Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Movement to Play 2020 Major League Baseball Season in Arizona Gains Steam

The Associated Press reports on the growing interest of Major League Baseball to play the entire  2020 season in Arizona, without fans in attendance:
Putting all 30 teams in the Phoenix area this season and playing in empty ballparks was among the ideas discussed Monday by Major League Baseball and the players’ association.  
Half of the MLB clubs hold spring training in Arizona, the other half in Florida. 
Arizona’s advantage is 10 spring training ballparks plus the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Chase Field all within about 50 miles. Florida’s spring training ballparks are spread out
by as much as 220 miles. 
“It allows for immediacy of a schedule, where you might be able to begin it and televise it, provide Major League Baseball to America,” said Scott Boras, baseball’s most prominent agent. “I think players are willing to do what’s necessary because I think they understand the importance of baseball for their own livelihoods and for the interest of our country and providing a necessary product that gives all the people that are isolated enjoyment.”
“You’re going to be largely separated from your families and you’re going to have to function in a very contained way. It’s not a normal life, this idea,” Boras said. “You’re going to have an identified group of people. You’re going to have a constantly tested group of people. And you’re going to have a very limited access of those people to the outside world so that you can assure a very uncontaminated league, if you will, to produce a product that is inspirational to our country.” 
Chase Field, with artificial turf and a retractable roof, could be the site of daily tripleheaders, Boras said.   
Both sides have agreed to attempt to play as full a season as is possible, and this plan would enable the season to start while waiting for health and government officials to determine whether it is safe to resume play in regular-season ballparks, with the travel that would entail. 
Unlike popular sports like football and basketball, baseball is a sport that can be played while maintaining a considerable amount of social distancing.  Further, additional steps can be taken by the MLB to ensure player protection.  While I have seen numerous articles on the 2020 MLB season being played in Arizona, without fans, I have yet to see discussion of additional steps that should also be taken to ensure the safety of player safety.  Some ideas I came up with off the top of my head are:
1)  Only players in the game are allowed in the dugout and they are to be six feet apart.  The rest of the players are to be in the clubhouse or bullpen, six feet apart. 
2) Batters wear cloth masks while as well as the catcher and umpire. 
3)  No fans are allowed in the ball park, with the exception, perhaps, of members of the players family.  They must remain six feet apart in the stands though.  
4)  Members of the media are to stay six feet away from players and each others. 
5)  Players must travel to games individually by private automobile.  (The teams won't need to fly to games if they are all playing in Arizona.  And using a bus to transport players needs to be avoided for obvious reasons.) 
6) Roster expanded from 26 to 30 because of fewer days off and possible doubleheaders. 
7) A staff member of each team be required to constantly be sanitizing surfaces before and during games.
Of course, it is inevitable that some players will come down with Covid-19 just because you can't control what they do off the field.  But, with the Arizona plan and taking proper precautions, there is no reason that the possibility of Covid-19 being spread among MLB players cannot be almost completely eliminated.

We have now been about a month without sports with no end in sight.  The 98% of Americans who are now living under stay-home orders are a captive audience for the 2020 MLB season.  MLB could turn the situation into a PR bonanza by offering to provide its product for free to Americans who cannot leave their homes.  (MLB would still make a ton off advertising revenue.)   More importantly, it would provide MLB, sans competition, a welcome opportunity to regain some of the popularity the baseball used to have when it was dubbed America's "national pastime."

This idea can work.  Make it happen, Major League Baseball.

For an alternative view.


Anonymous said...

No coaches on the field? No signs from the coaches or managers (Signs that usually touch the face)? Keep the 1st baseman six feet from the 1st base runner? That’ll make for an easy stolen base. 1st base umpire stays in right field? 2nd baseman move to right center field that’ll set a stolen base record. And how are you to stop all the spitting by the players?

I agree with the alternate view. This is dumb.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Anon 11:17, may be there is some confusion about the normal positioning of players, coaches, umpires, etc. on a baseball field. Baseball is not like football and basketball. When you look out at a baseball diamond, even when a shift is being employed, position players aren't within 25 feet of each other. (Confused why you think second baseman would need to move to right center field.) 1st, 2nd and 3rd base umpires are probably 20 feet away from runners and players. At least. 1st base and 3rd base coaches are at least that far away too. Even when a runner is leading off first base, that runner doesn't stand next to the first baseman. It would be a pretty crappy lead if he isn't six feet off the base. Nonetheless, there will be plays on the runner not just on first, but the other bases. We are talking very brief interaction within that six feet by a player tagging a runner on (probably) his clothing with a glove. Chances of exposure to Covid-19 that way would be very unlikely.

The major concern though is what goes on in the batters box. You do have a batter, catcher and umpire in close proximity. But they generally don't breathe into each other faces and they can take precautions (like wearing masks) to prevent exposure there. The league is also looking at using an electronic strike zone to get remove the home plate umpire from his position directly behind the catcher where he calls balls and strikes. Not wild about that.

The biggest chance for exposure isn't what happens on the field, but rather what happens in the dugout, clubhouse, team bus, hotel rooms, etc. Risk of exposure there can be addressed, but not gotten rid of. You can't completely control what adults do.

Risk playing a baseball game is never going to be eliminated. But you have a heck of a lot more chance getting exposed to Covid-19 going to the grocery store than playing in a baseball game.