Early Tuesday morning, just after midnight, an ESPN story on a location and timeline for the resumption of baseball caused a stir. The reported proposal: All 30 teams in Arizona, the season starting around late May or early June.
From front to back, the ideas floated were loaded with caveats. They also illustrate baseball’s primary problem as it hunts solutions to become the first major pro sport to resume: it needs to maximize games and revenue while assuring safety. As the first swing showed, it’s not an easy task.
The ideas included playing without crowds at various facilities sprinkled around Phoenix; teams going only from the hotel to the park; the almost comical idea players would sit in the stands six feet apart as opposed to in a dugout; and other far-flung possibilities which seemed to prompt one response: Why bother?
If that’s what’s necessary for a minimal season, why would either side go through with it?
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Major League Baseball followed with a statement Tuesday morning.
“MLB has been actively considering numerous contingency plans that would allow play to commence once the public health situation has improved to the point that it is safe to do so. While we have discussed the idea of staging games at one location as one potential option, we have not settled on that option or developed a detailed plan,” it read in part.
Everyone wants baseball to come back. It's how to bring it back safely in a timely manner that is so difficult to find a path.
Commissioner Rob Manfred stated on the eve of what would have been Opening Day that he expects baseball to be part of the healing process, comparing its resumption to the unity provided post-9/11 when the local nine returned to the field. That ideal is the wind behind a push for resumption.
The calendar is also an enormous factor for a sport based on a 162-game season. Max Scherzer, a member of the union’s eight-person executive subcommittee, told NBC Sports Washington last week he viewed June 1 as a target date to work around. Scherzer stressed nothing was firm. But, he did say the union looked at a possible resumption of spring training in May, then games -- in some form -- in June. That would push the playoffs into November, presumably at a neutral location where weather can be controlled (“Welcome to the Cubs-Yankees 2020 World Series live from Miami…).
Scherzer also said something else to remember: “I think everything’s absolutely on the table of what we want to be able to do to get the most amount of games in.”
Baseball’s core is structured around playing every day. Grinding it out. Hiding injuries in order to be on the field. Sleep deprivation. Never-ending travel. Slow-moving games. Pitch by pitch by pitch. The league is caught between maintaining the integrity of that idea and continuing to follow logical guidelines in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
There’s no perfect plan. And there won’t be. As Scherzer said, everything is on the table, which includes many of the ideas floated on Tuesday. However, the league would need to get the union to agree. The league would need to get local, state and federal authorities to agree. The league would need to be willing to absorb risk -- resumption will never be a zero-sum game no matter how diligent the approach -- when the first pitch is thrown.
So, everyone continues to wait and watch. Human nature is in a tussle with pragmatism. Everyone wants to play as soon as possible -- as soon as it’s safe. But at what risk? At what prospective cost now and later? Those are the unanswerable questions in any plan.
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