This morning, ESPN’s Jeff Passan went over many details involving a potential return of Major League Baseball this summer. Passan said baseball “will return,” though added the caveat that all of the important details remain unknown. He believes that both the players and the owners are incentivized to have a season of some sort in 2020.
We’ve written about many of the ideas being floated over the past couple of months. The general theme is that teams will congregate in an area or areas. Those areas could include Arizona, Texas, and Florida, among others. Players will have an abbreviated spring training, likely just several weeks, and then meaningful baseball will begin with expanded rosters. Depending on when the season starts and how deep into the fall the powers that be want the season to go, we could be looking at 100 games or 80 games or something along those lines. The number of teams that gain entry into the postseason could be the usual 10, or there could be more. There could just be a “giant playoff,” as Passan surmises, instead of a season if the logistics don’t work out ideally.
As Passan notes, playing baseball will require the players to live in isolation for an extended period of time, away from their families. The same would be required of all of the people in their webs responsible for their well-being: coaches, trainers, chefs, bus drivers, hotel staff. TV crews, broadcasters, journalists, and other tertiary people would also likely have to live in temporary isolation. And they would all have to undergo constant testing. The U.S. has a shortage of testing, so Major League Baseball constantly testing all involved would ostensibly be taking tests out of more deserving hands like hospitals. Passan suggests MLB could borrow Serie A’s tactic for that: for every one test kid used, it donates five.
Then there’s the issue of pay. Teams are staring down the barrel of huge losses this year, so having some semblance of a season – even without fans in attendance – will help stop the hemorrhaging. New York governor Andrew Cuomo recently suggested that if a season were to be held, players would need to agree to further pay cuts, an idea at which the union rightly balked. Players could agree to defer their money (with interest) not unlike, say, Bobby Bonilla.
We all want some semblance of normalcy to return. Watching baseball during the summer would be a big part of that. It could even, as Passan adroitly highlights, serve as a tremendous marketing opportunity for the sport, which has had trouble for most of this millennium keeping up with the likes of the NFL and marketing its stars. As the only major sport in town against a backdrop of nothingness, MLB would stand out. People might actually be able to recognize Mike Trout and Mookie Betts and a new generation of baseball fans could be won.
All this being said, there are a ton of ways this could all go sideways. What happens if a player comes down with coronavirus? Does the league shut down operations immediately? What if it’s someone in the sphere, like a trainer or a hotel worker? What if, after part of the country reopens for business, a second coronavirus wave hits, causing life to come to a screeching halt again? What if players and owners can’t come to an agreement on all of the details, which only leads to a widening fissure with negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement coming up in the near future? What if preexisting agreements can’t be amended such that the league and its individual teams are losing more in expenses than they are taking in with revenues?
It’s a tricky, unprecedented time for Major League Baseball. There are so many i’s to dot and t’s to cross. But Passan seems fairly confident that there will be a MLB season. Let’s hope there is and that the league can pull off its implementation safely and securely.