Throughout this whole process, it feels like we (and by that, I really mean me) have gone back and forth on whether baseball will actually be played this season. When things first shut down, it seemed like a no-brainer that we’d see players back on the field at some point (though that original two week idea seemed sketchy even when it was announced). As things dragged on and the pandemic seemed to reach its crescendo, though, the outlook for a return at all seemed pretty bleak.
Now, cases are falling around the country. There’s still danger, there’s still a lot of sickness, but some states are starting to relax restrictions and, as they say, “open up for business”. With May just about on top of us, this gives a lot of the calendar to put some sort of return plan into place.
Yesterday, Jeff Passan gave that a bit of a shot in the arm. His take, after talking with people in baseball that should know, is that there will be some sort of MLB baseball in 2020. However, as Allen and I talked about on Meet Me at Musial this weekend, this month is the key one. If there’s not a plan in place by the end of May (even if it hasn’t started to be executed yet), it feels like things won’t actually happen. It’s going to take some time from plan announcement to implementation and we know there’s got to be a spring training in there as well. If you don’t know on June 1 what is going to happen, you aren’t likely to get a season started by the 4th of July. And if you can’t get a season started by the 4th of July, the odds of a season actually happening drop significantly.
Right now the “hub” plans seem to be the most likely path to seeing competitive baseball again, whether it is one (Arizona), two (Arizona and Florida), three (Arizona, Florida, Texas) or more. Honestly, it sounds like the Arizona-only plan is probably not going to happen, even though it does have the advantage of being a state with fewer coronavirus cases, though most of them are obviously going to be in the Phoenix area.
The biggest question, as it has been for some time, seems to be about testing. From the article:
Speaking of testing, that’s another vital question for MLB: Will it be widespread enough that the league could reasonably test players, managers, coaches, umpires and the many others involved with making games work? It was supposed to be in April. The United States’ per-capita testing rates pale compared to the world. Baseball officials were told it would be feasible in May. It isn’t yet.
MLB, because of its financial might and experience with drug testing, almost certainly would be able to procure a sufficient amount of tests. The optics matter too much for it to be that simple, though. It goes beyond testing: When MLB is hunting for hundreds of smart thermometers, so are other businesses — and hospitals.
All of this gets back to having a plan by the end of May. The testing: It’s going to take time. The potential locations revealing themselves: ditto. Some officials are convinced MLB will decide long before then, but a decision in May dovetails with a timeline that a number of people in decision-making positions see as realistic.
There’s the money issue that needs to be decided as well. Now, I do think it will be sorted out and probably won’t be terribly long once there is a more firm plan on when the game might return. There’s no way either side wants to be thought of as the side that kept baseball from returning, especially if there are no other sports going on. (There might be a little more leeway if the NHL and NBA start back up, especially if they quickly get to the playoffs.) That said, the issues are significant. As I suggested on Musial, my compromise would be to cut 15% (or some amount) from every contract over $10 million (or some level). That would allow the owners to recoup a good bit of money while also allowing the young players, the guys that are pretty much underpaid as it is right now, to not have to sacrifice yet again.
If baseball is going to come back, we’re probably going to have a firmer idea of how in the next three weeks. Of course, with states starting to open up, the risk of another outbreak or flareup increases as well. I know we haven’t shut down here in Arkansas as much as other states have and our cases are fairly low, but I keep waiting for someone with the virus to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and see it flare up again. If that sort of thing happens, it’s game over for sports in 2020, I think. I don’t see how anyone could come back if things start going back up the hill instead of down like we are seeing now.
I will say I’m not fond of the “huge playoff” idea that Passan puts in his article. Again, my biggest holdup is being able to compare this season to past and future season as much as possible. It’s going to be different, sure, but if they can play 100 games against competition they’d normally play for the most part and then have a regular postseason, it makes it easier for me to consider the 2020 World Series champions as legit as the 2019 or the 2022 ones. (Let’s leave 2017 and 2018 out of this conversation for the moment, shall we?)
It may be strange and different watching teams without fans–because the idea that fans will ever be allowed in seems really hard to believe, though if Governor Cuomo believes MLB could return to New York this season, maybe other cities will be well enough to at least have some limited seating capacity–but right now I think we are on the plus side of the 50/50 shot at a season, which is something that should help us get through however much longer this is!