All posts by Eric Willuweit

Game Preview: Chicago Bears at Atlanta Falcons

If you thought Chicago Bears fans were all in on the team’s 2-0 start, think again. While many are not complaining that the Bears are undefeated after their first two games, it seems nobody is planning the championship parade route just yet.

Bears @ Falcons Preview – September 27, 2020 – Noon CT

Records: Chicago Bears (2-0); Atlanta Falcons (0-2)

Last Meeting: September 10, 2017, at Chicago – Falcons 23 – Bears 17

Week 2 Results: Giants 13 @ Bears 17; Falcons 39 @ Cowboys 40

Several factors are leading to the skepticism in Bears nation:

  • The quality of the Bears last two opponents: the Lions and the Giants are a combined 0-4
  • The continued inconsistency of Mitchell Trubisky: one good fourth quarter in the opener against the Lions, and one good first half against the Giants
  • Doubts about whether the Bears’ defense will ever return to top ten form

That the Bears will be taking on another winless team in the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday will probably not do much to change the perceptions by the fans if they happen to win and move to 3-0.

For Atlanta, they are coming off one of their most humiliating defeats in team history; save for their 25-point come from ahead defeat to the Patriots in Super Bowl 51. The video of the Falcons special team players in last Sunday’s game against Dallas inexplicably letting the Cowboys on-side kick attempt roll past 10 yards without falling on the ball has been played on repeat this past week.

Will the Falcons be ill-tempered at kickoff on Sunday, with a chip on their shoulders? Or is this an opportunity where the Bears can kick a team while they are down (and injured)?

When the Bears Have the Ball

As mentioned, the inconsistency of Trubisky remains a problem. Three good quarters of football out of eight remain problematic for the Bears, despite the 2-0 start. His 59 percent completion percentage ranks 26th, and his passer rating of 92.7 percent puts him in the middle of the pack at 18th.

Yes, there are some drops and near misses in those numbers, but that is true for all quarterbacks across the league. Trubisky will have a chance to improve on those numbers against a Falcons defense that has surrendered nearly 40 points per game in the early going. Both Atlanta starting defensive ends Takkarist McKinley and Dante Fowler Jr. are listed as questionable for the game.

So far Chicago has committed to be more balanced on offense in 2020, and this bears out in the number of passing attempts (64) versus rushing attempts (60) through two games. Look for the Bears to continue the trend in running the football, utilizing the trio of David Montgomery, Tarik Cohen, and Cordarrelle Patterson to pace the league’s 12th ranked rushing offense in total yards.

If ever there was a game for Allen Robinson to get untracked for the season, this would be the ideal scenario. Teams are completing an astounding 77 percent of their passes against the Falcons for a total of 744 yards through two games. The Falcons also do not have an interception to date. The Falcons secondary is also decimated, with rookie starting cornerback A.J. Terrell placed on the reserve-COVID-19 list, and starting safety Ricardo Allen out with an elbow injury.

When the Falcons Have the Ball

Where the Falcons defense giveth, the Falcons offense taketh. Atlanta comes into the game with the second-ranked passing offense with 351 yards per game, including six touchdowns in the air against only one interception. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan continues to play at a high level, currently ranked ninth in quarterback rating at 110.

The Bears secondary will be thoroughly tested Sunday afternoon, provided Atlanta All-Pro wideout Julio Jones can play. He is currently questionable with a hamstring injury. Even if he doesn’t play, the Falcons boast the league’s top receiver in Calvin Ridley, who has 239 yards and four touchdowns on the season. Look for the Falcons to test Bears rookie cornerback Jaylon Johnson, who has impressed in the early going, albeit against lesser caliber receivers than the Falcons present.

The Falcons rushing offense has been less than dynamic, ranked 28th in the league. Todd Gurley II is averaging only 3.34 yards-per-carry and roughly 60 yards rushing per game. The Bears rushing defense improved to 10th in the league with 213 total yards allowed. Part of that improvement was a result of the season-ending knee injury to Giants running back Saquon Barkley early in the first half. Still, this is a game where Akiem Hicks, Bilal Nichols, and Roy Robertson-Harris need to prove they can contain the Falcons running game nonetheless.

