Why The 2020 Baseball Season Will Begin Sooner Than You Think



On March 24, I made a rather bold prediction on Twitter about the 2020 MLB season:  "in the next three weeks, some MLB teams [will] start clearing some of their players to go back to the fields."

This prediction was made nearly two weeks after the state of Michigan had closed schools, the NBA and NHL had suspended their seasons, the March Madness tournament had been canceled, and MLB had announced that spring training was being shut down and the start of the season would be postponed.

At this point, on March 24, many people were talking about the baseball season not starting until July. Some were even saying that the entire 2020 season would be canceled.

So why would I make a prediction that, most likely, baseball teams would be back in their training camps and getting ready to start the season within a few weeks of March 24? 

Jeff Passan tweeted out on April 7, "Major League Baseball and the MLBPA are focusing on a plan backed by federal health officials that could have players in training camps by May and games soon thereafter," which (if that plan becomes reality) makes my prediction accurate within about 14 days. Maybe not 100% accurate, but certainly more "directionally accurate" than people who were saying the season wouldn't start until July, and a million times more accurate than people who were saying the entire season would be canceled.

What was my reasoning? What facts was I aware of that nobody else knew about?

Easy answer: I have Rob Manfred's cell phone number, and we talk at length every day. Except we don't. Then again, maybe we don't need to, because maybe I know exactly how he thinks. And maybe I know how 30 MLB team owners think. Come to think of it, maybe I know how dozens of sports network executives think, too. Probably it's possible -- no, it's definitely possible -- that the ability to put all of these different viewpoints together gives me an advanced foresight into how things will play out. You probably already know what I mean, right?

How do I know how Rob Manfred, 30 MLB team owners, and a bunch of sports network execs think? Because for the past two decades, I've worked for all of them. Not literally, of course, but after 20+ years of working as a tech/business consultant for major corporations, I'm deeply (frustratingly) familiar with how high-level owners and executives think, and the kinds of decisions they make, and even why they think and act the way they do.

It also helps that my talent stack includes an education in psychology, social dynamics, economics, data analysis, communications, music, history, and philosophy. I have several different filters that I can adopt at any time in order to view the world around me from completely unique viewpoints, which helps me achieve a 360-degree perspective on most situations, and that in turn makes it easier to predict how any given person or group of people will behave.

So let's walk through an exercise of trying on multiple filters in order to predict when the 2020 baseball season will begin. Follow this exercise, and I guarantee you will walk away with some very valuable skills that will make you more successful in life, generally speaking.

The Fan Filter
This is the filter you will most readily identify with, because you're a baseball fan. I don't need to convince you that you want the 2020 baseball season to start as soon as possible. You already miss the game. You're ready for the season to begin, tomorrow if possible. You're not reckless, you don't want to put people at risk of contracting COVID-19, but -- just between you and me -- you're willing to accept a reasonable amount of limited risk in order to get the season started. In other words: you'll still buy a ticket in May, if you feel like your risk is minimal.

The Player Filter
The general sentiment among MLB players is that they're chomping at the bit to get out on the fields and start doing what they do best. Nobody wants to put anyone at risk, obviously, but the driving motivation here (as it is with most Americans) is to get back to work. Players want to play, period. Get inside this filter, and you'll quickly see that 100% of the players want to be on the fields as soon as they can, regardless of whether there are fans in the stands. This is a no-brainer, as I'm sure you would agree.

The Team Owner Filter
You own a professional baseball team. On a daily basis, you're running a business (baseball is primarily a business, as you know already), and as a smart and successful business owner, you know you need to turn a profit. You have some emergency scenarios already pre-baked into the 2020 budget, but you're not prepared to keep your business shut down for three or four months. Most of your revenue comes from those television contracts that are worth mega-millions (billions), so if push comes to shove, you'll sign on the dotted line to let your team play to an empty stadium. Ticket sales pale in comparison to those TV contracts, and if you're Chris Ilitch, then Fox Sports Detroit is already starting to talk about refunds for 2020 if the season hasn't started by such-and-such a date. You're a smart owner, so you're ready to get this season rolling as soon as possible. Ticket sales be damned.

