Add former Cubs great Rick Sutcliffe’s voice to Dr. Anthony Fauci’s when it comes to their desire to devise a way to play major league baseball this summer, by any safe means necessary.
The difference: Sutcliffe — as he once famously did more than three decades ago — is putting his money where his mouth is, pledging to give up his salary as a broadcaster to make it happen.
“I’ve talked with a lot of people, players, the association, owners, presidents and GMs,” Sutcliffe told NBC Sports Chicago. “It’s a great opportunity for everybody to just open their arms and do whatever it takes. If I’m a player and I’ve got to give up half my salary, I’ll do it.”
Sutcliffe in 1987 offered $100,000 of his salary as the Cubs’ ace to encourage management to sign Andre Dawson as a free agent.
Now? If it means getting the 2020 season started amid the COVID-19 crisis?
“I’ll do the same with my salary at ESPN,” Sutcliffe said.
It worked the first time. The Cubs signed Dawson, and the right fielder won the MVP for the Cubs that year.
“We need a live sporting event of some kind on TV, we need a pennant chase, we need a champion,” said Sutcliffe, who also maintains a close relationship with the Cubs as a spring instructor and unofficial ambassador. “I just think it’s a great opportunity for baseball. Everybody take a step back, and whatever it is out there that needs to be done to make it happen — whether by an owner or a player — there’s no arguing about this. This is important, as important as maybe anything in baseball.”
Sutcliffe’s comments came after commissioner Rob Manfred cautioned during an interview Tuesday “that baseball is not going to return until the public health situation is improved to the point that we’re comfortable that we can play games in a manner that is safe for our players, our employees and fans in a way that will not impact the public health situation adversely.”
Meanwhile, a Snapchat interview with Fauci, the nation’s highest-profile infectious disease expert, widely published on Wednesday suggested the possibility of playing this summer in a scenario involving games for TV without fans in the stadiums and frequent testing of players, who would be “very well surveilled” in quarantine-like conditions.
“I think this is going to be implemented by the initiation and the initiative of the people who own these clubs. If you could get on television, Major League Baseball, to start July 4,” he said. “Let’s say, nobody comes to the stadium. You just, you do it. I mean, people say, `Well, you can’t play without spectators.’ Well, I think you’d probably get enough buy-in from people who are dying to see a baseball game. Particularly me.
"I’m living in Washington. We have the World Champion Washington Nationals. You know, I want to see them play again.”
The “gazillion tests” Fauci suggested aren’t available in great enough quantities yet. And MLB has a very steep hill to climb to overcome many other potential hurdles on such a timeline even if the spread of the virus slows significantly in the coming weeks.
On the other hand, Arizona’s governor said this week he embraces the idea of all 30 teams playing out an abbreviated season in the Phoenix area — one of several ideas being discussed by MLB and the players union. Even as officials from other states, including neighboring California, talk about no sports there until 2021.
“That’s an artificial way to do it,” Fauci said of the scenario he described, “but when you think about it, it might be better than nothing.”
Sutcliffe is all in — with check in hand.
He calls the August restart in 1981 after a two-month strike a “template” for being creative during this unprecedented shutdown.
If it means restructuring the playoffs, even shortening some rounds to three-game series (while preserving the seven-game World Series), do it, he said.
“I guess I’m maybe more hopeful than most people,” he said of his optimism for a 2020 season. “Once we get the OK that the players will be safe, the equipment guys, the trainers — it’s not just people staying apart on the field — but once we make that happen, don’t let a salary or a contract get in the way.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for any sport to show again how much the fans mean to them by doing anything you can just to put some live event on TV.”
But what about the strangeness of playing without fans? The quality of play? The lack of adrenaline, crowd noise and energy?
“I pretty much did that the first half of ’84,” said Sutcliffe, who joined the Cubs that summer in a trade from Cleveland — which averaged 9,000 in attendance at an 81,000-seat stadium that year.
“It’s not the Cleveland of this day and age at Jacobs Field or whatever it’s called,” Sutcliffe said. “It’s the way the game was played at the Mistake on the Lake. It can be done. I did it for 2 1/2 years.”Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Cubs easily on your device.