Prediction

Atlanta is hungry for a win and will play fast and will play with an edge. Jones will play despite the hamstring injury, and Ryan and the Atlanta offense will prove too much for the Bears defense to contain. Trubisky and the Bears offense will not be able to keep pace.

Falcons 35 – Bears 24

Game Preview: New York Giants at Chicago Bears

The Bears scored 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter in Detroit in their come-from-behind victory over the Lions. After struggling for the first three quarters, Mitchell Trubisky fired three touchdown passes in the final quarter to secure the comeback.

They’ll be facing a Giants team that battled but didn’t have enough to overcome the Steelers in their season opener this past Monday night. Giants quarterback Daniel Jones threw two touchdowns but also had two interceptions, including a costly red-zone pick on a Giants 19-play drive. Saquon Barkley was held to six yards on 15 carries.

PREVIEW: GIANTS @ BEARS – SEPTEMBER 20, 2020 – 12:00 PM CT

Records: New York Giants (0-1); Chicago Bears (1-0)

Last Meeting: November 24, 2019 at Chicago – Bears 19 – Giants 14

Week 1 Results: Pittsburgh 26 @ NY Giants 16; Chicago 27 @ Detroit 23

WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL

Everything for the Giants offense starts and ends with Barkley. As he goes, so go the Giants. Barkley has had mixed results in his two prior meetings with the Bears, gaining 125 yards on 24 carries in a 2018 Giants victory in New York, while getting held to just 59 yards on 17 carries in last year’s loss in Chicago.

A strong game by Barkley will take the pressure off of Jones to have to win the game in the air. Jones is prone to turnovers the more he puts the ball in the air.  The Giants revamped offensive line struggled against the Steelers, surrendering three sacks and producing only 29 rushing yards.

The Bears rush defense was embarrassed last week in Detroit, as 35-year-old Adrian Peterson piled up 93 yards on just 14 carries for a 6.6 yards-per-carry average. If the Bears are missing nose tackle Eddie Goldman that significantly, they will be in for a long afternoon on the lakefront if Barkley can consistently get to the second level. Bears inside linebackers Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan will be critical in containing Barkley.

Look for the Giants to test Bears rookie cornerback Jaylon Johnson, to see if he can contain wideout Darius Slayton, who had six catches for 102 yards and two touchdowns on Monday night. Johnson acquitted himself well in his first game as a professional, including a pass breakup in the end zone to seal the victory in Detroit.

WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL

Will the real Mitch Trubisky please stand up, please stand up. It might be fair to say last week’s game in Detroit was quintessential Trubisky: mostly ineffective for the bulk of the game, then flashing for the final quarter to throw three perfect passes for touchdowns to lead the comeback.

That performance was a microcosm of his career; some good, mostly bad. As with the Jones and the Giants, Trubisky and the Bears offense will be aided by a strong running attack. The Bears rushed for 149 yards last week against the Lions, and they will look to continue that against a suspect Giants’ front line.

The Giants will counter with standout safety Jabrill Peppers, who plays in multiple spots on the Giants defense. He will look to disrupt things for Bears tight ends Jimmy Graham and Cole Kmet in an attempt to deny Trubisky of those weapons.

Former Packer linebacker and Bears tormentor Blake Martinez signed with the Giants in the off-season, and had a strong opener, leading the Giants defense with eight tackles. Giants end Leonard Williams had one of the two sacks for the team Monday night, and he will look to put pressure on the Bears offensive line and Trubisky.

PREDICTION

The Bears defense, uncharacteristically muted in the opener against the Lions, will rebound with an all-around performance, and stymie the Giants rushing and passing attack. The Bears offense will continue to lean on their improved run game, and Trubisky will have a solid but safe outing.

