It’s good to have real baseball back. Watching early April baseball, with fans, with teams playing a regular schedule consisting of all the teams in their league plus one interleague division, just feels right. This, along with many other things in our lives, was so sorely lacking in 2020.
As MLB has returned, so too has the reality that the Los Angeles Dodgers, owners of a nearly-$250 million payroll, are miles ahead of the competition in 2021. The new “Yankees of the NL” give the world a team to uniformly root against, even though they have not won a full-season championship since 1988. Through 10 games, the Dodgers are 8-2, and just getting warmed up. They’ve played mostly without Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger and still appear to the best team on any field on a given night. Yikes.
On Opening Day, the Dodgers hosted around 15,000 fans and went all-out for a lavish World Series ceremony, presenting rings for their 2020 title. It seemed like a wonderfully fun event for the Dodgers and their fans, no doubt. On the flip side, it also felt completely absurd given how, well, absurd 2020 really was. They played a season. They counted the stats. But what occurred last year was merely a spectacle to keep up some morale in the country amid a global outbreak.
For the purists, 2020 was a tough year. MLB implemented a ton of silly rules to ensure that it could get through 60 games, which equates to 37% of a normal season. There were no fans to witness the games, making them feel almost completely meaningless. And yet, MLB could not withstand losing an entire season. Already facing massive losses due to not having fans, the league needed to put something out there, a product that could provide the bare-minimum for a hurting nation.
Now, before I go any further, let me say this. Specifically I am not saying the Dodgers’ win was tainted in any way. They played the season that was presented, won the games they won, including 13 playoff contests (I use “playoff” loosely because baseball needed an expanded field to somewhat offset how short the regular season was). But the truth is, any team that won last year cannot and should not compare it to a traditional title. Yes, the year was incredibly difficult on everyone. There is no denying that the Dodgers faced the same obstacles as, say, the Royals. But this is a classic “don’t hate the player, hate the game moment.”
Consider this from yours truly, a Baltimore Orioles fan: I can confidently say that had the Orioles miraculously snuck their way through the 60-game campaign and won 13 more postseason games, I would not have celebrated it in nearly the same lens as a traditional title that I have waited my entire 36-year lifetime to see. In fact — and this will combat the “hater haters” out there who claim people saying the Dodgers’ title has an asterisk as just jealous folks whose own team didn’t win — you could argue that a less talented team winning would have actually been more of an asterisk than LA winning.
How, you ask? The truth is the Dodgers have entered the last several years as one of the big favorites to win it all, and 2020 was no different. In a 162-game campaign, the likelihood is that they still would have won it all and ended their 32-year drought. Had that happened, there is not a peep of the word “asterisk.” But through no fault of the Dodgers or any of the other 29 MLB clubs, last year was just a small step up from an exhibition born out of desperation. A made-for-TV season (save for limited capacity seating in the NLCS and World Series) should be viewed in the same light as WWE or the Harlem Globetrotters. Pure entertainment.
So, back to the here and now. Again, the Dodgers are locked and fully loaded. Anything short of 100 regular season wins would be a shock, and anything short of a title in 2021 would illicit a similar reaction. Outside of the massive dollar amounts being paid to their stars, there would be nothing unusual or “asterisk-y” about their title. Many don’t want to see it — I mean, who doesn’t love a good underdog story coming and saving the day in October? — but it looks bound to happen. 2021 has fans in the stands, and (mostly) normal rules in place (we’ll save my diatribe on the extra inning and doubleheader rules for another post). This is the Major League Baseball we have come to know and love over the years, and even a Dodgers championship and budding “pandemic dynasty” won’t completely soil that.
Just don’t call it a “repeat.”