A recent report held that MLB and the players union were discussing the possibility of starting the season in Arizona with games played in empty ballparks, but the latest news coming out of talks between the two sides makes that a near certainty. It also significantly decreases the timeline for baseball’s potential return.
According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, MLB and the union appear to have the backing of federal public health officials on a plan that could have the season starting as early as May. As far-fetched as that sounds given everything we’ve experienced collectively over the last few weeks, not to mention the logistical hurdles involved, the idea of hunkering down in a centralized location seems like the clearest path to restarting the season relatively quickly.
The plan calls for teams and personnel to remain in semi-isolation at local hotels, leaving only to play games at either Chase Field or one of 10 spring training facilities. All of those venues would be empty, save for the teams, umpires, and perhaps very limited broadcast crews. The league and players can’t do anything without a federal green light, but Passan wrote that “officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Health have been supportive of a plan that would adhere to strict isolation, promote social distancing and allow MLB to become the first professional sport to return.”
It’s easy to connect the dots between this latest report and the recent conference call between the president and the commissioners of all the pro sports leagues, but it sounds as though the framework for a restart has been in place for a while. Either way, there is a vested interest in reestablishing some semblance of “normal” and you can understand how both the administration and MLB, along with other sports, would like to lead that charge.
That said, May still seems awfully aggressive even under the best of circumstances, since they’d still need to reboot spring training for 2-4 weeks. And that’s to say nothing for necessary advances in coronavirus testing and treatment, which are probably more important than anything else when it comes to getting the season started. Then you think about the possibility of playing the entire season in the Phoenix area, isolated from family all the while. That isn’t going to be easy for anyone,.
With safety firmly established as the number one priority, at least publicly, it’s pretty obvious that the big driver for all of this will be money. The players won’t want to forfeit their entire 2019 salaries, the owners want to figure out a way to generate some good PR and cash in on what figures to be strong TV ratings. That probably means restructuring revenue-sharing rules for 2020 due to the extenuating circumstances, but what’s a few million between insanely wealthy friends?
If you really want to get into the weeds as far as the potential ramifications of starting play in a world of social distancing, check out some of the other details in Passan’s post. Among the possibilities are players sitting 6 feet apart in the stands rather than being in the clubhouse, no mound visits, and an electronic zone so umpires can stay away from catchers and hitters. It really gets wild when you start digging into it and thinking about exactly what would be required to make this work.
Not wild enough, however, to scare MLB and the players away from doing everything they can to have a 2020 season that features as many games as possible. That’s been the North Star this whole time and it seems as though the decision-makers are following it faithfully, even if that means getting a little too hopeful with some of their planning. But hey, maybe baseball really can be the first league to return and maybe they get it right.
At this point, I’m happy to take whatever bit of hope I can get.
Update: MLB released a statement Tuesday refuting any notion that it has “sought or received approval of any plan from federal, state and local officials, or the Players Association.” While acknowledging the active pursuit of “numerous contingency plans,” including the option of playing in a single location, the statement said the league has not developed a detailed strategy.
It’s possible the news from late Monday night was merely a trial balloon, or, perhaps more likely, that the relayed information was skewed a bit by some form of informational avarice. Not necessarily on Passan’s part, mind you, since the source may well have embellished some details. Either way, the initial idea was highly flawed and even more highly contingent upon the resolution of several factors well outside MLB’s purview.
The only thing we can say for sure at this point is that there are probably a million and one different iterations of the plan to resume, every one of which we’re going to hear about by the time this thing is done.