It's hard to know what lies ahead for Major League Baseball (and, uh, the world). But as 2020 comes to a close, Sports Illustrated's MLB experts put their wishful-thinking caps on and came up with one wish for baseball in 2021. Peaceful CBA negotiations? The return of fans? A healthy season from Aaron Judge? It's all on the table. Here's to 2021.
I just want baseball to get through the season safely. I hope MLB allows people who don’t feel comfortable to opt out without penalty again, and I hope everyone learns from 2020. The protocols to begin the season were pretty bad, but the revised ones were better, and I hope the league can keep what worked and discard what didn’t.
"A full season" seems like a low bar here. But after one season shortened by the pandemic and looking ahead to another that will require consensus on a new collective bargaining agreement in a dicey environment for labor relations ... a full season seems like it shouldn't be overlooked! (It's the little things, right?) So I hope each team has 162 games to enjoy safely in 2021, and, for the first time, I won't take that simple structure for granted.
My wish is for ballparks to be filled by the end of the season. Yes, this hope extends far beyond the parameters of Major League Baseball. The world needs to be in a place where it's safe for 40,000 fans to gather again. But this season reminded me of just how special the crowd is, whether it be low murmurs from a Tigers-Royals game in August or the roar of October in Yankee Stadium. Here's to a cardboard-cutout-less season.
(And if I'm allowed to fold in an extra wish, I hope broadcasters can travel to every game this season. Everyone wins in that case.)
I wish for the institution of the designated hitter in the National League before the 2021 season, though I won’t hold my breath. That would mean the owners giving up a CBA bargaining chip a year sooner than they have to. But when 50% of MLB teams seem wary of signing the two free agents with the most home runs last season (Marcell Ozuna and Nelson Cruz), something needs to be fixed. The league should aim to maximize the amount of talent on the field. That means providing more destinations for DHs.
I can see it now, when the time comes that fans are allowed back in the stands at max capacity—hopefully it's in 2021—Major League Baseball will break out the return-to-normalcy marketing campaign. My wish is for that not to happen.
One of the few benefits of the pandemic-shortened season is it forced baseball to change. The negotiations between the owners and players union for when and how to start the 2020 season were ugly, but they did eventually come together. If that means permanently installing the Universal DH, keeping or altering the extra-innings format used in the 2020 regular season, expanding to 32 teams, then that's what needs to happen next year. If that means adopting more radical rule changes, such as establishing a leaguewide salary floor for teams (i.e. each team must pay at least $X in roster salaries or they'll be taxed) to keep salaries up for players and discourage years-long rebuilds, then let's do it. In baseball, and in the world around us, 2021 must be a year of advancing, not returning to normalcy.
Is it too much to ask for a better league-union relationship in 2021? Major League Baseball ownership and the players association carried out much of their negotiations for the pandemic-shortened 2020 season in the press, and the public bickering was not a good look for the league, to put it mildly. The air of uncertainty for the upcoming season still looms—when will the season begin? How many games? Which rule changes will stick around? How the two sides operate going forward will have tremendous repercussions on the impending labor discussions for the collective bargaining agreement, which expires after the 2021 season. Here's wishing for relatively smooth sailing on uncharted waters.
My wish is for a healthy season out of both Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. New York’s sluggers have displayed prodigious power in their respective careers, though we’ve yet to see the new-age Bash Brothers carry a lineup together for a significant stretch. Could we see 80 dingers between the two in 2021? It’s not out of the question with good health. Perhaps this isn’t the most altruistic answer, but from a pure entertainment perspective, 1,000-plus plate appearances between Judge and Stanton would be a delight to watch.