There were exasperating and infuriating moments, and times when it looked like the entire thing may crumble, but with commissioner Rob Manfred knocking on his wood desk Tuesday morning for good luck, the Major League Baseball season is on the verge of surviving a year few envisioned possible.
The 60-game regular season schedule was the shortest in baseball history. There were rule changes made on the fly. Home teams became visitors in their own ballparks. Buffalo became a major-league city. There were hurricanes. Fires. Social unrest and protests. And, of course, the pandemic.
Yet, the 2020 MLB season survived, and for the first time this season, Manfred divulged plans to have fans in the ballparks in October. They will be able to attend the National League Championship Series and World Series, which will be played in Arlington, Texas, pending final approval by Texas governmental officials. And now, with the postseason beginning Sept. 29, with an expanded 16-team format that Manfred has no interest in continuing under its current structure, there will be fans to provide authentic crowd noise, beginning with the NLCS on Oct. 12 at 40,300-seat Globe Life Field.
“We are pressing ahead to have fans in Texas,’’ said Manfred, with a ticket sales announcement expected soon. “One of the most important things to our game is the presence of fans. Starting down the path of having fans in stadiums, and in a safe and risk-free environment, is very, very important to our game.’’ Manfred would like the postseason to be expanded from 10 teams in the past to 14 in the future, which was discussed last winter, but not 16. The team with the best record in each league would receive a first-round bye, under MLB’s proposal, while the other two division winners in each league would choose their first-round opponent in the best-of-three-series.
“Look, 16 teams, was a really good solution for the unique environment we had in 2020,’’ Manfred said. “But I want to be clear, when I talked about the expanded playoffs going forward before COVID ever hit, we never talked about 16 teams as a permanent solution. We never talked about more than 14 teams. Those plans addressed marginalizing the value of winning the division, and preserving the competitiveness through the regular season.