Late Monday night, Jeff Passan came out with an article that said that the MLB was at least considering an idea of playing games in Arizona in empty stadiums to at least start the season. The idea, the basic premise of which has also come up for the NFL and the NBA from what I understand, is to sequester all teams in hotels in Arizona, keeping them contained while still letting games go on. (And it should be noted MLB’s official response was a little less gung-ho about this happening.)
Before we get into the feasibility of this plan, which requires good, quick, and reliable testing, something that is not exactly ubiquitous right now, let’s look at it from just a general sense. On the one hand, it’s baseball returning. We’d have the chance to see games. We’d have some sort of new entertainment during a stressful time. And, given they want to start in early May with a spring training, we might get something approximating a full season.
So I’d hate to shoot this down, but it’d also be real weird. First off, part of the enjoyment of baseball is the atmosphere and the experience. Even if you are, like me, not able to go to games live very often, the buzz of the crowd is part of the deal. To hear people get excited about a fly ball. To hear the groan after a big strikeout. Granted, we in St. Louis are a little spoiled in that we get to see a full stadium every night–playing in front of an empty stadium might not be a huge adjustment for Miami or Pittsburgh–but it would be really, really weird to hear every little sound in some sort of vacuum.
I know the plan looks to add microphones to players, but for me, that just adds to the….unseriousness of it. I don’t want players with microphones during real games. I am sure they do some talking but I don’t want them worrying about saying the wrong thing or distracted by the extra attention when games matter. Spring training and All-Star Games? Love it, because if they flub a fly ball while talking to Joe Buck, it doesn’t matter. Imagine losing the division by one game and losing one game on a play like that.
Then there’s the traditional boost in stats that Arizona gives to the spring players. Would we take seriously 50 homers or anything like that if teams played in spring training stadiums all year long? How would inflated ERAs look for a player like Jack Flaherty when he is scheduled to hit arbitration? Would a full season in Arizona, at least the games not played in Chase Field, feel like a cut-rate version of the professional game we’re used to? And is that OK?
Other parts of the plan–electronic strike zone, no mound visits–become problematic as well. If you are going to put those in place so the umpire doesn’t have to be that close to the batter or catcher and that the pitcher and catcher/manager don’t interact on the field, what about the players on the bases? If a runner gets on first, does Paul Goldschmidt have to play in short right? Stolen bases might be a jolt that way, I guess. But if you are looking at making significant changes to limit exposure to each other, you’ve got to look at the whole picture.
Though while the idea of each team having players sit in the stands six feet apart has some humorous appeal, are you never going to let them be in the clubhouse together? I guess showers would have to wait until they got back to the hotel. I’d guess they wouldn’t have to do postgame interviews. Would the media even be allowed in this quarantine bubble? Or would they have to write their game stories from watching the games on TV? (Talk about blurring that blogger/media line!)
Then there’s the idea….well, let me just quote it:
While the possibility of a player or staff member testing positive for the coronavirus exists, even in a secured setting, officials do not believe that a positive test alone would necessarily be cause to quarantine an entire team or shut down the season, sources said.
Doesn’t that basically go against everything that people are saying about stopping the spread of this virus? Sure, it might be overly cautious, but it’s also preventative. If a person starts showing symptoms, they could have exposed their entire team and some other teams before knowing it. I guess I can understand it a little bit, given that the possible population of people effected might be limited, but these players are going back to hotels. I’m sure all precautions would be taken but still, they are going to be interacting with staff there as well. Social distancing and everything can be effective, but it doesn’t take much of a slipup and suddenly Arizona is another hot spot. And Major League Baseball gets the blame.
As Passan points out, one of the real drawbacks is the players being separated from their families for perhaps the entire season. I don’t think that’d go over well with anyone, really. Most guys already talk about the drain the season is on them when they can’t see their families half the time (or less, if they don’t have their family in the town they play in). Skype, FaceTime, and the like only go so far. I wonder if some older guys would retire rather than do that, especially if they’ve been thinking about it anyway.
It’s a unique idea, one that brings about some huge logistical challenges. There’s Chase Field, 10 spring training stadiums (which are close to MLB standards, at least) and then “perhaps other nearby fields”. What if the Cardinals have their “home games” on some high school’s field while the Diamondbacks get their regular home? How much of an advantage does being the only team playing where they should be playing give Arizona anyway? I don’t know.
Look, the 2020 season is always going to have an asterisk and it is always going to be somewhat discounted no matter what happens (assuming there IS a 2020 season, of course). So I’m not saying this plan is terrible or that it isn’t better than the alternative of no baseball. I just don’t know that it’s going to go the way we think or we’ll be as happy that baseball is back after a month of inflated stats and empty stands as we would be on Opening Day.
At least the two sides are thinking of ways to play this season. Where there’s light there’s hope!