The tremendous barriers to bringing back baseball

2021 MLB schedule
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We have talked a lot about the economic challenges of bringing baseball back in 2020. And we’ve talked some about the ways in which Major League Baseball and the MLBPA plan to address the health concerns. All of this talk has created the suggestion of inevitability of baseball’s return, but it’s worth remembering that none of these plans are set in stone yet. Indeed, some of the key components necessary for a 2020 baseball season have yet to be formally proposed or thoroughly discussed.

Into that vacuum comes a major article from, basically, ESPN’s entire team of baseball writers, who examine the challenges facing the league and its players as they try to work out a plan to get back on the field. It deals not just with the money or the COVID-19 tests but the hypotheticals and unknowns of it all.

The story pulls no punches:

What emerges is like nothing that has been attempted in the history of American sport, less a baseball season than a military-style operation in which any number of variables could derail the plan, or, worse, contribute to the spread of the deadly disease.

It’s a long story, but a worthy one that stands as, probably, the most comprehensive overview of these challenges yet published. One that, in some places, seems to suggest that Major League Baseball can pull this off:

Dr. Howard Forman, a Yale professor of health policy who has offered guidance to some sports leagues and teams, said he believes baseball’s plan should work. He noted that data suggest the prevalence of the virus among top-level athletes is likely to be extremely low, plus it will be easier to limit exposure without fans and other workers at the ballparks.

But it’s also one that, in other places, suggests that there are risks that even MLB’s plans as currently known — plans which have met with mostly favorable reviews — may not be sufficient to address:

Baseball is in a difficult position: Quarantining players who come in contact with infected individuals could force MLB to shut down entire teams.

Most health experts interviewed by ESPN said they believe MLB would be increasing the risk of an outbreak by not quarantining more extensively, if only for a few days.

“CDC guidelines are pretty clear that anybody who makes substantial contact with somebody who has the virus needs to be quarantined,” Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Health Institute, told ESPN. “I think baseball has to ask themselves on what basis are they going against the CDC guidelines. How confident are they gonna be that another player on another team didn’t have substantial contact with that player? It just strikes me as risky. My feeling is it just depends on how lucky you feel.” 

There is a lot to think about on this topic. This article is an excellent place to begin.

Jones, Maddux, Morris consider Bonds, Clemens for Hall

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COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Hall of Famers Chipper Jones, Greg Maddux, Jack Morris and Ryne Sandberg are among 16 members of the contemporary baseball era committee that will meet to consider the Cooperstown fate of an eight-man ballot that includes Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Rafael Palmeiro.

Hall of Famers Lee Smith, Frank Thomas and Alan Trammell also are on the panel, which will meet in San Diego ahead of the winter meetings.

They will be joined by former Toronto CEO Paul Beeston, former Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs executive Theo Epstein, Anaheim Angels owner Arte Moreno, Miami Marlins general manager Kim Ng, Minnesota Twins president Dave St. Peter and Chicago White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams.

Three media members/historians are on the committee: longtime statistical analyst Steve Hirdt of Stats Perform, La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. Neal and Slusser are past presidents of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

Hall Chairman Jane Forbes Clark will be the committee’s non-voting chair.

The ballot also includes Albert Belle, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Dale Murphy and Curt Schilling. The committee considers candidates whose careers were primarily from 1980 on. A candidate needs 75% to be elected and anyone who does will be inducted on July 23, along with anyone chosen in the BBWAA vote, announced on Jan. 24.

Bonds, Clemens and Schilling fell short in January in their 10th and final appearances on the BBWAA ballot. Bonds received 260 of 394 votes (66%), Clemens 257 (65.2%) and Schilling 231 (58.6%).

Palmeiro was dropped from the BBWAA ballot after receiving 25 votes (4.4%) in his fourth appearance in 2014, falling below the 5% minimum needed to stay on. His high was 72 votes (12.6%) in 2012.

Bonds denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs and Clemens maintains he never used PEDs. Palmeiro was suspended for 10 days in August 2005 following a positive test under the major league drug program, just over two weeks after getting his 3,000th hit.

A seven-time NL MVP, Bonds set the career home run record with 762 and the season record with 73 in 2001. A seven-time Cy Young Award winner, Clemens went 354-184 with a 3.12 ERA and 4,672 strikeouts, third behind Nolan Ryan (5,714) and Randy Johnson (4,875). Palmeiro had 3,020 hits and 568 homers.

Schilling fell 16 votes shy with 285 (71.1%) in 2021. Support dropped after hateful remarks he made in retirement toward Muslims, transgender people, reporters and others.

McGriff got 169 votes (39.8%) in his final year on the BBWAA ballot in 2019. Murphy was on the BBWAA ballot 15 times and received a high of 116 votes (23.2%) in 2000. Mattingly received a high of 145 votes (28.2%) in the first of 15 appearances on the BBWAA ballot in 2001, and Belle appeared on two BBWAA ballots, receiving 40 votes (7.7%) in 2006 and 19 (3.5%) in 2007.

Players on Major League Baseball’s ineligible list cannot be considered, a rule that excludes Pete Rose.

This year’s BBWAA ballot includes Carlos Beltran, John Lackey and Jered Weaver among 14 newcomers and Scott Rolen, Todd Helton and Billy Wagner among holdovers.