Bears 24 – Giants 10

Game Preview: Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions

In the early months of the pandemic, when many people were mocking the National Football League for its presumptuousness for holding off-season free agency and the draft, the actual start of the NFL season seemed like wishful thinking. Despite other sports rolling out their bubbles and hub cities, the NFL – the most contact sport of any of the four major North American sports – decided to forge ahead, choosing instead to focus on daily testing and enhanced training complex safety protocols and social-distancing to keep their players and team personnel safe.

Fast-forward to today, and the NFL has had very low positive Covid-19 infections among its ranks, to the surprise of many. The season formally kicked off on Thursday night between Houston and Kansas City, and aside from only about 16,000 fans in attendance due to pandemic capacity restrictions, the game itself looked the same as always.

This doesn’t mean the league is out of the woods by any means when it comes to a spike in Covid-19 infections. The league can look no further than their baseball counterparts to know that the virus has its own plans, and can wreak havoc on game schedules. But for today, and hopefully, for the season in total, football is back, and it’s under this backdrop that we present our week one Chicago Bears preview: Chicago at Detroit.

PREVIEW: BEARS @ LIONS – SEPTEMBER 13, 2020 – 12:00 pm CT

BEARS vs Lions: 2019 RECAP

11/10/19 at Chicago: Bears 20 – Lions 13

11/28/19 at Detroit: Bears 24 – Lions 20

That Chicago won both games against the Lions in 2019 is more of a testament to the team’s good fortune than it was to their overall ability and talent compared to the Lions. The Bears were able to dodge facing Matthew Stafford in either game, as his back injury the week before the November 11th match-up took him out of action for the remainder of the season. Instead, Chicago got to face such quarterback wizardry from the likes of Jeff Driskel and David Blough. Advantage: Bears.

The Detroit defense also was very forgiving, as Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky continued to string together his best performances within the division against the Lions and Matt Patricia’s man coverage schemes. Something about facing the team from the Motor City seems to bring the best out of Trubisky, or the worst out of the Lions.

WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL

After “winning” the pre-season quarterback competition over free-agent signee Nick Foles, all eyes will be on Trubisky to prove he has finally turned the corner in his star-crossed career. Trubisky’s struggles have been well-documented: inability to read defenses, leading to poor decision-making; telegraphing his targets; inaccurate throws. There have also been concerns with the quarterback’s psyche, and whether he is too fragile to handle one of the most demanding positions in all of pro sports. His comment last season about turning off the televisions at Hallas Hall didn’t help him in that regard.

Glass half-full theory says Trubisky usually does well against Detroit and will be able to continue this trend. Glass half-empty theory says Detroit has a new defensive coordinator (Cory Undlin) and revamped defensive personnel that might deploy more zone schemes to confuse the Bears quarterback. If the off-season work that Trubisky says he put in to improve his game-day performance has worked, this game will serve as exhibit A.

Improvement on offense is not in Trubisky’s hands alone, however. Bears head coach Matt Nagy will be scrutinized as much as his quarterback this season to determine if the supposed offensive guru has figured out a way to get his offensively-challenged team progressing and moving in the right direction. The starting personnel on offense, except for new tight ends and a new guard, remain the same. That means Nagy will be tasked to develop a game plan that fits with the players he has on offense, something he has not done successfully in his first two years on the job.

Receiver Allen Robinson is the Bears best weapon on offense, but he won’t be able to do it alone against the Lions. The Bears are facing a completely revamped Lions secondary that includes Desmond Trufant, third overall draft pick cornerback Jeff Okudah, and Duron Harmon. However, that might not help the Bears if they can’t get receiver production from an inconsistent Anthony Miller and an aging Ted Ginn Jr. At tight end, the Bears are hoping free agent acquisition Jimmy Graham and second-round draftee Cole Kmet can provide Trubisky with the short/medium range outlets that they have lacked during his time as a Bear. The Lions will look to linebacker Jamie Collins Sr. and safety Tracy Walker, among others, to slow down Graham and Kmet.

At running back for the Bears, David Montgomery will be available. His effectiveness will go a long way in providing the Bears with some versatility on offense. To help Trubisky, the Bears need to establish an effective running game to provide offensive balance, something that Nagy has seemed unwilling to commit to since his arrival. The Bears were 28th in run offense in 2019, while the Lions were middle of the pack in run defense at 16. Defensive tackles Danny Shelton and former Bear Nick Williams will be the men in the middle of the Lions defensive line trying to clog things up for the Bears running game.

