Analysis: MLB should pump the brakes on plan to return to games in May
Perhaps no person on the planet loves playing baseball more than Nolan Arenado. Understandably, the Rockies’ star third baseman is eager to embrace a plan for the game’s return.
“If it’s safe, I’m in,” Arenado said Tuesday in response to multiple reports that Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Union have discussed the possibility of playing all games in Arizona without fans as a way to start the season in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Reports have also said that owners and players are “increasingly focused” on an idea that could open the season as early as May.
“I believe these ideas wouldn’t be thrown around if it wasn’t approved or can be (approved),” Arenado said. “I want to get back out there and play.”
Late Monday night, The Associated Press and ESPN outlined the initial details of the proposed plan, but it’s a long, long way from being a done deal. MLB, in fact, issued a statement Tuesday morning saying that while the one-location plan has been discussed, “we have not settled on that option or developed a detailed plan.”
“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,” the MLB statement said. “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.”
In other words, pump the breaks and consider the stark reality that the baseball season is not going to return in May and quite possibly not until July, if it returns at all in 2020.
According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, the proposed plan could include:
- All 30 teams play games at stadiums in the Phoenix area, including at the Diamondbacks’ Chase Field, 10 spring training facilities and other area fields.
- Players, coaching staffs, trainers and other essential personnel would be sequestered at local hotels, where they would live in relative isolation and travel only to and from the ballpark.
- An electronic strike zone would be implemented to allow the umpires to keep their distance.
- There would be no mound visits.
- There could be seven-inning doubleheaders to allow clubs to schedule as many games as possible.
- Players and team personnel would sit in the empty stands 6 feet apart instead of in the dugout, thus ensuring proper social distancing.
In truth, there are so many unanswered questions and glitches to the plan that it’s unlikely it could be implemented by May.
Here are some of the most pressing issues:
- Since spring training was canceled, players, coaches, managers and trainers have all scattered, most of them returning to their homes. Reassembling a team would require frequent testing for the virus from all of those involved. Is that feasible in the current environment?
- What would happen if just a single player, manager or clubhouse attendant, tested positive for COVID-19? Would that force a team-wide quarantine, thus compelling baseball to shut down again?
- Players would be asked to be completely separated from their families for a long time, and that is going to be a major issue.
- If players took the same bus to the ballpark and stayed at the same hotel together, does it really make sense for players not to be allowed to sit in a dugout together?
- What happens if groups of players, or perhaps even an entire team, balk at the plan? The whole concept would get shot down.
- Arizona’s desert heat would be a problem. The average high temperature in Phoenix is 104 in June and 106 in July. Days games could be played at Chase Field, which has a retractable roof, but most other games would have to be played at night. That’s fine, except that the lights at many of those ballparks are not up the MLB standards and not conducive to television coverage.
Rockies relief pitcher Scott Oberg, the team’s player representative, declined to discuss the specifics of the situation, choosing instead to issue a statement.
“Baseball is exploring many options at this time, but the No. 1 priority will always be the health and well-being of every single person involved in the operation,” Oberg’s statement read. “There will be continued, extensive discussion on what the logistics could possibly look like for both on- and off-field issues among the various parties involved. Baseball has historically been an outlet for this country to turn to in tough times and this one is no different.”
MLB clearly wants to be the first major sport to return, owners and players want to make money and Arenado just wants to play baseball again.
But MLB best tread carefully, because it can’t afford to make an error with so many lives at stake.
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