The MLB is looking at a radical response to the current COVID-19 pandemic that has shuttered sports across the world. The optics, and financial benefits, of being the only major sports league playing during the crisis are compelling.
But is the plan really feasible, and would the players even be willing to make the sacrifice for the entire 2020 season? Whilst the league is still hashing out the details of the potential plan, we take a look at the ramification of this outrageous proposal.
MLB’s solution to the lockdown
With spring-training suspended on March 13th everything in the MLB world has been on hold since then. It is one of the more vulnerable to losing the whole season, as the COVID-19 worldwide lockdown looks set to shutter the entire first half of the season.
With the US having already suffered 434,791 confirmed cases, and 14,802 deaths, starting the season seems a little premature and a whole lot risky. But when you look at the details, you start to get just a little bit excited about the return of baseball.
The plan being discussed calls for the league to return to action in May. With all 30 teams playing all their games in Arizona at the Diamondbacks Stadium, and also spring-training facilities within the state. All games would be played in empty stadiums.
All players and team personnel would be sequestered for the duration of the season, or until all COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. Players would only travel from their designated hotels to games and then return to the hotels.
MLB has been quick to state that the plan is not final in a statement issued on Tuesday.
“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. “
“While we continue to interact regularly with governmental and public health officials, we have not sought or received approval of any plan from federal, state and local officials, or the Players Association.”
“The health and safety of our employees, players, fans and the public at large are paramount, and we are not ready at this time to endorse any particular format for staging games in light of the rapidly changing public health situation caused by the coronavirus.”
MLB saves the world?
If baseball were to return in May, it would likely be the first of the major sporting leagues in the world to return. It would be an amazing PR coup, and also likely a financial bonanza for the league, it’s teams, and players.
The NRL has announced its intention to restart on May 28th, but MLB’s plan, if ratified would almost certainly beat that date.
More than that though it would be a major boost to morale in the United States, and throughout the world. A return to some sort of normality would be a great sign that things were returning to something resembling normal.
At a time when nurses, doctors, shop workers, transportation workers, and cleaners to name but a few have kept the countries of the world going, it would be a small sacrifice by some of the world’s richest sportsmen to live and play in relative isolation for a few months.
And by all accounts, players and managers alike are falling in love with the idea of getting back on the diamond. Because baseball more than many other sports does still seem to be loved by most of its participants.
The season would likely look very different, and baseball purists will decry the lack of home-field advantage, the long road trips, and the loss of the purity of the sport. But in reality, it would most likely lead to a return of purity.
There would be no more playing to the dimensions of your home stadium. No more pitching around mile-high stadiums, or green monsters. The game would simply be nine men playing the game of baseball on a level playing field. Everyone would be in the same stadiums, with the same (desert) conditions.
It is an intriguing prospect. And one that most would love to see for one season. From an analytics perspective, it would likely be an absolute boon for the art of player comparison.
At the same time, it would be a major disappointment for the fans who wouldn’t have the joy of rooting on their team in the confines of their home-town stadiums. Nothing beats an afternoon sat in the beating sun watching baseball. Unless, like me, your a Marlins fan, and then watching it on TV may not seem so bad.
But in all seriousness, at least we’d be watching baseball again. At the end of the day, the safety of the players, teams, tv crews, transportation workers, and ground crews must take precedence.
But if this could be worked out, it would be a first tentative step towards a return to normal life.