With the exception of newcomer Germain Ifedi at RG, the Bears offensive line returns all starters from 2019. The Bears offense ranked at or near the bottom in most offensive categories last year. The offensive line owns a significant portion of that performance. The focus on this game will be Bears left tackle Charles Leno Jr. versus Lions defensive end Trey Flowers.

WHEN THE LIONS HAVE THE BALL

Stafford returns at quarterback for the Lions. He was having a very successful first half of the season before he exited 2019 with a back injury. The Lions and their fans are holding their breath that he can remain healthy for the entire 2020 campaign, because as Matthew Stafford goes, so goes the chance for any success for the Lions. That said, the last season Stafford faced the Bears and their defense was in 2018, and he only threw for two touchdowns to go along with 4 interceptions, for a passer rating of 71.4 percent. Clearly, Stafford can’t do it alone either.

The Lions will be without a grade A talent at wide receiver in Kenny Golladay, who finished 2019 with 11 touchdown catches to go along with 1,190 receiving yards. This despite only having the services of Stafford for half a season. Still, look for the Lions to test Bears rookie cornerback Jaylon Johnson early and often. At tight end, the Lions are hoping to get more from second-year starter T.J. Hockenson. Bears linebackers Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan will be tasked with containing him.

Running back has consistently been the Lions Achilles heel since Stafford came into the league, and has typically been seen as the reason the Lions have not been successful overall as a team. The Lions are hoping a combination of Kerryon Johnson, second-round pick D’Andre Swift, and former All-Pro Adrian Peterson will breathe life into a Lions non-existent running game. Look for the Lions to test Bears nose tackle Bilal Nichols, who has some big shoes to fill in the middle of the Bears defensive line, replacing Eddie Goldman, who opted out for the season.

The right side of the Lions offensive line is completely new from the unit that finished 2019 as the 11th ranked unit according to Pro Football Focus. Halapoulivaati Vaitai will start at RT, and rookie third-rounder Jonah Jackson at right guard. The Bears had two sacks against the Lions in each game in 2019, including two by Smith in the Thanksgiving day match-up. Look for the Bears and Khalil Mack to dial up the pressure on the right side of the Lions offensive line.

SPECIAL TEAMS

For the Bears, Cairo Santos replaces the injured Eddy Pineiro at placekicker to start the season. The Lions employ the normally reliable Matt Prater. At punter, the Bears Pat O’Donnell should have an initial edge over Lions rookie Jack Fox. Kicking edge to the Lions. In the return game, the Bears combination of Cordarrelle Patterson and Tarik Cohen provides them with a considerable edge.

THE COACHES

Matt Nagy: 20 – 12 – 0 (.625)

Matt Patricia: 9 – 22 – 1(.297)

Bears fans have not exactly been enthralled with what they have seen from Nagy, despite his overall record in his first two years. Lions fans would take 20-12 over the last two seasons compared to the record Patricia has provided over that same period. Advantage: Bears

PREDICTION

The Bears win a typical NFC North slog against the Lions: 23 – 20

MLB Draft: Sox Take College Pitcher, Cubs Take Local High-Schooler

With no games being played, and the 2020 baseball season in doubt, Major League Baseball took a pause from contentious negotiations with its players to look to the future, as the 2020 MLB Draft took center stage in an otherwise empty sports landscape on Wednesday night.

Both Chicago baseball teams looked to infuse new talent into their organizations during the first round of the MLB Draft, hoping that the players chosen could make an impact on their respective big clubs in the not so distant future.

White Sox Take LHP Crochet, Cubs Take SS Howard With Top Picks

The White Sox, with the 11th overall pick, selected University of Tennessee left-handed pitcher, Garrett Crochet, adding talent and depth to the organization’s already strong pitching ranks.

