Is Baseball About to Come Back?

It’s the end of April and we should already be a month into the 2020 baseball season. Spring Training was chugging along just fine, and then BAM! Humanity came to a standstill thanks to a worldwide pandemic. Spring Training abruptly ended, as did all other sports from youth to professional leagues. And just like that, the very idea that there wouldn’t be a baseball season was no longer absurd, but a very possible reality.

But then… a beacon of hope. South Korea resumed baseball activity after coming up with a plan for a safe, spectator-less season to start in May. And now, rumors are a-swirlin’ that MLB is devising a plan to start the season by July 2 – maybe even before the end of June. But don’t get too excited if you’re holding a pair of tickets to see a game, or you want the Twins to avenge the 2019 ass-whooping from the Yankees in the ALDS, or you wanted to watch a rematch of the 2019 NLCS as the Nationals take on the Dodgers. If there is any truth to the rumors flying, this season would look vastly different than any other we might have imagined. Here are some of the options/changes that we are hearing about:

A Shortened Season

For starters, there’s no way MLB can play a full 162 game season without games spilling deep into winter. With adequate Covid-19 testing and team isolation protocols in place, players can have a few weeks of Spring Training again starting at the end of May or early June, and we will likely see a 80+ game season. Maybe 100 games if we are lucky. If they can manage to schedule 100 games, this would definitely push the post season much farther into November than in years past. One of the scenarios Jeff Passan wrote about this week has us watching a World Series game with our turkey dinner. Fine by me!

The one thing keeping this plan from fruition would be the general lack of available Covid-19 tests, which still seems to be a very real issue in the US. The ethical dilemma of wasting multiple routine tests on athletes when there is a shortage of tests available for healthcare workers and the sick that are being turned away from hospitals and clinics would be hard to ignore. So this whole plan is a big, fat nothing if tests aren’t readily available for all players, coaches, training staff, camera crews, grounds crews, umpires, clubhouse attendants, AND medical personnel and the general public. We could replace umps this season with robotic ones, thus saving a few tests. It just might be the time to test this practice? But that’s for another discussion.

Empty Stadiums

Image: Orioles/White Sox game in 2015 played in an empty Camden Yards.
Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

If you’re like me, you might be wondering what to do with the unused tickets you had for April games (and probably May and June). Teams like the Twins are starting to roll out options for refunds or credits. If we are really, really lucky, we might get to roll that credit into a game later in the 2020 season. But for now, the word is that if teams get to play in their home stadiums (more on that in a bit), those seats would be largely empty.

Unfortunately, social distancing will likely have to happen for a while. People SHOULD PUT ON A FUCKING MASK will have to wear masks out in public for the foreseeable future. Cramming into stadiums even in the summer will not be a very conducive to distancing oneself. I mean, maybe by the end of the season if numbers start to taper or widespread antibody testing becomes a reality, we could start seeing seats sold at the ballparks, even if it’s just a family per row, and you can only seat people 3-4 rows apart. Hell, that would be a standard Marlins game attendance anyway, right? Hey-o!

Without ticket sales, concessions, shirts, team store sales, parking, and all of the other money making capability the teams rely on to pay players and staff, this might also pose a problem. Not every team has a TV deal with which they rake in the cash, and teams will be bleeding money by playing in front of empty seats. So how would they make up that revenue? Maybe they’ll slap tons of extra ads around the ballparks. Maybe uniforms will start to look like race cars with all sorts of patches from Budweiser or Pepsi. Maybe a national TV deal spread across the entire league would have to happen. I don’t know. I’m not a money person, so I don’t have the answers. I do know that if a seat is available at Target Field this summer, I would be willing to trade a kidney for it. But I’m not holding my breath.

A Divisional Shakeup?

There seem to be a few ideas floating around on how to schedule games. One idea is essentially a Major League Baseball city in Arizona. All players and staff would live in one area, quarantined from the rest of the population. Anyone in contact with the MLB players (hotel workers, caterers, trainers, bus drivers, etc) would have to be quarantined within this area as well. There are enough ballparks in the Phoenix area to make this happen, but players don’t want to be separated from their families for the duration of the season. Quarantine is hard enough, doing so without seeing their wives and kids for months on end would be cruel.

The other idea that is rumored to be the front runner is splitting the league into three ten-team geographical (and time zone) divisions. There would be no American League or National League, just East, Central, and West divisions, and they’d look like this:

EASTCENTRALWEST
Blue JaysBravesA’s
MarlinsBrewersAngels
MetsCardinalsAstros
NationalsCubsDiamondbacks
OriolesIndiansDodgers
PhilliesRedsGiants
PiratesRoyalsMariners
RaysTigersPadres
Red SoxTwinsRangers
YankeesWhite SoxRockies

Under this three league plan, each team would play the rest of the teams in their new division only. They’d perhaps get to play two, three, or four 3-game series’ (54, 81, or 108 games) against each team in the division, depending on how many games they might be able to squeeze in this season. This plan would also allow players to travel between their own ball parks rather than living in MLB City, Arizona. The big draw for this is that players won’t have to quarantine like they would in the Arizona plan. The downfall might be the traveling and increased exposure and the need for more frequent testing among players and staff.

This format would also open up so many questions. Will there be a DH? Players like Nelson Cruz and Albert Pujols aren’t going to be suiting up to play in their old positions but their bats are going to be needed. Will the pitching rules that were to take effect this season still be in place? How many guys can be on the roster? How many teams make it to post season? How would playoff brackets be structured? Where will the post season games be played? Certainly, players aren’t going to want to play a snowy World Series, so would post season play be moved to warm stadiums in Arizona, Texas, and Florida? How would MVP and other awards happen without AL and NL divisions? And what about the minor leagues? Are they even going to play? Are AAA players just going to travel with the rest of MLB in case a guy goes on the IL?

The season is going to be a logistical nightmare now matter how it plays out. Ticket refunds. Revenue. Division schedules. TV Schedules. Travel. Isolation. Plans for if/when players get sick. Plans for if/when Covid-19 sees a second wave and the schedule is suspended/delayed again. Nightmare or not, we all just want to see some real, live, not simulated, not repeated classic baseball in these dark times. Please please pretty pleeeeeeeeeease with sugar and cherries and a baseball on top.

What say you, readers? Leave a comment below.