The reported details in Major League Baseball’s 67-page health protocol document are both impressive and harrowing. Have your temperature taken before you leave the hotel, then again at the park. Spread out in the stands at least two rows and four seats apart. Don’t spit. If the ball is touched by multiple players, replace it. On and on and on.
The league realized its foremost duty when negotiating a season restart is to assure the players they would be safe. Hence the document.
Because there will be no season without safety. No revenue -- shared or otherwise. No baseball in 2020.
Which prompted the league to deliver in pain-staking, yet still incomplete, detail the day-to-day protocol suggestions for a game to happen amid the coronavirus pandemic. A single game. Which means across just an 82-game season, everyone would have to perform this perfectly 1,230 times. Calling the process tenuous gives it too much credit.
All the details don’t amount to a head nod or calm feeling. They are just a compilation of warnings which show how problematic a single game would be. And, together, they make only one thing clear: Baseball shouldn’t be played yet.
If this is what it takes, what’s the point? No fans. A plethora of oddities. A distorted season. Extreme chance of a stop-and-start. Unclear answers for what-if scenarios. No enforcement measures from the league.
Is the desperation for even a modicum of revenue so high they will go through any 50-step process each day to throw a first pitch?
What if Max Scherzer licks his fingers while on the mound? Is he ejected? If someone chats at first base, are they ejected? If tomorrow’s starter becomes ill, how are they replaced? What if the closer is sick for a month and his replacement is a minor-leaguer in a shortened season? What amount of quarantine players would necessitate a venue change? Why is MLB’s recommended quarantine time half of the CDC’s?
Understand and applaud this as a first measure from the league. They checked for details, piled data, formulated contingencies. They are worried about health.
Everyone wants to play. That’s the first driver. Everyone wants to be paid. That’s a second driver. In order for those things to happen, fathers-to-be and family-oriented husbands need to feel comfortable. Almost as important, so do their partners. The money has a direct influence on that. How much are they being paid and for how much risk?
If the league can demonstrate acceptable risk suppression, it can develop a financial suppression argument, too. “We’re offering a 50-50 split in this safe-as-can-be environment.” It’s a logical statement to make from the ownership end.
Meanwhile, the owners are also in the public sphere lamenting prospective financial losses. The Associated Press reported Sunday a presentation from the owners to the union said, “Major League Baseball told players their prorated salaries would contribute to an average loss of $640,000 for each game over an 82-game season in empty ballparks.”
The presentation claimed the Chicago Cubs would lose $199 million in a fan-less, 82-game setup. Of course, the league and its clubs -- who do not open their books to anyone else -- calculate the numbers. Even if they are true, the numbers are a near-sighted gripe which won’t compel the players.
Take the Cubs. When Forbes released its annual valuations of MLB franchises in April, the Cubs were used as the lead example to define the massive upswing across the sport. The Ricketts family bought the Cubs and Wrigley Field at the end of the recession in 2009 for $700 million. They also purchased a 25 percent stake in what was ComcastSportsNet Chicago for $145 million. Forbes now values the Cubs at $3.2 billion.
Forbes also reported average team value has increased fourfold in the last 10 years.
So, when the owners use large, singular numbers to grouse about prospective losses, consider another large, singular number, which would be their payout if they determine this is a poor business for them to retain (they won’t). Because the players will think about that valuation number, in addition to all the other day-to-day revenue they believe owners pull in from television contracts and running stadiums when they are asked to take a pay cut. Then they will say, “No one pays to see the owners.”
Which again brings back the complications of moving forward. If rosters are expanded to 30 players, the league will be relying on a minimum of 900 players not to go to a crowded bar once. Not to take one small misstep that begins a trickle-down effect. Not do something human nature will so desperately be prompting them to, whether for good reasons or bad, for the entirety of the season. The league is trying to jump through a pinhole-sized opening
Baseball is missed. That’s not in dispute. But, there is one large, looming question hanging over all the details: Is this worth it?
So far, it appears not.
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