We should be ten games into the 2020 season, with the D-backs having just completed a series against the Cubs. That, as we all know hasn’t happened, and no-one has any idea when, or even if, games might get under way. But MLB has been kicking around a range of potential ideas. Ken Rosenthal of The Atlantic reported over the weekend. “The season, at least initially, could be played in Florida or more likely Arizona, where spring training parks are more concentrated.” It’s an intriguing possibility, but one which certainly has its problems. Let’s look over the possible mechanics and the resulting issues.
The most likely scenario would involve teams playing in closed parks, with the games being broadcast to an audience that could still, potentially, still largely be on lock-down. This would provide a welcome source of entertainment, and baseball could help unite the nation, in the same way it did after 9/11. Even if the teams lose out on the revenue coming through the turnstiles, this would at least alleviate the thorny problem of MLB’s broadcast partners not having any product at all to show, in exchange for their very large contracts. Keeping the league to a limited set of locations would make maintaining quarantine for the team considerably easier from a logistical point of view.
If MLB are going to pick one of Arizona or Florida, then the greater geographical concentration of facilities here would make us favorite. Giants’ CEO Larry Baer seemed in favor of that idea. “Arizona might be a better possibility because you could get 30 teams there in more approximate distancing, meaning that everybody would not be a four or five-hour drive from one ballpark to another.” However, one problem is that there are only nine Cactus League parks. Trying to accommodate a full slate of games in those - 14 or 15 a day would appear to be a challenge.
It would seem require either adding additional facilities. Maybe Phoenix Muni and Chase Field could be added to the roster, though there are a limited number of other parks which would be suitable [the ability to keep potentially infectious looky-loos away would be very important]. Alternatively, there could be two games a day scheduled at some facilities. MLB has previously hinted that 7-inning double-headers, as they play in the minors, might be the way to go. East coast teams could play in the earlier game, say maybe a 3 pm start, which would be 5 pm in their zone for broadcast purposes. West coast teams could take the night-cap, with a 7 pm start.
There is an obvious problem. Day baseball in Arizona, in the summer? None of the Cactus League parks have a roof, and the heat here can be rough enough, even in the Arizona Fall League at the end of the season. In June and July, it may be a non-starter. Speaking on Arizona Sports, team president Derrick Hall said “If that [Chase Field] roof won’t close in the middle of summer, we can’t play here. Probably, the union wouldn’t allow it, we wouldn’t allow it.” This was in regard to explaining why the team had checked out Vancouver as a potential emergency location, but would seem to apply equally much to this proposal.
It may make more sense to split things the same way as in Spring Training, with the Western teams playing here, and the Eastern ones in Florida. This would require some finagling of schedules, obviously: more interleague play might be needed, for example. But the AL and NL West would all be here, and the AL and NL East all in Florida. Both groups could then play in the evening, when temperatures here are at least merely sixth level of hell-like. The downside is, as noted, that in Florida, the spring ballparks are scattered across the width of the state. It’s 216.6 miles from Spectrum Field (Phillies) to FITTEAM Ballpark (Nats/Astros). That kind of trip is more a chore than a pleasure.
This idea is roughly in line with the “functional isolation” plan proposed by agent Scott Boras, who is clearly missing his ten percent. [Though worth noting, he has a degree in industrial pharmacology, so isn’t entirely ignorant on medical topics]
“We can prepare a system that provides inspiration and do it in a responsible way that aligns with the standards of isolation,” said Boras... The modified Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues would have an extra dash of restricted movement “At nights, there are no restaurants, they’re not outside,” said Boras. “They’d just have a limited amount of people they’re around. The players are going to have to agree with that so we are responsive to the protection of the spread and also following stringent isolating purposes.”
But the biggest problem with this idea may simply continue to be the medical one. We are now in a world where any gathering of even a handful of people is considered a potential health risk. Even without fans, and a skeleton crew, a baseball game is still going to involve far more than that. What happens if the quarantine were to break down, and one player ends up testing positive for the coronavirus? What would happen to the rest of their team, or those against whom they had played? We could end up with the season getting stopped almost as soon as it has started.
MLB has said throughout that public health is its priority, which is certainly the right approach. And I don’t blame them in the slightest, for looking at all the ways in which the 2020 baseball season could take place. It’s both right and responsible for MLB to be planning for every possible scenario. But the virus and its progress is what will determine when the baseball season starts, not the wishes of Rob Manfred or team owners. Forcing things in any other direction, is probably a recipe for somewhere between disappointment and disaster.
Snake Bytes to follow, later in the day. It’s not like there’s a rush...