Opening Day of the 2020 MLB season was originally scheduled for March 26. As has been custom in recent years, all 30 of MLB teams would've been in action on that Thursday, including the traditional Opening Day festivities in Cincinnati and a total of 13 intra-divisional encounters. Alas and alack, rendered all of that impossible.
We still don't know when or -- most lamentably -- if 2020 Opening Day is going to happen, but at this writing we do know that it's now been a lost month of games. With that in mind, we're here to take a look at what we missed over this first month of the season that never was. To be sure, the hope is that we get some kind of a 2020 season, and that would mean we get some of these things back. For now, though, let's lament what's been lost, at least temporarily, over the first 30 days or so of the season that was supposed to have been. Onward, in a state of soft mourning.
March 26: New faces in new places
Even though the hot stove period of 2019-20 feels like decades ago, it was a frenzied one. Opening Day would've brought it all back. Barring the unexpected, we would've seen Gerrit Cole, he of the $324 million free agent contract, start for the Yankees against the Orioles. One of the Nationals' heroes of the 2019 World Series, Anthony Rendon, would've manned third for the Angels back in Houston. Josh Donaldson would've led the Twins into Oakland, where he first became a star. Mookie Betts, whom Boston shipped off in a cynical blockbuster trade, would've made his Dodgers debut against the Giants. Speaking of the Giants, their former ace and postseason legend Madison Bumgarner would've gotten the Opening Day nod for the Diamondbacks against the Braves.
Meantime, the White Sox at home (yes, a March game in Chicago) would've debuted catcher Yasmani Grandal and DH Edwin Encarnacion, and top prospect Luis Robert would've played his first MLB game. We know that because Robert inked a contract extension before he'd ever played in the majors, which ensured an Opening Day spot on the active roster.
The 2020 season also brings us a total of 10 teams with new managers -- yes, one-third of the league. On Opening Day, we would've seen Dusty Baker (Astros), Joe Maddon (Angels), Joe Girardi (Phillies), Gabe Kapler (Giants), Mike Matheny (Royals), and Ron Roenicke (Red Sox) debut with their new teams. As well, David Ross (Cubs), Jayce Tingler (Padres), Luis Rojas (Mets), and Derek Shelton (Pirates) would managed their first games in the majors. Only one contest scheduled for March 26 featured a head-to-head encounter involving managers with new teams. That's the Angels versus the Astros in Houston. Coincidentally, Maddon and Baker are both former Cubs skippers.
Eventually, almost all of these names will make these debuts for their new employers, but Betts is a potential exception. Betts is going into his walk year in 2020, which means he'll be eligible for free agency next offseason. If there's no 2020 season and the Dodgers are unable or unwilling to sign him to an extension, then he'll hit the market after playing not a single regular season game for L.A.
Oh, let's also not forget that the Padres on Opening Day would've blessedly played their first regular season game (home vs. the Rockies) in.
March 30: The Astros get what's coming
As you're no doubt aware, the Astros were. The light punishment and the lack of accountability taken by some members of the team (and most especially owner Jim Crane) after MLB's report came out helped turned the Astros into villains. Given that the Astros illegally stole signs en route to winning the World Series and given that their title was left intact, you can expect that fans of other teams will relish unloading their outrage upon the team.
On March 30, the Astros were scheduled to play their first road game against the division-rival Athletics in Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. A's fans will turn out for high-stakes games, and the appeal of raining boos down upon Alex Bregman and company surely would've led to a packed house. Regardless of where you come down on how bad the Astros' misdeeds were, that would've been some quality entertainment. This is one of those things that will be diminished with time. If the 2020 season is played in neutral venues and or in front of empty ballparks (or canceled altogether), then the Astros will be spared. By the time we do get to the point of playing true road games with fans in attendance, much of the energy may be drained from the outrage.
Also on this day, Felix Hernandez likely would've made his Braves debut. King Felix when camps shut down was in line to be Atlanta's fifth starter, and since they were scheduled to play seven straight games before their first off day of 2020 Hernandez likely would've gotten the call in the fifth game against the Padres in San Diego. King Felix is of course a Mariners legend who prior to his signing a minor-league pact with the Braves spent his entire career in Seattle. He's a former Cy Young winner who looked to be on a Hall of Fame track before a premature deep decline took hold. Hernandez is now 34 and hasn't pitched at an elite level since 2014, and he was downright terrible over the last two seasons. That said, Hernandez in Braves camp showed revitalized stuff and put up strong numbers across four Grapefruit League starts. You can't read too much into those numbers, obviously, but it at least raised hopes for a some kind of renaissance. The next big step would've been in that March 30 start, but now it's anyone's guess as to how things play out. Presumably, Hernandez will still get that shot, but the shutdown has made that less than certain.
March 31: Texas' new digs
On this day, the Rangers would've played their first game in brand new Globe Life Field, a 1.7 million-square foot facility with a retractable roof. Construction of the park cost more than $1 billion and almost half of that came from local bonds and taxes, and the Rangers made the move even though their former ballpark was just 26 years of age. Mike Trout -- older than that former park -- and the Angels would have been in town for the inaugural regular season game.
Obviously, with ramped up fan enthusiasm and the possibility of increased ticket prices (and a wider array of high-end concessions), the Rangers were no doubt banking on hefty gate receipts and sales inside the ballpark. Now it's highly uncertain whether any of that will come to pass in 2020,.
