A Pyrrhic Victory for Baseball Fans as MLB Agrees to Return to Play

The MLBPA and owners agreed upon a return to play plan, as a result of Manfred’s vested powers from the March 26th agreement. The long stalemate lasted a whole three months, but in the end, an agreement surrounding the current CBA could not be found. The waters have muddied between the owners and Players Union, and the current agreement is set to expire after the 2021 season.

Even though the ramifications from this failure to reform the current CBA will be far-reaching, this season’s implications can be especially significant due to this inaction.

If the trend continues with the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in current states, a 2020 season will not happen. Caution will always prevail, and an increase in confirmed cases seems inevitable.

Like we hold politicians accountable for every action or inaction, the owners and union should be held liable for the three months of inaction. The blame should rest on both sides for the inability to mediate on a regular-season, when the preseason should have been played in a bubble location during negotiations.

The return to play plans should have been made during the denouement of the first wave, and the first phase of returning to play should have coincided with the reopening phase. Thats means that now, the time frame to have a feasible season is long over. The window to play is expiring.

No matter the degree at which the coronavirus becomes a threat, it is inevitable that the virus will spread far and will find its way into clubhouses- because it is already in many.

The plans to play in 2020 were finalized far too late, and are going to be implemented when the virus is resurging on the heels of the reopening phase. Remaining cautiously optimistic, I am anticipating an exciting and pivotal season for the sport.

Baseball’s Ability to Shine in the COVID-19 Era

Like many others, I am an ardent fan of the game and I wish to see it return in some capacity this year. Even though I want to see baseball played, I can’t help but think that there are various geopolitical issues surrounding this pandemic and the proposed plans by MLB.

Each affected area has a unique position that they must deal with, and playing baseball in each of these affected areas has the potential to go south, very quickly.

Baseball has the opportunity to be in a position in which it hasn’t been in for decades: it can unite our country in a time of need.  The sport has the ability to be a driving force for the return of commerce (in some capacity) to our economy. While the idea of an untraditional season is intriguing, we need to have the utmost caution before returning to play. The proposed plans for the Florida-Arizona season might be our best shot at returning to play, but it needs to be modified. 

These globalized commercial areas in the Northeast (like New York and Boston) are why this virus spread so quickly, and why certain areas have been hit so hard. These areas’ economies and cultures are incredibly globalized, and have dense populations that rely on others for transportation, employment, and food. This undoubtedly is one of the many reasons why there was an uptick in these urban areas, and the person-to-person contacts commonly associated with living in an urban area is what makes dealing with this pandemic in an urbanized setting so difficult.

The plan to return baseball to teams’ home cities is not the answer.

Traveling amidst the pandemic is the largest issue surrounding a return to play… Players can’t be expected to bounce from potential hotspot to hotspot throughout the season, even at a lesser rate than a normal season. Players would inevitably opt-out and forgo their contracts and sit out the season if they think they or their families are put in harm’s way, which will have a ripple effect throughout the sport.

As we saw with Blake Snell’s recent comments, players are feeling apprehensive about returning to play. Aside from financials, health will remain the priority. If All-Star caliber players opt to sit out, what would be the point of having a season at all?

Baseball can be played in 2020, but how can we have a season without putting players in harm’s way? 

In terms of the game played between the foul lines, this season has the opportunity to be an experimental one. 

I have long been a dissident of “robot umpires,” but I think in light of this situation it would be the right call (pun intended). 

With robot umpires, it would mean that there is one less person on the field, and the person-to-person contact with players and outsiders would be minimized. The contact between the catcher and umpire would be eliminated completely; it would be one less avenue for infection to spread while the umpires could still maintain their jobs and perform remotely from the booth.

Another change that I have vehemently opposed in the past is the universal DH. With a tight timeframe for the season, it is imperative that managers have the capacity to make personnel changes with their players’ bodies in mind. While some NL teams would be at an immediate disadvantage compared to AL teams with currently established DH hitters, having the flexibility roster-wise would outweigh any drawbacks from roster issues. 

In addition to the universal DH, expanded rosters should be in play. The need to fill a roster spot with a minor leaguer who had to travel to camp would be a big question mark amidst this crisis, so having a reserve squad training and isolating with the major league team would be necessary. 

The biggest of the many challenges that baseball faces in 2020 lies in determining where the season should be played. Having a season outside of teams’ home ballparks is a strange concept, but if there aren’t fans in attendance, why risk having players travel?

If baseball is to be played this season, it needs to be at a localized facility with multiple fields that can be used simultaneously. A rural complex with ample infrastructure in the form of hospitals and hotels located in a warm area is crucial if a season is to be played. If the MLB can find a site that has the ability to host an entire league, it can be a great way to pump some revenue into a local economy. Even though aiding a localized economy would only be the tip of the iceberg in this crisis, the league could pave the way for other major sports to finish their leagues.

Before any game is to be played, players would need to isolate for 2-3 weeks prior to preseason training. If early July is circled on everyone’s calendar, this plan needs to be hashed out posthaste.