Major League Baseball players: Just like us.
In a report from ESPN’s Jeff Passan, MLB and the MLBPA really, really miss baseball and are hoping to start the season for May, though June could be the more likely time.
The pitch: All 30 MLB squads will play the entire season in Arizona, in ballparks in the greater Phoenix area. At the time of this posting, Arizona had just over 2,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in the state, one of the lesser-afflicted areas in the country.
The plan has reportedly been discussed over the past two weeks, and it looks like MLB is trying to get something on the field while also keeping fans safe. That said, the league shouldn’t force something on the field for the sake of putting a product out. Health and lives are at stake, after all.
In any case, this news comes a few days after a fairly clandestine phone call between President Donald Trump and the commissioners of the country’s major sports leagues; the call reportedly urged the heads of their respective sports to keep fighting to get their sports on the field. MLB, apparently, wants to be the first pro sports league back, and their plan is … something special.
There are, of course, lots of hurdles to be jumped. Oftentimes, “crazy enough to work” turns out to be just crazy, and it’s a concept that only works in “Fast and Furious” movies. There’s no Coronas here, folks. Only coronavirus.
That said, MLB put together a plan that only Dominic Toretto and his gang of misfits might be able to execute. Here’s what you need to know and why it’s bonkers:
Reportedly supported by health officials
Passan mentions several times that the plan takes steps to ensure that certain guidelines implemented by health officials are followed, and the plan even has the support of federal officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Among the precautions:
One of the main hurdles in trying to get the season off in May is the availability of coronavirus tests with a quick turnaround, Passan notes in his report. That method of testing is expected to come in early May, which means a June start date is a likelier option.
While the country’s handling of the pandemic has been questionable at times (being generous), should MLB’s plan get the OK from respected health officials, then there’s no apparent harm to trying to get guys on the field.
MLB is trying to be proactive
Among the major sports, arguably none will have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic more than baseball. The start of the season has been delayed indefinitely with no guarantee that games will be played this season, even with this contingency plan in place.
But here’s the thing: After a delayed start to their response to the pandemic, MLB officials are trying to bring the sport back to the people, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s just a crazy thing. Keeping emergency plans in their pocket is smart, after all, and if there’s an opportunity to play games, even slim, then they’ll do their best. As long as it’s within the limits of staying healthy and smart.
They’re also doing their part to try to make the product more appealing to the audience. Reportedly, on-field mic’d-up players is an option, and would give fans a bigger peek behind the curtain.
Lives and health are, obviously, significantly more important than watching a dude hit a ball and another dude throw one. But if MLB is taking every step imaginable to try to put the product on the field while staying within certain guidelines and keeping its players safe, then maybe it’s not the worst idea in the world.
What does this mean for MiLB?
The question is self-explanatory. What will this mean for MiLB ballplayers? Will MLB teams have unlimited access to their farm systems? If players get sent down, where will they go?
The obvious answer is that rosters would probably have to be expanded to make for a viable on-field product, especially if doubleheaders are on the table as Passan mentioned in the report. While no specific number of games was mentioned, if MLB wants to move forward and play as many games as possible, it only makes sense to keep a lot of players around.
Is that number 30 players? Or maybe 35 players with 28 active on any given day?
But MiLB teams aren’t playing, and there’s no telling when (if at all) they’ll play this season. While the two operate independent of one another, teams are still going to have to dip into their farm systems in some way.
It’s crazy. That’s it.
There are a lot of logisitical flaws in this plan. A lot. A third time, for emphasis: A lot. Even an optimist would call this plan nuts.
Trying to put out a professional league product while navigating through a pandemic is a very, very dangerous game to play, and MLB’s plan sounds bat-brains insane. Sequestering athletes in hotels? Staying away from their homes for over four months? Even with limited travel, with how easily the coronavirus is spread from person to person, there’s not a single guarantee that someone wouldn’t get it from the pizza delivery guy or the hotel desk clerk.
While some of the mental imagery of the plan is comedic — the home plate umpire standing 6 feet behind the catcher (when they already can’t see the strike zone properly), teammates celebrating with air high-fives and elbow bumps — that humor will only go so far.
There’s also the obvious logistics questions: What about hotels? Temporary housing? Expanded rosters? Service time? How will the schedule look? There are so many hurdles to get over to get this plan off the ground, and that’s just the beginning. They’re all things that MLB is supposedly talking through right now, but that doesn’t make the plan seem any less pie-in-the-sky.
Even though players are on the road a majority of time during a normal baseball season (including spring training), asking players to stay away from families for a third of the year is a difficult ask. What about players with young kids? Are spouses OK with a dude being away from home for that long?
This is all, obviously, contingent on whether the MLBPA agrees to the plan, and, Passan reports, they’ve talked it through in recent weeks. It’s a plan that’s bonkers when you boil it down. And if it’s followed through, it’ll be the stuff of sports miracles.
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