 30s. It means there will be a spot on every roster for a player whose main contributions to the team will come at the plate, usually a veteran. A typical designated hitter also doesn’t run the risk of being injured while playing defense, again making the position ideal for players with a history of injuries.
The universal DH is also good news for Nationals fans because the Nats have an ideal candidate: Ryan Zimmerman.
After 16 seasons in Washington, Zim’s future is undetermined after he played out the one-year, $1 million contract he signed a year ago after opting out of the COVID-shortened 2020 season.
Zimmerman has moved across the diamond from third base to first in his career for the health of his throwing arm and had several seasons curtailed by various injuries. Otherwise, he might be wrapping up a Hall of fame career. But no matter whether he’s destined for Cooperstown, Zimmerman is baseball royalty in Washington and deserves to be treated as such.
The only National to play in every full season since moving to Washington in 2005, Zim received a tear-inducing ovation from the Nationals Park fans after he left the Oct. 3 game against Boston in the eighth inning. He acknowledged afterward that it might have been his last major league game but left the door open.
The 2022 Nationals may not finish with many more wins than last year’s 65, and they might struggle to avoid last place, so if Zimmerman were to return, it would certainly be to a rebuilding franchise.
Still, a few more of us might make the trip to the park if we knew we could be part of a farewell season for the Face of the Franchise.
That actually does raise hope for a 2022 season.