You can thank a Cincinnati Reds fan for this one.
What happens if baseball doesn’t return this season? What happens when there isn’t a game 162 with the entire division up for grabs? When the unlikeliest bullpen pitcher saves the day and grabs a win for his team? When the eyes of a young child light up as their favorite baseball player signs their jersey or a baseball? I pray we never find out in 2020.
This wouldn’t be the first time in the history of Major League Baseball when fans faced the harsh reality of a spring and summer without baseball – in the entirety of its existence, Major League Baseball has faced short seasons or been completely shut down before.
The novel coronavirus is like no other situation and before I continue, let me explain: baseball continued to play throughout yellow fever, cholera, smallpox in 1906, typhoid fever and the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 and 1919, even when it took lives of players and an umpire.
The 1918, the season would be cut short and the world would be given a September World Series. Between World War I and the Spanish Flu pandemic, the season would be cut down despite MLB going without any formal protocol about how to handle the outbreak. It’s worth putting out a disclaimer: there was no commissioner at this time, Kenesaw Mountain Landis would not become commissioner until a year later.
The 1919 season would only see 140 games with players donning mask, even when sliding around the bases and stirring up the dirt and dust around them. Photos from this time almost seemed nightmarish and until this spring, felt unreal and unimaginable.
The lives lost due to the Spanish Flu pandemic would include minor leaguer Cy Swain, Larry Chappell (White Sox, Indians, and Boston Braves), minor league catcher Leo McGraw, Harry Glenn (Cardinals), minor league pitcher Dave Roth, minor league pitcher Harry Acton, and umpire Silk O’Loughlin. O’Loughlin worked the 1906, 1909, 1912, 1915 and 1917 World Series.
Baseball would regroup and regain momentum as America’s pastime, even with the events of the 1919 World Series unfolding and World War II bringing in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League. Baseball continued and persevered through it all. Fans wouldn’t face another shortened season until 1972.
Labor issues would delay the start of the 1972 season, resulting in 86 games being canceled. Once again, baseball would be disrupted mid-season in 1981 due to the same situation. Labor issues would be the culprit that ended the infamous 1994 season in such a cruel way that left many fans of the Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds and Montreal Expos feeling defeated and heartbroken. I personally know a few fans that still remember the 1994 season vividly, including my father.
On October 17, 1989, the World Series was suspended for over a week after an earthquake struck Northern California just before the start of Game 3 in San Francisco between the Giants and Oakland A’s. Games would be halted once more in 2001 after the September 11 attacks. They would make up the week of postponed games at the end of the season and pushed the postseason back by a week. And when teams returned after September 11, there wasn’t a single dry eye in any stadium.
But this all feels different, this feels foreign and like uncharted territory. And while it could be possibly due to my age and how I fortunately have only been alive for the 1994 season and halted games in 2001, it still leaves me rattled. I still have my summer planned out in my yearly calendar, a gut-punching reminder of all the games tossed into the unknown. The notifications still pop up on my phone alerting me that Opening Day is coming this week. The autographed baseball on my desk sits proudly from January, the ink used by Giovanny Gallegos and Daniel Ponce de Leon still bold and proud.
Baseball is a sport to some, but for most, it is a break from reality. It is a chance to relive memories from years past with family and friends. It’s a moment in time that has continued to persevere through scandal, sickness, and war. It’s a grandfather listening to his beloved team on the radio and carrying on the tradition to his grandchildren. It is a girl dad taking his daughter to Busch Stadium II for the first time and buying her a Cardinals hat so she can represent the home team. It is a child standing in the summer heat waiting for his or her favorite player to sign a glove, a ball, or a jersey.
While my heart weighs heavily on the current crisis that our world faces, I can only hope that baseball will return in 2020. Even if we receive a shortened season, I will still feel the butterflies in my stomach as my favorite team runs out on to the field from their dugout. As the music echoes throughout Busch Stadium when Adam Wainwright or Jack Flaherty steps on the mound. The first crack of the bat. The cheers. When baseball returns, this is one fan and writer that will never take another inning for granted.
Photo Credit: Associated Press