Five picks later, at number 16, the Cubs created the buzz of the evening in Chicagoland by choosing shortstop Ed Howard, the local kid made good out of Mt. Carmel High School in Chicago.

“I’m excited to be a hometown guy, I think it’s special, it’s unique,” said Howard during his introductory conference call with Cubs beat reporters. “I’m ready to take on that challenge, have fun, and play my game” Howard continued.

Cubs Pick of Ed Howard Brings a Jolt of Excitement to the Northside Fan Base

The pick of Howard is sure to generate excitement with Cubs fans, who have been looking for some positivity after back-to-back disappointing seasons on the field and off.

The Cubs blew a late division lead in 2018 and wound up losing to the Colorado Rockies at home during the National League Wild Card game. 2019 saw the Cubs miss the playoffs for the first time since 2014, ending a five-year post-season run.

Off the field, the Cubs have had their issues as well. Most notably with the Kris Bryant years of service grievance, and the rollout of the Cubs new team-owned regional sports network, The Marquee Network. The network was roundly booed during the Cubs Convention in January when team owner Tom Ricketts mentioned it by name. Many fans were unsure if their television providers would even carry the fledgling network, or if they did, how much extra would it cost. More recently, Ricketts has come under fire for comments stating 70% of team revenue is derived from day-of-game receipts, a figure many are questioning.

The selection of Howard, however, gives the Cubs a chance to ride some positive buzz about their team, at least in the near future.

Howard grew up in Chicago, and was a member of the Jackie Robinson West Little League team that captured the hearts of Chicagoans and the nation when they won the 2014 Little League World Series. Their title was eventually revoked due to roster eligibility issues, but the team still remained popular locally.

He went on to play baseball at Mt. Carmel High School, where he starred as the team’s shortstop. Even without playing a single game for the Caravan during the 2020 season, Howard was viewed by scouts and draft experts as one of the top shortstop prospects in the country. His selection with the 16th pick confirms that.

Howard was also a product of the Chicago White Sox Amateur City Elite program, or ACE, an arm of White Sox charities that provides inner-city kids with opportunities for education and to develop in the game of baseball, providing avenues for advancement to college or professional baseball. Another goal of ACE is to reverse the decline of African-American players in baseball, something that was probably not lost on Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein, who recently stated he needs to build more diversity in the Cubs organization overall.

Ultimately, however, Howard’s talent and potential as a baseball player is the reason the team made him their first-round pick. Cubs new Vice President of Scouting, Dan Kantrovitz, told reporters that Howard being available “was literally our best-case scenario.” Kantrovitz added: “He’s got an electric skill set. He’s a plus shortstop. He’s got pop in his bat. He can run. He can impact the game in so many ways. We think he has a chance to be a star.”

The Cubs stated that Howard would remain at shortstop in the organization. Most experts believe 2023 would be the soonest Howard might make his Major League debut. However, the timeline for all prospects could be delayed due to the absence of minor league baseball in 2020.

White Sox Bypass One of Their ACE Program Graduates in Howard, Draft University of Tennessee LHP Garret Crochet

With Howard, a Southsider, available when the White Sox pick came around at number 11, many people were wondering if the team would select one of their home-grown talents from their ACE program. However, when MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred stepped up to present the team’s pick, the name of a large college left-handed pitcher was announced instead.

Crochet comes to the White Sox as one of the top left-handed college pitchers in the draft. He struck out 149 batters and walked 48 over 132 innings pitched during his three years at Tennessee. He is known for a plus fastball that can reach triple digits, as well as a good slider and change-up. Control has been an issue for the lefty, who only pitched one game for the Vols in 2020 while dealing with shoulder soreness.

“I told Garrett … it’s an outstanding piece of your life to be compared to Chris Sale” Shirley told reporters. “But please proceed as being Garrett Crochet” he said. – White Sox Director of Amateur Scouting, Mike Shirley

Crochet has been receiving many comparisons to another tall left-handed hurler, former White Sox starter Chris Sale. And while he acknowledged to reporters during his post-selection conference call that some parts of his game were modeled after Sale, he doesn’t want people to just assume the same outcome. “I feel like it’s kind of tough to make on me(the Sale comparison), as I have not achieved anything as close as Chris Sale has achieved” Crochet told reporters.

