The text in the agreement that has Major League Baseball up and almost ready to run is reasonably innocuous.
It says that MLB will abide by local ordinances when it comes to having fans in the stands.
That stands to have a chance to be the breaking point in the American League West. In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott has set the course for professional sports to have a percentage of stadiums filled by fans, although that decision is still up in the air with Texas being ravaged by COVID-19.
In California and Washington, two other states with their own coronavirus issues but completely different approaches to attacking them, such public gatherings are still banned.
That means a 60-game season could well be determined by the Rangers and, especially, the Astros having fans in their ballparks while the A’s, the Angels and the Mariners will play their games in a fanless format.
It remains to be seen if MLB will reverse course on this. It hardly is a level playing field athletically to have fans in some venues and none in others, and it’s an issue, too, in terms of revenue, because the paying public spends money on tickets, but also on food, drink, parking, souvenirs and the like.
This was going to be the year the Astros, the three-time defending AL West champions, were going to have to face the wrath of fans around baseball for their 2017 sign-stealing scandal. The penalties came down after last season and ultimately led to the ouster of manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow. Hpustpm kept its 2017 World Series championship, however.
The Astros were going to have a particularly tough time of it from fans in the Oakland Coliseum this season after Oakland finished runner-up to Houston both of the last two years.
“We had all this stuff planned for the Astros,” Bryan Johansen, an A’s loyalist who is a regular habitué of the left-center field bleachers at the Coliseum, said earlier this spring.
What led to this was the revelation of the Astros’ trash-can banging, sign-stealing scheme of 2017 that didn’t cost any of the Astros players employment, even if the manager and GM were let go.
James Sanos, who is a regular in the right field bleachers, says he makes signs from time to time when inspired. He was inspired for the Astros coming to the Coliseum.
“I was trying to make something kind of funny, just waiting for when the Astros got here,” he said in March, when the Astros were due to make their 2020 Oakland debut.
Johansen and two of his cohorts, who refer to themselves as the “propaganda team,” commissioned six banners for the Astros series, including on with a trash can wearing an Astros cap. He said that the crew in right field had a scandal banner that he wasn’t willing to describe, but which he said was long enough to stretch most of the way across the right field bleachers.
“We had a huge lineup of stuff,” Johansen said. “We had custom made cheer cards that we were going to pass out that said `Hey Astros: Try to Steal This Sign.’ We had some inflatable trash cans. We had costumes. It was going to be fun.
“One banner was going to be called `The Battle of the Bang.’ It’s going to show a trashcan battling a drum. We had so much stuff planned; it was unbelievable.”
The Astros will miss that. The Astros also will miss some similarly savage greetings from Dodgers fans, too, Los Angeles having lost the 2017 World Series to Houston in seven games.
Having to face that kind of hostility might not make a huge difference in a 162-game season. But if a hostile crowd could have mean a loss instead of a win just once in Oakland and once in Los Angeles, those two games could swing the AL West standings in a season that is only going to last 60 games.
Follow Athletics insider John Hickey on Twitter: @JHickey3
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