Last night we looked at how one of the hurdles facing Major League Baseball – whether states would allow the game to be played or not – began to be cleared as California, New York, and Texas have all given the go-ahead, but with restrictions, and it’s expected that many states follow suit in the coming days. The Miami Marlins even opened up their spring training facility to players on Tuesday to use the batting cages and pitching mounds if they wanted to.

We’ve seen NASCAR open up their season, and we’ve seen the UFC holding events in Florida this month already. Other baseball leagues around the world have opened up their regular seasons with games taking place in both Taiwan and South Korea. And in Europe soccer is under way in Germany, and they are trying to get things going in England, but that isn’t going as smoothly as hoped as the Premier League has begun testing and already had six confirmed cases of COVID-19. The results for all teams are not yet in, with more results coming on Saturday.

At ESPN a slew of writers contributed to an incredibly thorough and detailed piece about how Major League Baseball is navigating the pandemic in order to play this summer. They spoke with more than 80 players, managers, trainers, executives, public health officials, infectious disease experts, and government officials about all different aspects of the game and the potential of getting back into stadiums this year.

Here’s an early point of the article:

Baseball’s plan, which calls for “frequent” — but not daily — testing, quarantines only individuals who test positive, increasing the risk of spread and contravening federal guidelines that advise individuals who come in contact with a confirmed infection to quarantine for at least two weeks.

That of course is a bit concerning. The last thing they want is having a team come down with multiple cases and have to cancel games for a team, which would throw off the entire schedule and potentially ruin the year for that specific team who probably couldn’t make up enough games in the span of time that the season would take place.

There were 16 players interviewed for the article, and they all expressed “a strong desire to play this year”, noting that health and safety was their priority. Some players expressed concerns for non-playing staff who are in more vulnerable categories to be “at-risk” for serious complications, or worse.

Nationals ace Max Scherzer, 35, told ESPN he’s most concerned about the vulnerability of coaches and athletic trainers. “They’re constantly working with every single player on the team, and understanding how infectious this disease is, that’s where you worry that you could be putting somebody in harm’s way,” he said.

The piece is quite long, but if you’ve got 15-20 minutes to read it, it’s more than worth your time.

It wasn’t just ESPN that took on a lot of the potential issues that came up when looking at the first plan put forth by Major League Baseball. Michael Baumann also did so on Tuesday over at The Ringer. He asks a pretty important question mid-article:

The proposed MLB protocol splits employees into three tiers: Players, coaches, and on-field staff in Tier 1, with the most rigorous testing protocols; front office personnel in Tier 2; cleaning crews, groundskeepers, and other support staff in Tier 3, with the fewest protections and requirements on testing. Would these workers be less protected because they’re truly at a lower risk? Or merely because they’re seen and paid less?

Those last two sentences kind of hit a very uncomfortable point, though. I won’t speak for everyone else, but I will speak for me: I’d love to  hear more from Major League Baseball on the people that make up the tier 3 group and what’s being done for them.

With all of that said, when it comes to the safety aspect of it, it seems both sides are in agreement.

When crafting a safety protocol, the interests of the league and the players are pretty much in line: Both want something that’s practicable enough to bring baseball back relatively quickly, and both want to protect the players and the public from COVID-19. While there might be disagreement on the specifics, the parties are united about the overall goal, which should make it easier to agree to a plan.

There’s a lot of stuff to overcome. So much so that there are more than a few people who’s job it is to figure this stuff out that simply think it’s not feasible to make this plan work without hitting some serious speed bumps along the way. Maybe the money stuff gets in the way before we find out, but if they can get that figured out – it sure seems like they’re going to give it a go and hope for the best.

24 Responses

  1. Old-school

    The clock is ticking. It’s basically 6 weeks from Opening Day if July 2 is the day. If they don’t have an agreement in place by the end of the Memorial Day weekend, I cant see them starting spring training V2 by June 10 and an 81+ game schedule by July 2.

    It’s interesting that after being shuttered for 8 weeks for in-seat dining, yet getting the go-ahead 2 weeks ago from the Governor of Ohio to re-open May 21, Skyline Chili isn’t opening. They are opening 1 store only for in-seat dining as a trial. There are so many moving parts, so much uncertainly, so much potential for interruptions and so many stakeholders. The fact the NBA couldn’t figure it out with 3/4 of the season played already is telling.

    • Hotto4Votto

      I read an article not too long ago about the Northside Yacht Club, it was of note to me because I enjoy that establishment and know some people who’ve worked there. When it came to the decision to open back up for dining-in, basically it boiled down to the fact that it wasn’t financially reasonable to open back up. They cited the need to add staff (at least one at the door) to ensure social distancing measure were being enforced, just to operate at a quarter of the capacity. It wasn’t worth it to them. Makes sense.