Major League Baseball’s Dilemma: Return To Play Or Point Of No Return

On March 10th, the NBA and NHL were entering the home stretch of their respective regular seasons, as teams jockeyed for playoff positioning and qualifying. Major League Baseball teams were in the middle of their Cactus and Grapefruit league Spring Training schedules, with the earliest opening day in league history set to take place later that month on March 26th.

On the morning of March 11th, Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz was the first North American pro athlete to test positive for Covid-19. Later that day, the NBA suspended their season indefinitely for health and safety reasons. The NHL and MLB followed suit the next day, announcing the suspensions of their seasons on March 12th. As the calendar advances to early June, all three leagues have remained sidelined.

Return or No Return: Major League Baseball’s Dilemma

But sidelined has not necessarily meant seasons have been canceled. “Return-to-play” has been the phrase of choice by sports leagues as they each work with their players to negotiate the terms, guidelines, protocol, and logistics for the resumption of their respective seasons.

On May 26th, the NHL became the first of the three leagues to formally announce their return to play plan, ending the regular season but expanding the playoff pool to 24 teams. The NHL will ultimately choose two hub cities that will host each conference’s playoff rounds. The NHL tentative return date is late July.

On Thursday, the NBA announced a different approach for their return to play, eliminating the bottom eight teams from resuming play, while instituting an eight-game seeding schedule to determine the final makeup of the league’s traditional 16-team playoff format. The NBA is looking to finalize an agreement with The Walt Disney Company to utilize Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando as their operating base. The NBA is hoping to restart on July 31st.

And then there’s Major League Baseball.

Will Baseball Return, Or Take Their Ball and Go Home?

MLB owners and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) have figuratively dropped the ball as they attempt to put together their own return to play plan. The league and the players are nowhere close to an agreement on the specifics for a return, and, as is usually the case with baseball, money is at the forefront of the negotiation hurdles. A tradition like no other, indeed.

MLB had been floating several unofficial return-to-play scenarios throughout the pandemic shutdown to any baseball scribe that would listen, in the hopes certain writers would take them and run with it. This served a dual-purpose for the league. First, it kept baseball in the sports news cycle by having writers post and Tweet various theoretical proposals, allowing the sport to carry the day so to speak from a fan interest standpoint. During a pandemic shutdown, there was not much competition for sports media exposure that the league had to worry about.

The second reason for the leaked concept proposals was to serve as a sort of a trial balloon to gauge player feedback and response. In the age of social media, when a writer puts something out there that has implications to players, you can be sure that those associated with the game will respond.

The first official proposal by the owners to the players union did not take place until May 12th. At a high level, the proposal called for an 82-game regular-season schedule starting the first week of July, with teams playing only their division counterparts in both leagues, as a measure to mitigate COVID-19 related health concerns over prolonged travel.

Additionally, the proposal also called for expanding the playoffs from 10 to 14 teams in total, as well as implement a “universal” designated hitter in both leagues. And while the proposal provided comprehensive details regarding protocols for protecting players, team, and stadium personnel from COVID-19 infection and transmission, the financial component was not included in the initial presentation of the MBL proposal. But rumors of a significantly reduced compensation structure were already swirling, and that immediately became a sticking point for the players and the union.

Baseball’s Return To Play Battle – How Did We Get Here?

Back on March 27th, the owners and players agreed to an initial framework that, among other things, guaranteed the players a pro-rated payout of their full 2020 salaries based on the number of regular-season games played. For example, if the league wound up playing half of the normal 162-game regular season, the players would receive a 50% payout of their full 2020 salary. There was also a 50-50 post-season revenue sharing feature included in the original framework. At the time that seemed significant, as baseball has never had a revenue-sharing plan between owners and players, like the NFL, NHL, and NBA all have, in varying formats.

