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That 2020 asterisk? Rays say it applies, but for a different reason

Despite the shortened schedule, multiple challenges have made this season seem more difficult.
Rays players watch play in the eighth inning of Game 5 of the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers Sunday in Arlington, Texas.
Rays players watch play in the eighth inning of Game 5 of the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers Sunday in Arlington, Texas. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Oct. 27, 2020
Updated Oct. 27, 2020

ARLINGTON, Texas — As baseball finally returned to the field in July, there was a popular narrative about how the accomplishments of the pandemic-delayed and abbreviated season would be forever noted with an asterisk.

Reporters asked about the legitimacy of playing only 60 games instead of 162. Players and managers acknowledged the differences but pushed back a bit on the question, saying they had to see how it would play out. At least one major newspaper themed its entire preview section around the concept.

And now with the season at its conclusion, either with Tuesday’s late Game 6 of the World Series or the Rays and Dodgers taking it to a Game 7 on Wednesday night, it seems clear that the 2020 season should be annotated.

But not for the reasons first thought.

“Whoever puts the trophy above their head at the end of this, there may be an asterisk,” Rays pitching coach Kyle Snyder said Monday, “but for me it would be more meaningful than a normal season just given all that organizations have had to contend with.”

The list of differences and challenges players and staff faced this season is lengthy:

  • Extensive health and safety protocols that included mask-wearing, social-distancing and daily COVID-19 testing that disrupted some game-day routines.
  • Multiple injuries that seemed tied to the rushed three-week Spring 2.0 prep time after the months-long industry shutdown.
  • Quarantine-type restrictions that led some players to be separated from their families, kept them essentially locked in their rooms on the road, then in a bubble-style setup for the postseason.
  • Motivation of playing for about one-third of their scheduled salaries and with no fans in the stands.
  • Rigors of a condensed schedule in the regular season that some players said was more taxing than a normal one, and more so in the playoffs, with an extra-round added. And more.

“So yeah, there may be an asterisk,” Snyder said. “But the asterisk should suggest that what we have gone through is more difficult than a typical year.”

“I wouldn’t want to do it again, I can tell you that,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "That’s the easiest answer.

“... I personally could not imagine being a player in today’s game with everything that has been on their plate. And not just the pandemic. There’s been a lot of stuff that challenged them. I applaud our guys, I give them a lot of credit how they have handled it, and still continue to find ways to win.”

The challenges were universal throughout the game and were handled different ways. The Rays and Dodgers were the final two teams playing, but certainly not the only success stories. The Marlins making the playoffs after a COVID-19 outbreak forced them to shuffle a major chunk of their roster also was inspiring.

Kevin Kiermaier, the longest-tenured Ray, said what set them apart was an attitude of not allowing the pandemic-related restrictions and issues to become a convenient excuse on or off the field.

And that the asterisk is there for the right reasons.

“Coming in, we knew it was going to be a crazy, wild year,” Kiermaier said. "I said a lot of people are going to throw a lot of excuses out there about how we didn’t have enough preparation time and whatnot. It’s unfortunate how this season had kind of been injury-plagued for the whole season. But at the same time you go with the guys who are available.

"We’ve used a lot of our people and guys have stepped up and filled some huge roles. That’s a credit to our players and our coaching staff and how our organization develops guys. We just have talent at each and every level of our system. It’s been great. We never wanted to be that team throwing excuses out there.

“We had the same opportunity and the same amount of games as every other team out there, and we’ve thrived this whole season,” Kiermaier continued. “I’m so proud of the guys, showing up to the field each and every day ready to play. It hasn’t been easy, what all of us and all of baseball has had to deal with. Just completely different from what we’re used to. But I know what goes on in our clubhouse, and I know our guys are motivated.”

Also, accountable, which veteran Charlie Morton has noted several times in applauding their adherence to the protocols to keep each other healthy.

First base coach Ozzie Timmons said it also helps that they like each other.

“These guys play hard all the time, they all get along well, so the clubhouse camaraderie is awesome,” Timmons said. “I always feel teams that win have a good clubhouse. And with this coronavirus and quarantine and stuff, that has to be a big thing to get along because we’re stuck with each other. We can’t go anywhere. We’re always together. So when you have guys that always get along and have fun together, it makes it easier. … And they’ve got each other’s back.”

Despite having to go through the additional Wild Card Series after winning the AL East and playing the division series against the Yankees in five consecutive intense days and league championship series against the Astros in seven, life in the postseason seems to have been easier.

The bubble-style resorts Major League Baseball arranged in California and Texas allow the players to have wives and kids with them and to roam the grounds rather than be restricted to their rooms.

But there were still some issues.

“You’re staying in a hotel room for over a month, not being able to see our (extended) families, it’s tough,” outfielder Hunter Renfroe said. “It’s a lot harder than a regular postseason. We’re all in the same hotel. Everybody has to put up with each other. Everybody has to eat the same food every single day and sleep in a bed that may not be your favorite thing ever. It’s tough. It’s been a tough season.”

The Rays aren’t the only ones talking about it. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts spoke about the challenges they faced in getting to the Series as well. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told MLB Network Radio in late September “you could even argue this might be the toughest world championship to ever win, given the circumstances we’re dealing with. … To get there to be the last team standing, it’s going to be quite the accomplishment.”

Even with an asterisk.