MLB is bugging. And not because it wants to salvage the 2020 season in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic. Every baseball fan in the world is down with that.
The proposal that MLB’s brain trust is formulating to somehow get around the health restrictions caused by the coronavirus is farfetched at best. It’s not impossible, but problematic in many ways.
At the same time, desperate circumstances call for desperate measures. When faced with the choice of not getting paid versus getting paid and playing a circus-style of baseball, most players will do what they need to do for their families.
MLB suggests that all 30 MLB teams play in Arizona in a COVID-free Bubble City
According to the latest reports, MLB plans to return in May with all 30 teams playing in stadiums without fans in the greater Phoenix area. Players, coaches, and essential personnel would be sequestered at local hotels and live in relative isolation to make it all work
Jeff Passan initially reported this on ESPN:
“Right now this is a plan and it is a plan that is going to be extraordinarily difficult to pull off because of the logistics and getting everybody on board with it,” Passan said. “It requires so many things going right in order for it to happen and those aren’t things you normally see applied to sports leagues trying to come back. MLB and the player population recognizes that if this plan doesn’t work the likelihood of baseball coming back in 2020 is far less.”
MLB intends to put itself inside a biosphere in the Phoenix area and keep everyone away from the public and make sure no health issues spread there. Other suggestions; using an electronic umpire to create more human social distancing. Also, having the players sit in the stands six chairs apart, rather than in the dugout, which is a more intimate setting.
These suggestions seem crazy and beyond the realm of comprehension. Eliminating the fans from any sport is going to also affect the game. Spectators are too central to the experience of team sports at the college and pro levels and such a change It definitely laughs in the face of the belief that fans make the game.
Just imagine baseball without the crowd…
• First and foremost: We would not hear any applause or boos. That might sound familiar to anyone who’s made a specialty of watching the first games of twi-night doubleheaders, but for everyone else it would be very strange.
• Home-crowd ritual chants that are usually audible during a game broadcast, like “Let’s Go Mets!” or the Braves’ warpath chant, would no longer take place. Neither, presumably, would the canned audio bursts designed to prompt the crowd’s response (“Everybody clap your hands!”).
• Players often do certain things to acknowledge the fans. A baseball pitcher walking to the dugout after being removed from a game, for example, will sometimes tip his cap; a batter who hits a clutch home run may briefly step out of the dugout for a curtain call; and the three stars of an NHL game will briefly loop onto the ice and often raise their sticks toward the crowd. But those gestures won’t make sense if there’s no crowd, so players will presumably stop making them.
• Similarly, players sometimes wave their arms to encourage the crowd to yell louder (or, in the case of football quarterbacks, sometimes gesture for quiet so their signals can be heard by their teammates). Nobody will be doing that in an empty facility.
• National anthems would presumably have to be presented via recordings, since live performers would not be considered “essential staff.” Also, certain crowd-specific aspects of the anthem, like when the home crowd all yells “Oh!” or when the applause starts during the last few lines of the song, would no longer take place during the broadcast.
Fans aren’ the only ones left with more questions than answers.
How are pitchers who normally go to their mouths under certain conditions, going to deal with breaking that routine?
Do players want to be away from their families for five months?
Arizona is the home of MLB Spring Training and already equipped to accommodate 30 teams, so a full season could be played there. Unfortunately, it would feel like a huge MLB money grab to fans who have been excluded from participation.
Times like these are when purists get slapped in the face with the reality of sports as a business. Nothing is written in stone and these days the spread of COVID-19 and the government dictates how these sports leagues move.
Players and MLB are expected to continue talks this week. Some see it as a health risk driven by greed. Others see it as the best option to salvage baseball in 2020.
As much as I’m willing to watch any form of baseball, I just can’t see it.