Perhaps the most interesting piece of sports news to come out of the latest week in lockdown was Major League Baseball floating a proposal for a 2020 regular season. Well, maybe we should refrain from calling it a “regular” season because it is far from that.
On Tuesday, MLB leaked to media outlets that officials were cautiously optimistic that the season could start in late June or early July, and that teams could play at least 100 games. Now, let’s get to the weird stuff.
The proposal would abolish the traditional American and National leagues this season, instead realigning MLB’s 30 teams into three 10-team divisions based on geography. Teams would only play games within their division. Teams would play in their home ballparks under the proposal, but with no fans in attendance.
While one of the intents behind this is to significantly reduce teams’ travel, that wouldn’t exactly be the case for the Houston Astros, who would be in a West Division with six teams on the Pacific west coast — the Los Angeles Dodgers and Angels, Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, and Seattle Mariners. The Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies and Texas Rangers round out the division.
My initial reaction to this was MLB shouldn’t even bother having a season if they can’t do it the traditional way. After all, who would even want to be champion of a bizarre season like this one? I’ve since softened my stance.
MLB should go ahead with this plan if they are able to. Players and managers shouldn’t have to wait until 2021 to resume their careers, and sports fans need something — anything — for entertainment at home.
But, I have one caveat: don’t crown a champion. At least, don’t crown a World Series champion.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, there was talk of expanding the MLB playoffs. Let’s pump the brakes on that, for starters. Get the three division winners and a wild card, and have them play some shortened version of the playoffs. Then, at the end, give the winner a trophy, just not the World Series trophy.
Make a new, one-time trophy. Call it something else. If everything else about this season is going to be different, the championship should be, too. This will allow this season’s champion to be a unique part of MLB history rather than just an asterisk.
THE LAST DANCE
Episodes three and four of the 10-part ESPN 30 for 30 documentary series — which has become the sports highlight of my week during stay-at-home orders — last week did not disappoint.
In episode three, we see Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls get beat up by the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons in two consecutive Eastern Conference Finals defeats in 1989 and 1990. The Pistons even went as far as developing “the Jordan Rules,” which was their strategy for defending Jordan in the most physical way possible. And, boy, did they play physical back in those days.
One couldn’t help but think if Jordan had the mentality that today’s NBA superstars had, he probably would’ve left the Bulls to join the Pistons or another team with more established stars. Instead, Jordan and his teammates focused on getting physically and mentally stronger, and they finally vanquished the Pistons on their way to winning the 1991 NBA Finals to begin their 1990s dynasty.
True to their “Bad Boy” monicker but definitely in poor taste, the Pistons infamously walked off the court before their 1991 Eastern Conference Finals-deciding loss, refusing to shake the hands of the victorious Bulls. It was interesting to see — and gave a lot of insight to the type of competitor he was — Jordan in present day still seething about that moment from nearly 30 years ago.
When Jordan was handed a video of former Pistons star Isaiah Thomas explaining their actions, Jordan wasn’t having it. Those two men are, after all, from a bygone era of the NBA when all of its superstars didn’t have to be best friends.
The focus of episode three shifts to a member of the Pistons who would eventually be acquired by the Bulls: the unique enigma Dennis Rodman. Say what you will about Rodman’s bizarre behavior, but when he was playing basketball, he did it with as much heart, hustle and unselfishness as has ever been seen, and he was a great teammate.
Sure, as the end of episode three and the beginning of episode four covers, there was that one time during the 1997-98 season when he took a few days off to unwind in Las Vegas, but nowadays, players would just call that “load management.” See, Rodman was ahead of his time, in that respect.
Episode four then shifts to head coach Phil Jackson’s story. After his playing days with the New York Knicks, Jackson coaches in a rough-and-tumble league in Puerto Rico and wins his first championship in the CBA before being hired as an assistant by the Bulls. There, he learns the triangle offense from fellow assistant Tex Winter, who clashes with then-head coach Doug Collins.
Jackson eventually ascends to the head coach spot, and at a time when Jordan was at the height of his powers, Jackson and Winter reshape the Bulls' offense from Collins’ Jordan-centric approach to the more team-oriented triangle. Turns out, that’s what the Bulls needed to put them over the top, and the rest is history.
A highlight of episode four was Jackson’s unique bond with Rodman. Both on and off the court, Jackson was like the Rodman of his day. In his playing days, Jackson was considered to be a hippie, while Rodman had more of a rock star look and mentality, but both were rebels in their own way. As a coach, Jackson — with his fascination with Native American and Buddhist cultures — was just about as eccentric as Rodman, too.
Now that “The Last Dance” has covered the main pieces of the Bulls dynasty, I’m definitely looking forward to what the next installments of the series have in store tonight.