April 2-4: Ring and banner day in D.C.
The Nationals of course won the World Series in 2019 with a seven-game triumph over the Astros. It was the first championship in Expos/Nats franchise history, and the first World Series win for a team in the nation's capital since Walter Johnson's Senators claimed the trophy way back yonder in 1924. The first home series of the season, against the Mets starting April 2, would've occasioned the ring ceremony and banner raising for the reigning champs, but that didn't come to pass. As you would expect, there's no makeup date scheduled yet, but we do know the Nats intend to postpone the celebration.
April 6: MadBum returns
Bumgarner's new team, the Diamondbacks, were to head to San Francisco to begin a three-game set with his old team, the Giants. If the Arizona rotation stayed lined up as planned, then Bumgarner would indeed have started that series opener on April 6 back in his old haunt. Bumgarner spent the first 11 seasons of his MLB career with the Giants before signing with the D-Backs as a free agent this offseason. In addition to being the regular season ace for many of those years, Bumgarner also established himself as a franchise icon with his postseason performances. In four trips to the playoffs, Bumgarner authored an ERA of 2.11 across 14 starts and two relief appearances, and in 2014 he was named NLCS and World Series MVP. Without Bumgarner's efforts, the Giants surely don't win those three titles in a span of five seasons. He's in for a hero's welcome back in San Fran whenever that comes to pass.
April 10: Nats return to scene of NLDS crime
Much about the Nats' title run last season was surprising, which is the nature of things for a wild card entrant that winds up claiming both belt and title. Perhaps most shocking was that they bounced the mighty, massively favored 106-win Dodgers in the NLDS. They did so despite being down 2-1 in the best-of-five series. They furthermore did so despite being down 3-0 going into the sixth inning of Game 5 in Dodger Stadium. For the Nats, it was a springboard into the remainder of their title run. For the Dodgers, it was the latest playoff indignity and another forgettable October moment for Clayton Kershaw. On April 10, the Nats would've returned to Dodger Stadium for the first time since prematurely bouncing one of the great teams in Dodger franchise history.
April 15: Jackie Robinson Day
The luminous Jackie Robinson, who broke MLB's color barrier in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers, had his number retired across all of MLB in 1997. Since 2009 teams have marked the anniversary of his MLB debut by having all players wear his No. 42 on April 15. For 2020, that would've happened on this day..
April 19: Rox retire Walker's number
Larry Walker was not so long ago, and the Rockies had plans to retire his No. 33 at Coors Field before their Sunday home game against the Cardinals on April 19. Walker spent 10 of his 17 MLB seasons with the Rockies, and on their watch he slashed .334/.426/.618 (147 ) with 258 home runs and 126 stolen bases. With Colorado, Walker also won five Gold Gloves and the 1997 NL MVP award. Once they're able to honor Walker, he'll join Todd Helton and Jackie Robinson as the only players to have their numbers retired by the Rockies.
April 24: Mike Fiers returns to Houston
Now let's circle back to the original bombshell report in The Athletic that the league took action.noted above. Even though teams had called the Astros' tactics to MLB's attention before, it wasn't until Athletics right-hander Mike Fiers served as the whistleblower source for
Fiers, who played for the Astros from late July of 2015 through the end of the 2017 season, claimed the Astros had a center-field camera fixed on the catcher and that someone decoded the signs in real time on a monitor in the hallway between the dugout and clubhouse and banged a garbage can to relay incoming pitches to the hitter. These claims would later be confirmed by MLB's investigation. To most fans and observers, Fiers by disclosing the scheme did a good turn and helped MLB begin to restore some competitive integrity. However, to a lot of Astros fans (and probably some Astros players) he's a "rat" or worse.
Speaking of all this, the A's, whose fans would've booed the Astros to living hell and back on March 30, were to begin a three-game set in Houston on April 24. Fiers, who was likely to be Oakland's Opening Day starter, would have been lined up to start this series opener against the Astros, barring changes to the rotation. Hearing Houston fans vent their spleens at him and seeing some of his former Houston teammates face him for the first time since he blew the whistle would've made for some compelling color television.
Late April: Pujols passes Mays?
Angels DH and future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols in 2020 will continue his march up the all-time leaderboards. Speaking of which, he's right now sitting on 656 career home runs. That means he needs just five more homers to pass Willie Mays and move into fifth place on the all-time list. It's quite possible that would've happened within the first month of the 2020 season. Between March 26 and April 26, the Angels had 28 games on the schedule. Last season, Pujols averaged a home run every 5.7 games, which means he would be on pace to hit exactly five home runs over those first 28 games. Pujols is 40, so it's unlikely he would've played in all those early games. However, barring injury he's still a lineup primary and would've played enough to give him a shot at eclipsing Mays over that span. He'll get there eventually, but under normal circumstances it could've already happened.
Yes, many of these squandered moments will come to pass at later dates, but a number of those will not take place under the circumstances that help make such scenes memorable -- e.g., with braying fans in attendance. Even if these events aren't "lost" in the literal sense, many of them will make their belated arrivals in a compromised state. That's just one of many ways that the 2020 season, whatever it eventually looks like, won't be what it should've been.