  2. CFD3000

    In that same ESPN article Mike Trout is quoted as saying that without daily testing he doesn’t think baseball will happen. For some context, Trout’s wife is currently pregnant with their first child. If he’s right on this point then I can’t see how it happens. Availability of and access to testing is still an issue in most places, so the logistics of this are tough. And if they can acquire capacity for daily tests then the optics are rough. Thousands of baseball staff get daily tests (or even just 800+ players) but millions of ordinary Americans at risk can’t get one? That would be a tough sell. I really hope this works out but as you say Doug, still so many moving parts…

    • ClevelandRedsFan

      For those players who are more concerned about daily testing, specifically for Trout who has to be more careful, they can always pursue testing outside of MLB. I do also remember MLB said there would be an “opt out” option for players who truly do not feel safe. Perhaps players will exercise that for part of all of the season if they really aren’t comfortable. With the testing, MLB also has to balance the optics.

    • TBD

      Regarding Testing:
      Right now the Tests are not 100% accurate. Some give false positives some false negatives.
      So that certainly complicates things further

  3. Big Ed

    The one obvious distinction on the “Tier 3” personnel is that they (as defined as grounds crew, cleaning crew, etc.) do not travel. The Reds’ ground crew will do their jobs at GABP, then drive home like any grocery store or factory worker, or UPS drivers, etc. Their tasks would seem to be readily adaptable to distancing protocols, etc.

    Baseball can’t make its employees 100% safe from Covid-19, any more than it can make them safe from life’s other tragedies. Ask Starling Marte, who lost his wife this week. Ask the families of Jose Fernandez, Dernell Stinson and Tyler Skaggs. Ask the Cardinals, who have lost Oscar Taveras, Josh Hancock and Darryl Kile over the last 20 years.

    Baseball, like Kroger or any other employer, can put in protocols to minimize the risk. If a player or groundskeeper’s personal circumstances make the risk too great, then he or she ought to have the right to decline participating until the situation has greater clarity. These protocols, which I believe all agree are proposed in good faith, can evolve as needed. I will be surprised if they don’t reach an agreement on the safety protocols.

    The financial dispute is different. The customers — meaning more the casual fan and not us on this board — will lose interest in baseball if this season is not played. The industry — meaning both owners and players — will look like self-serving idiots if they don’t play for money reasons, when there is record unemployment.

    So, unless Rob Manfred and Tony Clark want to tear down what was built by men like Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Branch Rickey, Roberto Clemente, Vin Scully and Barry Larkin, then they need to put up or shut up. They are arguing about an industry that has revenues of $10+ billion/year; it will be about $2 billion/year by 2025, if they don’t develop some self-awareness, or if they can’t grasp that they need each other.

  4. Jim Walker

    It sounds like at least there is legitimate movement towards figuring out if it is feasible to attempt to play MLB in 2020 versus the posturing that was going on for weeks. Whatever the outcome, this would seem to be a positive step.

    I’ve said here prior, at least through inference, I felt that MLB ownership was not of a single mind on whether to move forward with a 2020 season. I still believe at least a part of the haggling about money could well be posturing by some organizations that for whatever reason(s) would just as leave sit out this season than play.

    The myriad of issues and attendant risks that are now being fleshed out at the detail level would seem to explain some of this reluctance to forge ahead.

    Their position is understandable. But why can’t they be honest and transparent about it rather hiding behind sketchy financial figures which add to the confusion.

  5. centerfield

    I think the ESPN article referenced 3 to 4 days for test results. So you take a test, hop on a plane with your teammates, and find out you are positive in the next city. Maybe they will use tests with faster results but I assume those are less reliable. MLB also made a point to say that testing would in no way substract from what is available for general medical use. A couple of doctors pushed back on that. I think morale wise, I like to see baseball played, but in the end it is always about the money.

    • Jim Walker

      Is it about the money because of the incredible cost, risks, and possible losses; or, just plain old greediness. Perhaps a mix of both? This is what I’d like to be able to figure out or know from informed sources I felt were trustworthy and did not have a real invested interest either way.

  6. VaRedsFan

    Regarding the tier 3 group….Why not do what the Korean League did?

    Players shouldn’t feel the need to be tested every day. Keep the players and coaches in a controlled environment 2-4 days at a time. No one in, no one out. Everybody in the world has had to make sacrifices to their freedoms. Baseball players should be no different.

  7. Old-school

    It’s being reported Ohio State football players will report to campus June 8 and the AD is looking at having 20-30k fans at games.

