YES Network analyst David Cone and SNY play-by-play man Gary Cohen are old-school baseball people who have been around the big leagues since the 1980s.
But both have fully embraced the weirdness of the 2020 season and believe that no matter how unconventional it will be, it is legitimate.
“Baseball fans who are going to follow this are ahead of the curve in terms of seeing this for what it is,” Cone said. “This isn’t the ’27 Yankees. This is the Pandemic Year. We know it, we get it. What does it mean? Who cares?
“Let’s play baseball. We’re going to call it a ‘World Series winner.’ That’s fine. Call it the ‘Pandemic World Series winner.’ Whatever you want to call it, it’s fine. It doesn’t matter.
“We’re doing the best we can, and I think at the end of the day I hope we make it there. I hope we make it to the last day of October and we have some sort of ceremony. I think it’d be great.”
Said Cohen, “I remember back in March when everything shut down and they were talking about possibilities for the year, I said even if you had a 25-game season, I’d be cool with that. It would make every game so important that it would be fun. I think that’s really the way you have to look at it.
“There is the societal part over here and, is it even possible to do this? Then you have to look at the baseball side over here, which is that this could be an enormously fun sprint to the finish, and every game will be of vastly greater importance than it normally is.”
When Cohen spoke to Newsday about it, baseball still was planning a conventional, 10-team postseason. Cohen said he would not be in favor of an expanded field. But he believes whoever survives the process will have earned a trophy.
“I think the World Series champion will be a completely legitimate champion, the way the Dodgers were a legitimate champion in 1981. The second half of that [strike] season was even shorter than the one we’re playing here.
“Nobody puts an asterisk next to the 1919 Cincinnati Reds. They won the World Series that year. There were extenuating circumstances [in the Black Sox scandal], but that’s the way it goes. In 1994, there’s no World Series champion because there’s no World Series.
“But if you play a World Series and you go through that process and you win a championship, it’s still a championship.”
Cone said he is fine with both the expansion of the designated hitter to the National League and the placement of a runner at second base to start extra innings.
“I love the DH debate,” Cone said. “I respect the purists, but it’s a job creator for me at the end of the day. The one trump card for me is it adds a job, and I’m an old union guy.
“A guy like [the Yankees’] Mike Ford or Luke Voit, players like that who are really good hitters in Triple-A and that are stuck that are really good major hitters that don’t get a chance, that’s an extra 15 jobs. That’s a lot of jobs for those guys.”
And who wants to watch pitchers strike out, anyway?
“There are a handful of pitchers who are really good hitters,” Cone said, “but the vast majority of pitchers are not good at all. They’re terrible. They’re not allowed to train in the minor leagues. The first time I batted in the big leagues, I hadn’t had a competitive at-bat since high school, with an aluminum bat.
“There’s just no training along the way. It’s kind of ridiculous. They’re not going to let you practice a skill, but they’re going to make you use that skill at the highest level once you get there, so it really is bizarre.”
As for the extra inning tweak, Cone said, “That’s interesting to me. This is the year to try things. Maybe it brings back the bunt, the dreaded bunt that has been so maligned in recent history.
“Maybe some unintended consequences come into play, where small ball becomes a big thing in extra innings again. Maybe it could work out to be pretty interesting. I know one thing: The games will be over a lot sooner; we won’t see 18-inning games anymore. One or two tries, and the game is going to be over, usually by the 10th or 11th inning.”
Regarding the DH coming to the National League, Cohen said, “For this particularly bizarro season I was in favor of experimenting with as many things as possible. I would have been in favor of seven-inning games in doubleheaders, pitch clocks, whatever things baseball wanted to try out, I think this is the perfect year to do that.
“I’m very much a traditionalist and normally I would have a big problem with most changes, but I think this year is a good year to experiment. My fear is the DH is here forever, and that’s a shame. It happens to work out for the Mets this year because they have a nice pool of DH options. It also works against them because they have some of the best hitters among their pitchers. But just from a baseball standpoint I think it’s a good year to experiment and I’m not averse to any of it.
“I’m interested particularly to see how the extra inning rule is going to work out, just in terms of how managers handle it strategically.
“To me what is a much more disruptive rule is the three-batter minimum [for relief pitchers]. That’s a huge deal that is going to affect every manager’s lineup construction and bullpen usage.”
Cone watched the acrimonious negotiations between MLB and its players during the spring with interest as a former active union member, including during the 1994 strike.
“I think the biggest mistake that people make when they try to assess blame, so to speak, in this players vs. owners game, is that it’s billionaires vs. millionaires,” he said. “To me it’s a three-headed battle, including large-market owners vs. small-market owners.
“Until that beef gets solved the players are kind of the third wheel. When it’s time to make a deal it presents itself usually right after large-market and small-market owners get together and decide that they’re going to agree on a way forward.”
Cone added, “If there are 30 owners, if eight get together, they can block anything. It sounded like they had about six who didn’t want to play at all this year, who wanted to push for a hard salary cap in the next CBA and lay the seeds right now. So let’s throw that revenue sharing [proposal] out there in that first offer. That was coming from the hard-liners.”
Cone was impressed with what he saw from pitchers during the preseason restart.
“Just from observing so far in the early going of this reboot, pitchers are ahead of the game,” he said. “[The Yankees’] Gerrit Cole is ready to throw 80 to 100 pitches his first start, which is a little bit surprising to me. But at the same time these guys train so well now, they all have their own pitching labs, it seems like, wherever they go, in their backyards. They have all the technical equipment, the high-speed cameras. They’re able to get their work in, and I know Gerrit Cole is like that as well. These guys are a little more far along than I thought they’d be. I’m pleasantly surprised with that.”