It’s Opening Day! Another of our favorite rites of spring. And as we have done every year here at Dandelion Chandelier, we’re sharing a preview of the new season from our expert team members. Our correspondents Vincent and Michael Thomas, a father-son team of avid and knowledgeable baseball fans, are sharing their annual guide to the Major League Baseball (MLB) season 2021. Here’s what you need to know on 10 key topics so that you can join the conversation about Opening Day in the MLB 2021 (from a safe social distance, of course). Presenting our annual inside guide to how to talk Major League Baseball (MLB) like an expert this 2021 season. Batter up!
Our inside guide to MLB Opening Day and the 2021 season
The 2021 Major League Baseball (MLB) season starts with Opening Day on April 1, 2021. For the first time since 1968, all 30 teams will play their first game of the season on the same day.
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Because there are 15 MLB Opening Day games scheduled for April 1, not all of the sports conversation at Passover and Easter gatherings this week won’t be about the Final Four teams in NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball National Championship Tournaments.
Here at Dandelion Chandelier, we want you to be ready when someone at the table (or on the Zoom) asks “so, are the New York Mets actually going to win it this year?” ‘Cause you know they will, right?
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To provide you with the actionable intelligence you need, we present our fourth annual list of ten Major League Baseball (MLB) Opening Day hot conversation topics.
10 Hot Topics to Know about on Opening Day MLB Season 2021
1. So, are the Mets going to win the World Series this year?
No. They will, however, be much better than they were last year. They will likely earn a berth in the National League playoffs. The National League teams that will be very good this year are the Los Angeles Dodgers, the San Diego Padres, and the Atlanta Braves. The best American League teams are the New York Yankees, the Chicago White Sox, the Toronto Blue Jays, and the Minnesota Twins. Two teams in each league who could be a surprise member of the elite group: the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Angels in the American League, and the Milwaukee Brewers and the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League. World Series Champion predictions: Vince: Dodgers over Yankees. Michael: Braves over Yankees
2. Is it just me, or are most of the very good teams from east coast or west coast cities?
It’s not you. Seven of the ten teams we predict will be MLB’s best in 2021 play in either the East Division or the West Division of their respective leagues. During the offseason, talent migrated to teams on the coasts from teams in the middle of the country or chose to stay with coastal teams.
The top free agent pitcher, Trevor Bauer, left the Cincinnati Reds and chose to sign with the Dodgers. Free agent centerfielder George Springer left the Houston Astros. He chose to sign with the Toronto Blue Jays, an American League East Division team. The other two top free agent players, infielder D.J. LeMahieu and catcher J.T. Realmuto, re-signed with the Yankees and the Phillies, respectively.
The Chicago Cubs traded All-Star pitcher Yu Darvish to the Padres. The Cleveland Indians traded All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor to the Mets. There were two notable exceptions to this trend. The St. Louis Cardinals of the National League Central Division acquired Nolan Arenado from the Colorado Rockies of the League’s West Division. In the American League, the Central Division White Sox signed the best free agent relief pitcher available, Liam Hendriks. He played for the West Division’s Oakland Athletics in 2020.
In 2020, three American League Central Division teams, and four National League Central Division teams, earned playoff berths. None of them advanced beyond the first round. If you live in the middle of the country, plan on watching a lot of nationally televised games at odd hours this season because they are being played outside of your time zone.
3. I hear Pittsburgh has a rookie named Ke’Bryan Hayes who’s supposed to be very good.
Nothing makes you appear to be a knowledgeable baseball insider more than being the one in the conversation with the “scoop” on who the best rookies will be. Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes, the son of former MLB player Charlie Hayes, is the most promising MLB rookie entering the 2021 season. Mr. Hayes debuted in 2020 and hit .376 in 24 games. Scouts rave about his fielding ability and predict that he will hit home runs while maintaining a high batting average. There is consensus that the other top National League rookies will be position players Dylan Carlson of the Cardinals and Ha-Seong Kim of the Padres (a player with experience in Korea’s KBO league signed by the Padres in the offseason) and pitcher Ian Anderson of the Braves.
Randy Arozarena, an outfielder who came seemingly out of nowhere to star for the Rays in the 2020 playoffs, is the pre-season favorite to win the American League’s Rookie of the Year award. Jarred Kelenic of the Seattle Mariners and Andrew Vaughn of the White Sox are the other top American League prospects.
If your favorite team is playing the Miami Marlins, be sure to tune in when Marlins rookie pitcher Sixto Sanchez is in the game. Besides having a name tailor-made for marketing, Mr. Sanchez throws his two-seam fastball at an average velocity of 96.6 miles per hour. He is this year’s “best young pitcher who you’ve never heard of.” Remember that you heard of him first from us.
