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SCHMUCK: Uncertain baseball season looms, but we’ll take as much of one as we can get

PETER SCHMUCK
The Baltimore Sun (TNS)
Baltimore Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said he would be OK with playing more doubleheaders once the 2020 baseball season begins.

In an alternate biological universe, Baltimore Orioles fans would be eagerly awaiting Opening Day, which was originally scheduled for Thursday at Camden Yards against the hated New York Yankees.

Manager Brandon Hyde would have begun his second season in Baltimore's massive rebuilding project.

Instead, the start of the 2020 baseball season has been delayed at least until mid-May and there is no way of knowing when the coronavirus pandemic will recede enough for any of us to return to the normal rhythms of life.

The only thing certain is that when, or if, Major League Baseball is played this summer, the schedule will be packed into a much smaller time frame and the number of games will likely be significantly reduced.

Not the first time: Of course, it will not be the first time the sport has faced the daunting logistical challenge of restructuring its schedule to account for a crisis or labor stoppage. That has happened enough to get a sense for what a shortened 2020 season might look like when the virus relents.

From the deadly Spanish flu pandemic that impacted the 1918 and ’19 seasons to the string of labor stoppages that plagued the sport in the final decades of the 20th century, baseball has manipulated its schedule and playoff formats in a sometimes clumsy attempt to maintain the continuity of the National Pastime.

Remember the infamous split-season solution in 1981. The schedule was interrupted by a two-month strike that ended just in time to award first-half division titles and play a short second season to create the first three-tiered playoff format.

It worked out fine for Dodgers and Yankees, who ended up in the World Series while the team with the best overall record — the Cincinnati Reds — somehow ended up completely out of the playoff picture.

The most damaging interruption was the work stoppage that wiped out the final months of the 1994 season, forced the cancellation of the World Series and delayed the start of the 1995 season, which had to be shortened to 144 games.

Committed to playing as many games as possible: Since there will be no games or organized workouts for at least the next eight weeks, it’s almost certain this season will start no sooner than Memorial Day. That leaves only about 120 days for regular-season games if the current postseason format remains intact, unless there is an appetite for pushing the World Series well into November.

The Commissioner’s Office said on Monday that the sport is committed to playing as many games as possible when it is safe to resume operations, leaving open the question of how many games would constitute a legitimate season and to what lengths MLB will go to get to a number that protects the competitive integrity of the schedule.

No one knows the answer, but Colorado Rockies manager Bud Black proposed the possibility of packing the schedule with doubleheaders — as many as two per week — during a conference call with reporters Thursday.

"In theory, yeah, I think all of us would be up for some sort of doubleheader situation,” Black said. “The thing that’s going to be in front of all of us is it’s going to be the same for everybody. It’s got to make sense for the clubs and the players.”

Hyde OK with more doubleheaders: Hyde said during his conference call with O’s media Friday that he would be in favor of anything that allows teams to get back on the field for as many games as possible.

“Whatever they do season-wise we’ll be prepared for it,'' Hyde said. "If it’s play more doubleheaders, I’m OK with anything. ... That’s something that the league and the players association, those are conversations that I’m sure that they’ll have. But I just want to see our team play, so whatever they tell us it is — whether it’s no off days, doubleheaders, whatever it may be — I’m good with it.”

No doubt, when the time comes that the experts agree it’s safe for large crowds to gather again, the fans will feel the same way.

No perfect solution: There will be no perfect solution, but whether there’s time for 81 games or 120, I’m guessing we’ll be thankful for the opportunity to go back to the ballpark and commune together at however many games are still possible.

We all pray the pandemic will pass quickly and we all know that whether the baseball season begins or doesn’t, this pause in the games people play is critical to the well-being of our nation.