We’re nearly halfway through the short 2020 season, and the Oakland A’s have the best record in the American League at 17-8. They haven’t clinched anything yet, and nothing in the regular season ever equates to a guarantee in October, but the A’s are clearly heavy contenders this year.
With that in mind, we need to pause for a moment and have a quick talk before the summer goes any further. Specifically, does this 2020 season actually matter, and how are we going to look at the World Series champion?
To a literal extent, yes this year matters and the winner will go in the record books right next to everyone else. But that’s not what I’m talking about. The 2017 Astros get to keep their trophy despite cheating, and every fan has applied their own degrees of asterisks to that title. Ditto for several teams that won with players who used banned substances. The court of public opinion matters too.
In this case, the issue is the competitive integrity of a season altered by the coronavirus pandemic. It’s one-third of its usual length, with an expanded postseason that lets in extra fringe clubs and removes the first-round bye for division winners. Plus, injuries are up around the league, and that’s before even considering the chance of a positive virus test interrupting the time-sensitive playoffs. Randomness will rule more than ever, in a sport where it’s already royalty, calling into question how deserving the champs will really be.
And so we must ask ourselves: How are we going to look back at the 2020 season, and the team who wins it all? This is something we have to decide now, before we know who that winner is or even who will make the postseason tournament. We can’t delay this until we find out what happens, or else our opinions will be shaded with personal biases. The Dodgers won because they’re a great team. The Marlins won because of small-sample shenanigans and/or the expanded playoffs; they wouldn’t even have made it in a normal year! The Astros won and we all hate them so let’s just say it doesn’t count.
Of course there will still be narratives and explanations for whichever team goes all the way, just as there always are. We’ve seen barely-.500 teams win the ring and understood that it was because the Wild Card opened the door to more entrants and anything can happen in a seven-game series. But nobody doubts the validity of the 2006 Cardinals and their victory. They won fair and square, if unexpectedly.
So, what do we say, Athletics Nation? Is the 2020 World Series winner truly legit, or will they always be looked at as second-tier champions who won the consolation season after the real campaign was canceled? It needs to be the same answer whether it’s the best team in the majors, or a .490 also-ran who got hot for three weeks, because the principle is in the process and logistics of the league overall. It’s either a real season or it isn’t, and if it is then the winner is real regardless of identity or traditional qualifications.
And remember, it could be us.
Seriously, this article does not end in me answering the question from the headline. Let’s debate in the comments!