Kyler Murray
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Could rigors of minor leagues influence Kyler Murray’s decision to pursue baseball career?

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Much has been made about Athletics 2018 first-round draft pick Kyler Murray, who won the 2018 Heisman Trophy as a quarterback for the Oklahoma Sooners, and his decision whether or not to pursue a baseball career. Last month, it appeared the outfielder was still on track to join the Athletics’ minor league system. Pundits have had ongoing debates about which decision makes more sense for Murray. Baseball causes less trauma to the body, especially the head, and the contracts are guaranteed. Football would ostensibly provide more up-front money and a better shot at stardom.

The calculus could go beyond that, as former two-sport athlete Drew Henson pointed out in an interview with MLB Network Radio on Wednesday. Henson said:

Baseball, it really is a grind. It’s a mental challenge every day and every week. Things that carry over physically from a baseball/football standpoint, playing quarterback, the daily grind and the daily routine couldn’t be much different from the hours you’re at the yard or the park or the facility to, like you said, your mid-level hotels, taking buses around whatever part of the country you’re playing in, minimal fanfare, small groups of fans. You really have to be self-motivated. Whereas on the football side, you’re just stepping into a primetime game every week and he’s coming off of this rollercoaster of emotion playing this year at Oklahoma. Those are real things when you’re in your 20’s and you’re ready to jump on every challenge to overcome on your developmental path if it’s the major leagues. He knows to be prepared in Binghamton watching Monday Night Football with his teammates and former teammates in terms of playing in the NFL. That’s also something to consider.

The prospect of slumming it in the minor leagues could certainly influence Murray’s choice of baseball or football. Minor league life, as we have mentioned here ad nauseam, is anything but glamorous. Henson hits a lot of the key points: travel by bus (as opposed to first-class on a plane), smaller crowds (and in some cases, mostly-empty stadiums), and the path to stardom is not nearly as short nor as guaranteed.

Murray did get a $5 million signing bonus from the Athletics, which would help make minor league life much more tolerable. But he would still have to ride the same buses, sleep in the same motels (unless he decides to shell out his own money for a hotel and sleep separately from his teammates), eat from the same post-game spreads, and play in the same stadiums with 5,000 or so fans per game — if that. Murray might be asked or even expected to cover some of his teammates’ luxuries throughout the years, similar to how veterans who get sent to the minors on rehab assignments typically upgrade the spread or otherwise treat everyone to dinner.

Baseball players also tend to be asked to put in a lot of unpaid overtime — as Henson alludes — something which was codified into law last March when minor leaguers were classified as seasonal workers and therefore exempted from the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. This made them ineligible for a minimum wage and overtime pay. Many minor leaguers make less than $10,000 per year. While Murray could presumably get by with his signing bonus, he would still be asked to come early to the ballpark and stay late for no immediate reward. It’s one thing to stay late and study film as a professional in a major city; it’s an entirely different thing to do it in Beloit, Wisconsin, home of the Athletics’ Single-A affiliate. Murray is a human being, after all.

If the sad circumstances of minor league life help steer Murray towards an NFL career, Major League Baseball should be embarrassed. MLB should already be embarrassed that it’s even a consideration. If nothing else, this should serve as a wake-up call for the league to improve minor league standards across the board, starting with pay but also including all facets of healthcare and nutrition, as well as travel and housing arrangements. From a strictly business standpoint, MLB should want to attract and maintain the best athletes. Given the state of the minor leagues right now, the league isn’t doing a great job of that. No one would blame Murray if he decides to pursue a career in the NFL instead.

Baseball seeking a second lab for MLB COVID-19 tests

MLB COVID-19 tests
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Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported last night that Major League Baseball is “actively pursuing an additional medical lab site to increase the speed and efficiency” of MLB COVID-19 tests.

The current setup — as planned by MLB and approved by the MLBPA as a part of the plan to play the 2020 season — is for all MLB COVID-19 tests to be sent to and processed by MLB’s PED testing lab in Salt Lake City, Utah. As you likely heard, there have been delays in the administration of COVID-19 tests and in the shipping of tests to Utah, but to date no one has reported that the lab itself has not been able to handle the tests once they’ve arrived there. If MLB is looking for a second lab site a week into this process, it suggests that their plans for the Utah lab might not be working the way they had anticipated.

The issues with testing have created unease around the game in recent days, with some players and team executives speaking out against Major League Baseball’s handling of the plan in the early going. Commissioner Rob Manfred, meanwhile, has responded defensively to the criticism.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reported this morning that, months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States still lacks testing capacity. From the report:

Lines for coronavirus tests have stretched around city blocks and tests ran out altogether in at least one site on Monday, new evidence that the country is still struggling to create a sufficient testing system months into its battle with Covid-19 . . .“It’s terrifying, and clearly an evidence of a failure of the system,” said Dr. Morgan Katz, an infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins Hospital . . . in recent weeks, as cases have surged in many states, the demand for testing has soared, surpassing capacity and creating a new testing crisis.

It’s less than obvious, to say the least, how Major League Baseball plans to expand capacity for MLB COVID-19 tests while America as a whole is experiencing “a new testing crisis” and a “failure of the system.” At the very least it’s less than obvious how, even if Major League Baseball can do so, it can do so ethically.