Coming out of the pandemic, Lou Piniella has some advice for baseball
With the coronavirus pandemic still keeping most of the world in quarantine, Major League Baseball is attempting to work out a comeback for this summer.
There’s still much unknown: When? Where? How many games? How will they keep players safe? How long will they have as a second spring training to gear up for the regular season? What will happen when a player tests positive for COVID-19? Will players be quarantined away from their families? How big will the rosters be?
About the only thing we can be certain of is baseball will come back without fans — at least at the beginning, but it’s hard to envision any scenario where stadiums are packed in 2020.
As the league works through all these issues, Lou Piniella — who has spent more than five decades in professional baseball — has some thoughts on how the game should look and areas of focus for each team.
“Hopefully by the middle of July or sooner, they can start playing baseball,” Piniella said by phone this week. “It’d be nice for the country. It’s just tough all the way around. It really is. I think the best thing that teams can do is follow the guidelines that Major League Baseball has set forth. I know they’ve been talking to all the health officials and government officials on how to handle it from that part.
“And then just get them in shape the best way you can and don’t rush them. For God’s sake, just don’t rush them because you can get people hurt real quick.”
After an 18-year playing career, Piniella managed for 23 seasons, including four with the Cubs (2007-10). He will be a contributor on Marquee Sports Network this season.
He feels the coronavirus shutdown could not have come at a worse time for baseball, just a couple weeks before the start of the 2020 regular season. Players had spent all winter resting their bodies and getting healthy and then spent a month in spring training getting into baseball shape, only to endure another shutdown period that will last more than two months before it’s said and done.
In Piniella’s opinion, it might take up to a month of a pseudo spring training to get players ready for a regular season — 15-20 innings in a game for starting pitchers, 25-30 at-bats for position players, a half-dozen appearances for relievers.
“If they try to do this too quickly, yes, [there will be more risk for injuries],” he said. “It’s not very hard to pull a muscle running. It’s not too hard for a pitcher to try to get ready quick and hurt his shoulder or elbow. Yes, the risk of trying to get started too quick will create a lot of problems injury-wise. No question about it.”
During this shutdown period, Piniella said if he were still managing, he would be leaning heavily on his coaches to ensure players were staying in shape and locked in as much as possible. But not everybody has the ability to throw a bullpen or take cuts off a pitching machine at home and even if they can, there’s no substitute for live competition.
When the game does return, “Sweet Lou” is in favor of changing up the schedule or divisions so a team like the Cubs is not constantly traveling from Chicago to the West Coast for interleague games or series with teams not in their division. As it is, the season will only be 80-100 games in a best-case scenario and the priority might be best served limiting time on flights and buses and playing teams in your own division.
Plus, the season will probably have to go deep into the fall with the first three-plus months of the schedule already scratched.
“I think it’s a good idea — cut down on travel,” he said. “That’s probably the biggest advantage. It’s probably gonna be a little safer that way. Then you look at the final picture here is whatever team survives this and gets to the postseason, they’re not gonna play in any northern cities. They’re gonna play postseason games in Florida or Arizona where it’s nice and warm, so that’s gonna create another problem in itself.
“These are adjustments baseball has to make and maybe if things run really well, they’ll learn from this and incorporate some things later on that will benefit the sport and the game of baseball.”
As for some new rules and guidelines that were already supposed to be in effect for the 2020 MLB season, Piniella is actually in favor.
“I like some of the rule changes with these pitching changes where pitchers have to pitch to a few hitters as opposed to coming in for just one hitter,” he said. “They’re always talking about speeding up the game and that’s one way that they can help out and then the other thing is, I like the fact at the end of the year, you don’t have to call up as many players. Calling up 15 players at the end of the year and having a 40-man roster, it creates a logjam and these games go on and on and on in September.
“So I think those two rules are good for the game. I’m sure they’ll learn from this [shortened season], too.”