These are not necessarily the most important stories we posted the last year, as you can see when you look back at the postings from this week. Still, as a way to sum up what has surely been the worst year in the history of baseball, this list should both give you a feel for the year as well as nightmare flashbacks to the terrors of 2020:
10. 2020 MLB Rule Changes Unveiled. Before the pandemic delayed the start of the 2020 MLB season, rule changes were announced. Many of these changes, such as the new guidelines on roster size, were altered in the wake of COVID-19, and other rule changes were implemented when play resumed, including an extra-innings rule and the use of the DH in the National League.
9. Field of Dreams construction work continues. In May it was not a sure thing the MLB season would evolve the way it did, so work on a Field of Dreams ballpark in Dyersville, IA continued in expectation of an August date. Alas, the game ended up being scrapped, with rental portions of the facility torn down. However, the game was rescheduled for 2021.
8. Let the Affiliate Dance begin! More than a year after MLB signaled its desire to take over MiLB with the threat to eliminate 42 teams, the first affiliations and cuts were announced, with the New York Yankees adding Somerset Patriots and Hudson Valley Renegades as new affiliates and eliminating Trenton Thunder (which ended up shifting to the new summer-collegiate MLB Draft League) and cutting ties with the Charleston RiverDogs (which ended up landing the Tampa Bay Rays as a parent). Dumping the Thunder was a move sending shock waves across Minor League Baseball: It signaled that some long-term relationships were not sacred.
7. MiLB: We’re in the endgame now. Before MLB shared details of its vision of the future MiLB, the future of Minor League Baseball as an independent entity was up in the air in April. But the broad outline of expectations were being leaked by both sides, expectations that were later presented as done deals: 120 teams, direct MLB oversight of the sport, shifted costs from MLB to MiLB, and no MiLB says in affiliations.
6. MLB teams adding cutouts for ballpark ambiance. When 2020 play resumed, a challenge was how to liven up a game presentation on the big screen. The NBA had addressed the same challenge with videoscreens and virtual fans, but a baseball game operates on a much larger scale. Fox tried the virtual-fan approach at the beginning of the 2020 season, but the better solution came in the form of fan cutouts in the stands. Teams also sold cutouts for charity in a nice adjunct promo.
5. MLB expects fans to return. But will they? When MLB opened 2020 training camps at home ballparks, front offices were champing at the bit to open the gates and welcome fans. In the end, no team welcomed home fans, and only a small number of fans were allowed into the World Series. The concern back in June was that fans would be too nervous to attend games. That same concern exists today as MLB plans for an uncertain 2021.
4. Best of the Ballparks 2020 indy vote moves to Final Four. We spend a lot of time discussing how Minor League Baseball will be different in 2021, but so will independent baseball. On the plus, we now have a new top-level independent league in the form of the Pioneer League, and three major independent leagues–the Atlantic League, Frontier League and American Association–were sanctioned as MLB Partner Leagues. In addition, several former MiLB teams are looking at a shift to indy status. On the minus side, three leading independent teams (St. Paul Saints, Somerset Patriots and Sugar Land Skeeters) were absorbed into the new Minor League Baseball.
3. RIP Minor League Baseball: 1901-2020. When the last Professional Baseball Agreement between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball expired on Sept. 30, it marked the end of the special relationship between MLB and MiLB. And with the inevitable end of the National Association, so ended a uniquely American institution. What will be called Minor League Baseball in 2021 will not be the same as the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, and we’re all a little diminished as a result.
2. Final Four time in Best of the Ballparks 2020 MiLB Triple-A fan vote. Despite a canceled 2020 MiLB season, we went ahead with our annual Best of the Ballparks vote, which ended up generating more responses than in previous years. The Final Four: Las Vegas Ballpark (Las Vegas Aviators), Riverfront Stadium (Wichita Wind Surge) Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark (Oklahoma City Dodgers) and Isotopes Park (Albuquerque Isotopes). In the end, Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark prevailed.
1. Details of MLB takeover of MiLB emerge. As MLB embarked on its takeover of MiLB, it took over a year for crucial details to emerge about what the sport would look like in 2021 and beyond. In this story, we detailed the tentative league alignments (which, as of this point, have not been finalized), the then-status of the Pioneer and NY-Penn Leagues, and how the sport was paralyzed by the lack of MLB action.