The owners are contending that at the time the initial agreement was reached, there was not enough information available about the rate of expansion of COVID-19 infections, and the subsequent safety measurements and guidelines that were implemented by Federal and State governmental agencies to combat the spread. Key among those measurements were restrictions placed on mass gatherings of 50 or more people at events, including sporting events. That restriction prevented the possibility of fans being able to attend baseball games for the foreseeable future, thus eliminating revenue streams for the teams from gate receipts, parking, concessions, and merchandise sales.

The owners have been referencing an “economic feasibility” clause in the March agreement that, per MLB, was intended to re-open the financial arrangement previously agreed to by players and owners for 2020 return to play if fans were not allowed to attend games. As one might imagine, the players, the union, and their lawyers have a different interpretation of that language, and so far have not been willing to budge off the pro-ration provision of the initial agreement.

When the owners finally presented their amended compensation plan on May 26th, the union and players roundly rejected the proposal publicly. The plan called for a sliding scale of reductions based on player salary, with higher-salaried stars having to bear the brunt of the salary reductions versus players making the league minimum or in-between. Overall player compensation would have been reduced from $4 billion to $1.2 billion.

The players countered with their own proposal on May 31st. In it, they re-affirmed their position on maintaining the original pro-ration formula. They also proposed an increased 114-game schedule. This would have meant the players achieve a 70% pro-ration of their 2020 salaries or $2.8 billion of the initial $4 billion player pool. MLB has since rejected that proposal, and, although not formally providing a counter-offer, it is rumored that the league is discussing implementing a 48-50 game schedule without fans.

Return To Play Or Risk Permanently Harming The Game

Given the state of a national economy ravaged by COVID-19, with millions of Americans losing their jobs, the optics of Major League Baseball owners and players fighting over billions of dollars look bad. The initial optimism that the “boys of summer” would take center-stage and be the first major North American professional sports league to return to action in early July has quickly waned and has left fans wondering if there will be a season at all.

 

If that were to happen, it would be more than bad optics at play for the game. Baseball entered 2020 having already endured a rough off-season, in which two of the league’s premier teams, the Houston Astros and the Boston Red Sox, were implicated in sign-stealing scandals. Both fans and players alike were angry at how blatant the level of cheating was at its peak. And both were equally frustrated that Astros and Red Sox players were given immunity from punishment, in effect, for their cooperation during the separate investigations.

If baseball were to compound things by not being able to reach an agreement between the league and its players for a return to play for 2020, and have to cancel the entire season, this could have a lasting, negative impact on the growth of the game.

Baseball Needs To Find Its Next Generation Of Fans

Baseball has made it clear it wants to capture the interest of the younger generation to help expand their market share and ensure a replacement demographic for baby boomers is in place to carry the sport moving forward. To that end, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has been working almost maniacally to find creative ways to speed up the game through pace-of-play initiatives. Reducing the average length of games to zero through the cancellation of the season was probably not what he was intending. You cannot capture the imagination of the younger generation by giving them a bag of air.

Assuming the league could resume from a health and safety standpoint – and that’s a big if – the owners and players are blowing a tremendous opportunity to capture the interest of both hard-core and casual sports fans alike who are starving for live sports. How perfect would it be for baseball to return to play Fourth of July weekend? A nation reeling from the impact of COVID-19, and now boiling over with the uprising and protests regarding the murder of George Floyd, racism, and police brutality might welcome a three-hour distraction in their lives.

Sadly, it does not look like a resolution to the negotiations is anywhere in sight. The rhetoric between the owners and players is as off-putting as it has ever been. The mighty dollar is once again the anchor that weighs down and submerges both sides.

In the short-term, baseball is facing an 18-month hiatus between seasons if the 2020 season gets scrubbed. If that were not depressing enough, consider that the current labor agreement expires in December 2021. That opens up possible scenarios of a lockout by the owners, or a strike by the players if the current discord between the two sides cannot get resolved by next year.

There is so much at stake for both sides. Unfortunately, they both seem content to stand their ground, ultimately taking themselves and the game of baseball with them off the cliff and out of sight, out of mind.

But do not worry, the boys of summer will hopefully be returning this year, to a sheet of ice or a hardwood court near you.