    • Jim Walker

      OSU Gene Smith per Tweets I’ve seen said he thought the capacity of Ohio Stadium with currently accepted social distancing standards would be in the 20-22K range:

      https://twitter.com/Dan_Hope/status/1263169301135200256

      At this teleconference Smith also said (per several tweets) he did not believe the players could play wearing masks; and, he hoped there would be some sort of national standards put in place for health and safety.

      Smith was also quoted as saying he is “not yet 100% comfortable” with playing this season but hopes he can get there.

      • Old-school

        I’ve not understood IF baseball does play, why GABP couldnt have 12000 fans. You would ” sellout” every game and recoup some revenue.

      • Jim Walker

        @oldschool>>> I’m guessing it is the cost of opening the place up to fans even if they get the OK to allow fans up to the social distancing guidelines. They probably lose money on 12K fans even without the pandemic issues.

        There are also the issues of people arriving/ departing at roughly the same time. Not thinking it terms of vehicle traffic here, just getting the people in and out of the stadium while maintaining proper distancing.

        Also should point out that I have several OSU beat writers on my twitter stream and none of them suggested Smith actually expected or anticipated having fans at the games. He gave his best projection for a socially distanced Ohio Stadium capacity.

      • Sliotar

        Gene Smith is definitely being “aspirational” … hoping fans can attend.

        As an OSU alum and having been to at least 50 OSU games …. there is ample parking and access in all directions to support 20K fans, even with the Olentangy River next to stadium.

        Same with GABP… have parked in many different places over years.

        The catch would seem to be … MLB is planning on using some seating to spread out players. Probably a health and security risk to have in adjacent sections to players.

        College football (and NFL) … probably have to spread players out across whole sidelines … but not in stands, as different players/units have to come on immediately, with clock running.

    • RedNat

      how silly would baseball look if college football kids are practicing and getting ready for the season and mlb is still sitting at home. not sure the game recovers. the owners know this, the players do not. most current players don’t remember the 1994 strike. it decimated the fanbase. particularly the urban base. a work stoppage this year would cut the fan base in half. maybe worse.

      • Jim Walker

        Smith made the point that the workout facilities inside the Woody Hayes Center would be among the most controlled environment to be found anywhere. I did not see any comment as to whether the players will be sequestered; but, my guess is they would be at least to a large extent.

      • Sliotar

        @RedNat

        Good call.

        The NFL is likely getting a big boost … as it has benefitted from not starting in the fall and projected an attitude of “for now…business as usual.”

        What needs to happen is for one side … Owners or MLB Players … to set a “drop dead” date to reach agreement and start a shortened season.

        The idea that one or both sides would miss the deadline and be blamed for “destroying baseball” will nudge them to get a deal done.

      • Jim Walker

        @Sliotar
        One of the Gene Smith quote tweets I saw had him guesstimating how many games they might play as a regular season. He said something like maybe not 12 but at least 8.

        My thought is that one issue may be he doesn’t want to put his program at risk against any program he doesn’t trust has been at least as stringent and effective at risk management as he feels his program will be.

  8. Old-school

    It now looks like the NBA has a plan for playoffs centered on Orlando/ disney/ESPN.

    • Jim Walker

      I think NBA and NHL have the best chance to actually get something up and running before fall because both can go directly to some sort of playoff scenario at a limited number of sites where they can lock down a more limited number of players and control access.

      If a team get beat, they are out; the players then can literally go home to daily life. The guys still in won’t care nearly as much that they remained locked down because after all, it is the playoffs; and they are one of a finite number of steps closer to being champions.

      Same is true of the European Soccer leagues. They were in their home stretch when the shutdown hit. It is just a few weeks to make it through for league titles and/ or finishing positions which qualify teams for UEFA Championship and Europa League side tournaments in the 2020-21 season.

      • Sliotar

        NHL playoff format leaking out this evening ….

        Toronto vs. Columbus in a 5-game … “play-in” series.

        Upset alert.

        All the pressure on the Leafs… with all that offensive talent, still haven’t won a playoff series.

      • Jim Walker

        @sliotar

        The Athletic thinks NHL is bending the playoff format to get Leafs and Rangers in because of their market size, thus the 24 team format vs a 20 teamer.

        CBJ are in either way; and actually could end up in a better position in the smaller field per Athletic. Only way CBJ doesn’t get at least a “play in” series for the final 16 traditional bracket is if they go with 16 teams only from start which would leave them as first out in East based on % of possible points earned.

        The rapid fire rate of games would be right up CBJ’s alley if the 2 young goalies are on their mojo and the army of injured are recovered. Not sure there would be any true upsets in them taking out anybody up to the Caps, Bruins or Lightning.