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4. Is it OK to want a team to win because you like its front office?
Speaking of the Marlins, did you know that they made history last November by hiring Kim Ng to serve as their General Manager? Ms. Ng (pronounced “ang”) is the first woman ever to serve as an MLB General Manager. She is also the first Asian American ever to serve as an MLB General Manager. Moreover, she is the first woman to serve as a General Manager in any of the four major men’s sports leagues in North America (the MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL.) Did you know that Derek Jeter, the former Yankees shortstop who is a biracial Black man, is the Marlins’ Chief Executive Officer and part owner of the team?
Whatever your position is on issues of diversity and inclusion, it is impossible not to view Ms. Ng’s hiring, and the fact that Mr. Jeter occupied the position with authority to hire her, as good news and evidence of progress. Every girl and person of color who loves baseball has a higher ceiling in the game than before the Marlins hired Mr. Jeter and Ms. Ng. We have no reason to either like or dislike the Marlins. Because of Ms. Ng and Mr. Jeter, we’ll be cheering for the Marlins to prevail in any game not played against the Twins or the Detroit Tigers.
5. Do you remember the movie Field of Dreams with Kevin Costner?
In August, the Yankees will play a game against the White Sox in Dyersville, Iowa, the town that served as the setting for the 1989 movie Field of Dreams. The Field of Dreams Move Site is an actual baseball field and tourist attraction in Dyersville, a town of 4,000 residents located along the Mississippi River in northeast Iowa, near the point where Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin meet.
6. I think Shohei Ohtani will become the LeBron James of MLB this year.
Baseball media members covering the Los Angeles Angels’ Spring Training camp reported that the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani threw a pitch at 100 miles per hour and hit a 468-foot home run during the first week of Spring Training. Mr. Ohtani’s Angels teammate, three-time American League Most Valuable Player Mike Trout, is on record predicting that Mr. Ohtani will win 10 games as a pitcher and hit 30 home runs as a position player this season. If he produces those results as both a position player and a pitcher, he will be the closest thing the MLB has to the NBA’s LeBron James: a player talented enough and versatile enough to star at multiple positions and command the attention of even casual fans.
7. Tony LaRussa is the Joe Biden of MLB this year.
The White Sox earned a playoff berth in 2020. They are widely considered to be a team with a bright future because of the number of talented young players on their roster. The White Sox surprised everyone last October by hiring Tony LaRussa to serve as their new Manager. Mr. LaRussa is 76 years old. He has not managed a team since 2011. The Astros’ Manager, Dusty Baker, is the only other MLB Manager over the age of 70. If the White Sox win the 2021 World Series, Mr. LaRussa would be the oldest manager in history to win a World Series.
President Biden was 77 years old when he was elected President last November. He was 78 on his inauguration day. Before his inauguration, he had not served as an elected official since January of 2017.
Mr. LaRussa’s hiring was not a surprise on the merits. He is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame and has won the World Series three times as a Manager. Fans, especially those from Gen Z, question his “fit” with the White Sox. Apart from 2020 American League Most Valuable Player Jose Abreu and pitcher Lucas Giolito, the Sox’s best players are young, Black, and play the game with a healthy amount of hip-hop attitude. The White Sox’s team motto is: “Change the Game.”
In 2016, Mr. LaRussa criticized San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kapernick for kneeling during the National Anthem to raise awareness of police brutality and racial injustice: “I would tell a player protesting the anthem to sit inside the clubhouse. You’re not going to be out there representing our team and our organization by disrespecting the flag. No sir, I would not allow it.”
Last season, he criticized Fernando Tatis, Jr., the Padres’ outstanding, flamboyant young shortstop, of “violating the unwritten rules of baseball” by swinging at a 3-0 pitch and hitting a grand slam home run in a game against the Texas Rangers that the Padres were leading 7-0 at the time. At the press conference introducing him as the White Sox’s new manager, Mr. LaRussa said “There is not a racist bone in my body.” This is not a statement that inspires confidence in the new boss on the part of employees who are people of color.
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8. What will happen when the juries render their verdicts?
Like their counterparts in other professional sports leagues, African American MLB players spoke and acted in unprecedented ways on issues arising out of police officers’ killing of African Americans during the 2020 season. One example: the establishment of The Player’s Alliance. It is a newly formed coalition of over 150 current and former African American major leaguers. The Player’s Alliance wants to both grow the game and fight against injustices off the field. (https://theplayersalliance.com/)
In the same week that the 2021 MLB season starts, the trial of Derek Chauvin will commence in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Mr. Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, is charged with second- and third-degree homicide and manslaughter for the killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020-an incident captured on video by a bystander that sparked worldwide outrage and protests because of its brutality. Mr. Chauvin is White. Mr. Floyd was African American.
