Early Tuesday morning, right after midnight, an ESPN story about the location and schedule for the return of baseball caused a stir. Reported proposal: All 30 teams in Arizona, the season starts around late May or early June.
From front to back, floating ideas are full of warnings. They also illustrate the main problem of baseball as it hunts for solutions to become the first major pro sport to continue: it needs to maximize play and income while ensuring safety. As the first swing shows, this is not an easy task.
His ideas included playing without the crowds at various facilities sown around Phoenix; the team just goes from the hotel to the park; players who are almost funny ideas will sit in the stands six feet apart as opposed to the dugout; and other possibilities that seem to encourage a response: Why bother?
If that is what is needed for a minimal season, why should both parties pass it?
Major League Baseball followed by a statement Tuesday morning.
“MLB has actively considered various contingency plans that will allow the start of play once the public health situation has improved to a safe point to do so. Although we have discussed the idea of playing a game in one location as a potential option, we have not yet determined that option or developed a detailed plan, “it reads in part.
Everyone wants baseball back. This is a way to get it back safely on time, which is very difficult to find.
Commissioner Rob Manfred stated on the eve of Opening Day that he hoped baseball would be part of the healing process, comparing his return with the union given after 9/11 when nine local residents returned to the fields. The ideal is the wind behind the urge to start again.
Calendar is also a huge factor for sports based on season 162 matches. Max Scherzer, a member of eight union executive subcommittees, told NBC Sports Washington last week that he saw June 1 as the target date for work. Scherzer stressed that there were no assertions. But, he said that the union saw the possibility of the resumption of spring training in May, then the match – in some form – in June. That will push the playoffs into November, maybe in a neutral location where the weather can be controlled (“Welcome to the Cubs-Yankees World Series 2020 directly from Miami …).
Scherzer also said something to remember: “I think everything is really on the table about what we want to do to get the most number of games.”
Baseball core is structured to play every day. Grind it. Hide the wound so that it can be on the field. Lack of sleep. A journey without end. Slow moving game. Field by pitch. The league is stuck between maintaining the integrity of that idea and continuing to follow logical guidelines amid a coronavirus pandemic.
There is no perfect plan. And nothing will. As Scherzer said, everything is on the table, which includes many ideas floating on Tuesday. However, the league needs to make the union agree. The league will need to get local, state and federal authorities to approve. The league must be willing to absorb risk – a restart will never be a zero-sum match no matter how diligent the approach is – when the first throw is thrown.
So, everyone continues to wait and watch. Human nature struggles with pragmatism. Everyone wants to play as soon as possible – as soon as it’s safe. But what are the risks? What are the prospective costs now and later? That is a question that cannot be answered in any plan.
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