Tigers, MLB wait out pandemic, but 'right now, it's all about health ...'
Detroit — Ron Gardenhire was asked Wednesday what his opening day lineup might’ve looked like, had the season opened Thursday in Cleveland like it was supposed to.
“(Miguel) Cabrera was going to hit third,” he said. “Other than that…”
The COVID-19 pandemic has rendered such questions moot and irrelevant, of course. Nobody knows when or if the 2020 baseball season will begin or how many games will be played.
“I don’t know how much weirder it’s going to get,” said Gardenhire, who is bunkered in his winter home in Fort Myers, Florida. “You just deal with it the best you can. It’s a crazy situation and there’s no precedent. Tomorrow (Thursday) is opening day. It’s just weird.”
Major League Baseball and the players’ association continue to negotiate over such issues as service time and players salaries. In fact, some resolution on these issues could be in place by Thursday. But there are no answers about when the season may start, the length of the season and how the schedule can be flexed to accommodate as many games as possible.
“There’s been a lot of things thrown out there,” Gardenhire said. “Everybody is coming up with ideas about what might happen, and what could happen. I think the easiest way for me is just let it ride itself out.
“Eventually they will come up with a plan. I am sure they have a lot of people involved in this so they do the right thing. They will try to make it right for the fans, for the players and for ownership.”
Among the ideas being discussed between the league and players’ association is using more doubleheaders and reducing off-days to get back some of the missed games.
“Yeah,” Gardenhire said, warily. “I’m currently negotiating with Al (Avila, general manager) on my contract that I only do one game a day (laughing). I don’t think that’s going to go over too well.”
There were two weeks left in spring training when baseball shut down. Starting pitchers were stretched out to five innings. Veteran hitters like Cabrera, C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop were starting to hit their stride.
The only unresolved issues were at third base, where Jeimer Candelario was starting to inch ahead of Dawel Lugo; at backup catcher, where Grayson Greiner and Eric Haase were in a virtual dead heat; and the bullpen, which still mostly was unsettled beyond closer Joe Jimenez and set-up man Buck Farmer.
JaCoby Jones, who had missed most of camp with a calf injury, was just getting back on the field and would have had two solid weeks to get ready.
“I don’t think everything gets wiped out,” Gardenhire said. “There were a lot of good things that happened and we saw a lot of good competition going on. … We had a pretty good plan going on and we still hadn’t decided a few things. We wanted to let it all play out until the end. Then, all of a sudden, we got shut down.”
So, if and when things resume, do the Tigers start back at square one?
“It depends on how long we stay out,” he said. “If we stay out a month or two, obviously we have to redo those things. We’re going to be asking guys to come in and they’re not going to be full-bore. So, it’s a restart.
“But it’ll all be decided by how long it goes. ... The longer you stay out, the longer you are probably going to need (to get ready).”
His players are scattered all over the country. Only a few remain in Lakeland. Many have migrated back up to Detroit and will begin working out on their own at Comerica Park. The league has nixed any organized or structured workouts and limited the number of players who can work out together.
So, there’s not much left for Gardenhire to do but wait.
“Right now, it’s all about health and getting away from this terrible thing that’s going on in our country,” he said. “Just get it right, that’s the bottom line. MLB will get it right. When they tell us to go back and play baseball, we’ll figure it out.
“I don’t think anybody has any for-sure answers right now.”
Gardenhire was asked how this shutdown will impact the game going forward, as people across the country adapt to life without professional sports.
“Baseball has been going on forever,” he said. “I’ve heard that passion when I walk out of the dugout and screw up a pitching move. That’s something I don’t think will ever go away. And that’s the same for the other sports. I know I miss basketball and I miss hockey.
“I think everyone misses the heck out of baseball right now, just like I do. I think it’s going to be really exciting when we get back. It’s going to be like a party, and I look forward to that."