April 8, 2020

MLB Has A Plan For 2020: All 30 Teams Play A Shortened Schedule In Empty Stadiums In Arizona

The New York Post reports that one of Commissioner Rob Manfred's "numerous contingency plans" for the 2020 season is for all 30 teams to play an abbreviated season exclusively in Arizona, with no crowds at any of the games. A statement on Tuesday from MLB acknowledged the Arizona-Only plan as a possibility.

The Post's Joel Sherman writes:
MLB has yet to submit a plan for approval nor has it received a formal green light from any government or health entity on a variety of scenarios that it has mulled. However, the Arizona Project has some momentum because behind the scenes it has received support from key government and national medical officials, who see — among other things — the symbolic value baseball could have for the country.
The Athletic noted that if the proposal were to be adopted, some changes would be visible on game broadcasts. "The players would sit apart in the stands to promote social distancing. High fives would be discouraged. Same with mound visits."

In a separate article, Sherman writes:
Fueling the energy behind the one-locale plan is concerns by both management and players that playing games across the country during this coronavirus pandemic will be impossible. ...

As one person briefed on the plan said, "It is imperfect. It may be impossible. But we should study this in every way possible because it could be a plan like this or no baseball in 2020." ...

What is acceptable risk? There is not going to be a vaccine in the next month. ... [R]estarting the sport would still put a lot of people in one place at one time — and not just players. There is a need for coaches, umpires, TV crews, grounds crews, clubhouse attendants, doctors, trainers, workout specialists. Everyone will have to be fed and housed and commuted from one place to another, forcing an ever-wider pool of contact. ...

A player representative said, "Everyone wants to play as many games as possible, but only at the point that health and safety are adequately protected."

How many people will agree what "adequately" means?
The Athletic:
The trouble with devising a plan under the current conditions revolves around triangulating the public health issues, the labor issues and the logistical issues. Can federal officials assure the safety of the players and staffers? Will players commit to the plan? And how do you cram 15 major league games a day into one metropolis? The greater Phoenix area houses Chase Field, 10 spring training complexes and several college fields. Only Chase Field, home to the Diamondbacks, has a dome.
What happens if a player, coach, clubhouse attendant, etc., tests positive for the virus? Does that force a team-wide quarantine and, thus, a shutdown of the sport again? After all, if a team needs to quarantine, the other 29 teams can't keep playing without it. ...

[T]his is a sport in which — among other things — there is a lot of licking of fingers and spitting. The ball is shared. Someone has to clean the uniforms. Under even the most consolidated, isolated situation, there are going to be risks encountered.
What Do The Players Think?

The Athletic spoke to players and managers and heard a combination of excitement and apprehension (the safety of support staffers, the desert heat, the difficulty of maintaining quarantine and being separated from their families).

Dodgers pitcher Alex Wood:
I personally don't think that everyone would go for it. [It's] a possibility if we know for certain that that's the only way we can play baseball. Does that make sense? I don't have kids or anything like that. I'm down for whatever. ... If we agreed to it, I think guys would follow [any rules]. Because nobody wants to be the idiot that is like sneaking out or going other places and all of a sudden, boom, that person gets sick, and it's like, 'Now you just messed everything up.'
Phillies pitcher Zack Wheeler's wife is due to give birth to their first child in July: "I couldn't even imagine missing the birth and just ... going 'Hey, I'll see you in December' or whenever it is. That's not going to work."

Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery. The youngest of his three children was born only a few months ago: "I don't know if I could look at my kids just through a screen for four or five months. The same thing goes for my wife, not being able to be around her. That's a long time. But people have done it in harsh scenarios, I guess."

Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart: "I think it will be really hard to pull off. ... However, if that means we can be back playing ball earlier than first thought and eventually make it back to our regular home cities as things hopefully start to calm down, then I believe that it is something that I could absolutely get behind."

Cleveland manager Terry Francona: "Some of this would most likely be almost impossible. You can't keep players six feet apart the entire day. They're around trainers, for example. Someone might slide into a base."

Atlanta pitcher Cole Hamels: "I think we should do anything we can to get baseball back and into focus for the fans and world. Sports helps give people entertainment and something to look forward to, so they can get through tough times."

Athletics shortstop Marcus Semien: "I think it is an interesting concept ... but it is still a rough draft."

Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado: "If doctors OK us playing, it would mean they know this plan really well. And that makes me more confident about it."

Angels manager Joe Maddon: "I'll do anything. I'll play on the moon, I don't care. Whatever the schedule looks like, I'm good. The only thing about Arizona is that it's going to be really hot. Even at night, it's going to be really hot. Those games will be tough. You're talking 100-degree tough. That's the part that concerns me."

Anonymous player: "Playing in 125-degree weather is gruesome. Doubleheaders, 20 games straight, and we're going to be in the desert in the summertime? That doesn't sound like a good idea to me."

Anonymous Mets player: "That's hell. I mean we're talking 120 degrees every day and playing weekly doubleheaders and 20 days straight."

Royals reliever Trevor Rosenthal (sounds like a full-on member of The Trump Cult):
I think it's in the best interest of the nation ... It will provide us an opportunity to inspire and set an example for everyone. ... We are at war and this is what we can do to help fight for our country. Provide the hope and discipline needed to get through this difficult time. Baseball players are the most resilient of all athletes to answer this call.
Yankees reliever Adam Ottavino: "I don't have any good insight, but I would be in the camp of supporting the idea. I'm sure a lot would have to go right for it to actually happen, but I'm hoping it can work because I want to play."

White Sox reliever Evan Marshall: "I'm all in favor ... assuming they can house the players in some sort of quarantine village where we know our exposure is to a minimum. Owners want revenue and players want salary and the opportunity to compete, but common sense has to prevail."

Anonymous AL slugger: "From what I read there are a lot of changes and I personally think a lot of those changes are unrealistic to get a full buy-in from everyone involved. But I am open to the idea of it."

Eireann Dolan, wife of Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle: "What about the non-millionaire hotel workers, security staff, grounds crews, media members, team traveling staffs, clubhouse attendants, janitorial workers, food service workers, and the billion other people required to make that 3.5 hour game happen every night?"

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