The Network Executive Filter
This is not very different from the Team Owner Filter. You run a successful business, and you've already shelled out a metric crap-ton of money to your local MLB team for exclusive rights to broadcast the games. Your budget for 2020 includes all of the local advertising revenue that comes along with this territory -- and it turns out that Sam Bernstein isn't interested in paying Fox Sports Detroit the millions of dollars that were earmarked for 2020 when Fox Sports Detroit has broadcast exactly zero Tigers games this year. You're no dummy, so if you're an executive at Fox Sports Detroit, you're putting some pressure on the Detroit Tigers to get on the field, and that pressure is bubbling up to MLB in general.

The Rob Manfred Filter
I hate Rob Manfred. Let me just emphasize that again: I fucking hate Rob Manfred. But I'm also smart enough to ignore that emotional knee-jerk reaction long enough to get inside his headspace, because I want to get that full 360-degree view. So we're going to shut off our emotions, you and I are, and we're going to be Rob Manfred for a few minutes. You can throw up later, that's fine, but get on board with this now, ok? Rob Manfred needs to keep the owners happy if he wants to keep his job. He also needs to keep the players happy. On top of that, he needs to keep the public relatively happy if he doesn't want a PR nightmare on his hands. If you're Milquetoast Manfred, you're going to side with the owners as much as you can. You're probably also going to use a shortened MLB season as an excuse to shorten other things in order to speed up the game, but above all else, you need to keep the owners happy. And the owners want the 2020 season to start, ASAP.

The Political Filter
You've stuck around this long, so you're probably ready to swallow this next pill. Of course you are. You want the 360-degree view. Take a deep breath.

Whatever you might personally think of President Trump, bury it now, and if you can't do that, you honestly don't belong in this conversation. Whether you love President Trump or pray for his early death, that has no bearing on this discussion, so ... the smart people can keep on reading while the rest are already composing their hot-take comments. 

The undeniable fact (save your feelings for later) is that President Trump is a wildly successful "jobs president." He's all about making sure the majority of Americans are working, that the economy is rolling full-steam ahead, that people aren't sitting on their hands and waiting. 

Including MLB players. 

He had hoped to start gradually turning the economy back on by Easter, and he has not since let up on the constant message of "we need to get people back to work."

The target date now is April 30, but if you think he isn't already looking for creative ways to start ramping up before that date, you aren't paying attention (but you will). He's also talked to all of the MLB owners recently, so he's keenly aware of how Baseball 2020 fits into his overall plans. 

You know what that means, right? Of course you do. President Trump and the MLB owners have already discussed specific timelines for getting the baseball season started.

What? You think it's a coincidence that a few days after President Trump talked to the MLB owners, we're suddenly seeing Jeff Passan tweeting about a possible May timeframe for the 2020 season? Keep your eyes open, you'll see that it's not hard to spot what happens next.

Back to My Prediction
So, after all of that, why did I predict on March 24 that you'd be seeing baseball teams back on the training fields within three weeks? 

Because literally every party (network execs, MLB owners, fans, President Trump, the players, etc, etc, etc) wants the season to start sooner rather than later. Because President Trump telegraphed his punch by saying he wanted to get back on track by Easter. Because there's a lot of money involved here, and successful businessmen are very good at finding creative solutions (like playing televised games in front of low-population stadiums) that find happy mediums between public safety and commercial viability.

I could be entirely wrong. Maybe we won't get baseball until July. Maybe we won't get it at all in 2020. But I predicted two weeks ago that we'd be seeing teams on the fields soon, and exactly 14 days later Jeff Passan says that the owners, the players, and the federal government are working towards starting the 2020 season in May.

Maybe I just got lucky on that prediction. Or maybe learning to rapidly change your filters on how you view the world gives you a better chance of predicting the future. Either way, I'm looking forward to giving you a major bear-hug and having ballpark hot dogs and beers with you long before July.
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