Rick Honeycutt broke into Major League Baseball as a pitcher with the Seattle Mariners in 1977, when the Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays were expansion teams.
The former Lakeview High School and University of Tennessee standout pitched and then coached in the big leagues through additional expansions and divisional realignments, and he endured the work stoppage in 1994 that resulted in the cancellation of that year's World Series and also delayed and shortened the 1995 schedule. Honeycutt has never, however, entered a regular season with the goal of winning 40 games.
"I could never have imagined this," Honeycutt said this past week. "Win 40 games and you're usually headed home really early."
There has been nothing early about the 2020 MLB season, which was halted during spring training due to the coronavirus outbreak in mid-March and is scheduled to resume next week, with players reporting to their teams by Wednesday for training. Barring another shutdown, the actual season will begin July 23 and will consist of 60 games for each team over a 66-day stretch.
Honeycutt, who turns 66 on Monday, spent the past 14 seasons as Los Angeles Dodgers pitching coach but is transitioning into a special assistant role in the organization. The starting point with that role remains unknown.
"The Dodgers are going to hold their spring training in L.A., so they're going to get everybody in and make sure they follow all the health protocols," Honeycutt said. "For somebody like me, there are other issues to consider. Do they want me travelling? How many people are going to be allowed around the players?
"There are still a lot of questions whether or not early on if I will even be going to this next spring training."
Honeycutt's tenure as Dodgers pitching coach yielded 10 postseason trips, and he worked under four different managers — Grady Little (2006-07 seasons), Joe Torre (2008-10), Don Mattingly (2011-15) and Dave Roberts (2016-19). Los Angeles reached the National League Championship Series six times with Honeycutt and also made two World Series trips, losing in seven games to the Houston Astros in 2017 and losing in five to the Boston Red Sox in 2018.
Those titles by Houston and Boston have since been significantly tainted by elaborate sign-stealing measures employed by those teams.
Last season's Dodgers set a franchise standard with a 106-56 record during the regular season, but they lost their best-of-five NL Division Series to the Washington Nationals after winning two of the first three games. Los Angeles is the NL favorite again this year, having bolstered its roster with the addition of former Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts, but will a 60-game schedule alter the landscape?
After all, each game this summer will carry 2.7 times the weight of a contest in a normal 162-game season.
"A lot will depend on the health of the club when you start out," Honeycutt said. "Starting pitching still will not be up to full speed, and I would expect expanded rosters for at least the first two to three weeks of the season, especially for the pitching. The teams that have depth will have those advantages, and the Dodgers are one of those teams."
Honeycutt cited the Atlanta Braves as another team that could benefit given their surplus of young stars.
As a pitcher, Honeycutt appeared in a whopping 797 games during his 21-year career and ascended to the top of the sport when the Oakland Athletics won the 1989 World Series. In Oakland's championship year, Honeycutt made 64 appearances and went 2-2 with a 2.35 ERA.
No longer a pitcher or a coach, Honeycutt has spent the past few months in Chattanooga much like a fan trying his best to be patient for MLB owners and players to reach a deal.
"It's such an unprecedented time going through this virus," he said. "You've got teams spread out all over the country, and every state is different. You would hope they would be thinking about the sport and the fans, and my frustration was wanting them to just work something out. Nobody likes to hear owners and baseball players arguing over money, especially during a time like this.
"They've at least got dates now, and there is going to be some baseball played this year."