The undercurrent throughout Ken Rosenthal’s article for The Athletic this past weekend, (in which he discussed some of the possibilities being considered if Major League Baseball does actually have a 2020 campaign; noting that even a plan to play initial games in empty parks presents a multitude of problems), is that with the COVID-19/coronavirus pandemic currently interrupting every aspect of life around the world, it’s possible there won’t be any season at all this year.
“The season, at least initially, could be played in Florida or more likely Arizona, where Spring Training parks are more concentrated,” Rosenthal wrote, considering one option that MLB is reportedly exploring.
“But the logistics of quarantining 30 teams in one area would be extremely complex and potentially controversial, sources say, requiring local, state and federal government cooperation and resources that might be necessary to fight the coronavirus pandemic.”
While MLB considers the potential options, with the health and safety of their players, fans, and the workers involved everyone’s main concern, “... the possibility of the sport returning this summer in stadiums open to fans appears increasingly remote,” Rosenthal added.
“To play under quarantine, the sport would need to protect the health not only of players and other club personnel, but also umpires and those producing the television broadcasts, plus hotel workers, bus drivers and anyone else involved with the players and games.”
“Your margin of error is so small,” though, an unnamed baseball official tells Rosenthal, with the possibility for damage even one infected person somewhere in that chain could do with everyone gathered in one place a serious concern.
With social distancing guidelines extended to at least April 30th at this point, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommending against any gatherings of more than 50 people through May 10th, and the death toll in the U.S. and around the world rising, Rosenthal writes, “... it’s difficult to imagine the CDC approving the opening of major sporting venues to spectators anytime soon.”
While a so-called “quarantine plan” of playing in empty stadiums with the players kept in a secure environment is a consideration, it would also “divert” health care resources, further straining an already overwhelmed system, another argument against any attempt to get in any sort of season.
“[I]n the nation’s current state,” Rosenthal concludes, “... the quarantine plan might be baseball’s best chance for returning as quickly as possible. And that plan might not be viable at all.”
Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo declined to discuss the options under consideration in his conference call with reporters this past Monday, when he was asked about ideas like extending the regular season through October, or playing at a neutral site in order to have some sort of postseason in warm weather.
“I think that when we talk about scheduling at this point it’s hard to say what can or should be done,” Rizzo explained. “MLB is exhausting all of their brainpower and manpower along with the 30 clubs to come up some ideas on what’s the best way to play a regular season and as many games as possible and get to a playoff scenario.”
“As the Commissioner said,” the General Manager of the defending World Series champs added, “we’re going to need to get creative, but beyond that, we’re just speculating on all these things, and I don’t think it’s the right thing to do for us as an individual team.”
“These are industry-wide concepts,” Rizzo said, “and suffice it to say, we have all the trust in the Commissioner’s Office and the Players’ Association to get something done that is going to be safe for players, fans, and staff, and to get us as competitive a season as possible within the parameters that we have to work with.”
MLB and the MLBPA did work together on an agreement, announced late last month, that’s designed to address salary and service-time issues with the season postponed indefinitely, but the two sides agreed at the time that baseball wouldn’t return until bans on gatherings of over 50 people are lifted, travel restrictions in the U.S. and Canada end, and the health experts determine it’s safe for players and staff (even in a quarantine situation).
The fact that the two sides reached an agreement, Rizzo said, is obviously a positive, but there are any number of considerations that have to be worked out if there will be any games played this year.
“I think the agreement between MLB and the Players’ Association, I think it was good for the game that they were able to come to an agreement,” Rizzo acknowledged.
“There are so many unknowns with our game right now that I think it’s great that the two sides were able to settle a few of these items and kind of put that behind us.
“I think it showed good faith between both sides, and the specifics of it, we’re still in the midst of diving through and kind of crunching the numbers of what the agreement says.
“To both their sides’ credit, it’s a complicated deal that they put together very thoughtfully with players’ safety in mind, and with the careers of these guys, so hats off to both of those sides that worked extremely hard to get this thing done. I think it was for the betterment of baseball in unique and trying times.”
Will all the work, out-of-the-box considerations, and sacrifices everyone involved is willing to consider actually result in a season of some sort getting played at some point this year?