The presiding judge expects the trial to end in one month. If his estimate is correct, the jury will likely render its verdict five to six weeks after the start of the season. The other three former Minneapolis police officers charged with crimes for allegedly aiding and abetting Mr. Chauvin will be tried together in a second proceeding later this summer. The jury in that case will also likely return a verdict during the season. What impact will the verdicts have on the MLB players-and their fans-who raised their voices for racial justice in new ways last season?
Bonus: after decades of resistance, the Cleveland Indians announced that they will change the team’s nickname. This is in response to protests from Indigenous communities that the “Indians” nickname and brand images are racist and insulting to their culture. What new nickname do you think Cleveland’s owners should choose for their team? Michael’s pick: Cleveland Spiders.
9. Breaking up is hard to do.
Several teams will have to make difficult player personnel decisions during the 2021 season. The Cubs already decided not to re-sign leftfielder Kyle Schwarber, one of the heroes of their 2016 World Championship team, during the offseason. They are unlikely to be serious contenders for the 2021 World Series. As the season progresses closer to the deadline for teams to trade a player without allowing every other team to claim the player first, (“waivers”) the Cubs will have to decide whether to trade three other stars from their 2016 team who will be free agents after the 2021 season: Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Javier Baez. For Cubs fans, trading one or more of these players would be commensurate with the break-up of The Beatles or The Supremes (readers under the age of 35: please Google these musical groups.)
The Astros will be more competitive than the Cubs, but have already lost Mr. Springer, the star centerfielder and leadoff hitter from their 2017 World Championship team to free agency. Carlos Correa, their star shortstop and another key member of their 2017 team, will be a free agent after the 2021 season. Mr. Correa has already declined a $120 million contract offer from the team. If the Astros aren’t in contention near the trade deadline, will they trade Mr. Correa for promising younger players, or risk losing him, like Mr. Springer, to another team who will sign him as a free agent during the offseason?
The Washington Nationals face a less likely, but potentially even more significant, possible loss of a World Series hero than the Cubs or the Astros. Max Scherzer, the Nationals’ All-Star starting pitcher, will, like Mr. Correa and the Cubs’ trio, become a free agent after this season. After winning the 2019 World Series, the Nationals finished the 2020 season with a losing record. If the Nationals are closer to their 2020 performance than their 2019 performance in June or July, they could be tempted to trade Mr. Scherzer if another team offers the right package of prospects in return.
10. We’d better enjoy Opening Day this year. There might not be one in 2022.
After all that’s been cancelled because of the pandemic, it pains us to write these words. The Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”) between the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) and MLB expires at the end of this season. The MLBPA’s leadership distrusts the MLB leadership (the owners of the 30 teams.) The two sides were unable to reach agreement on the length of the re-started season. This was after the pandemic cancelled games scheduled for the months of April, May, and June last year. They failed to agree on whether to continue two 2020 season experiments with rule changes-an expanded number of playoff teams and applying the Designated Hitter Rule to both leagues, during the offseason.
Under these circumstances, the negotiation of a new CBA is likely to be both difficult and prolonged. If there is no new CBA before the start of 2022 Spring Training, will the MLBA go on strike? Will the team owners “lock out” the players?
Hot Topics to know about on Opening Day MLB Season 2021
That’s our inside guide on what to know about on Opening Day of the MLB 2021 season. Now you’ve got everything you need to hold your own when the topic turns to baseball this weekend.
The events of the last year have taught us that we should not take anything that is important to us for granted. That includes the simple delight of listening to our favorite MLB team’s game on the radio. Even if you don’t watch or listen to any of the 15 Opening Day games on April 1, do this: find the song Centerfield by John Fogerty on YouTube or your favorite music streaming app. Listen to it. Enjoy the fact that it is Opening Day, with all the excitement and hope that accompany it.
Stay safe and strong out there, dear reader. And happy Opening Day!
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Vincent Thomas is a community college academic dean, a former practicing attorney, and the brother of Dandelion Chandelier founder Pamela Thomas-Graham. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His favorite Major League Baseball team is the Detroit Tigers.
Michael Thomas is a rising junior at The College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio; an Economics major and Spanish minor; and the nephew of Dandelion Chandelier founder Pamela Thomas-Graham. His favorite Major League Baseball team is the Chicago Cubs.
Join our community
For access to insider ideas and information on the world of luxury, sign up for our Dandelion Chandelier newsletter. And see luxury in a new light.