MLB Gets Its Hopes Up for a May/June Return, but the Reality Remains Stark

John Hickey

Just the headline offered hope.

Over on ESPN.com last night, the words jumped off the screen: “MLB, union focused on plan that could allow season to start as early as May in Arizona.”

With baseball locked down during this national COVID-19 coronavirus quarantine, those words screamed hope.

Come the dawn, however, is the reality that hope can be fickle.

The sources talking to Jeff Passan for the story said baseball was looking at having all 30 teams starting the season playing games with no fans in attendance at some of the 10 spring training facilities in Arizona.

Players, coaching staff and essential personnel would go from living in isolation at local hotels and travel just to and from the stadiums.

There are more than a couple of problems, not the least of which would be forcing players to leave their families for an indefinite amount of time. Perhaps a majority of MLB players might go for it, but some almost certainly will balk. How will MLB and the Players’ Association handle players who aren’t willing to risk an early return?

There is a stadium problem, too, and since there wouldn’t be any fans, the problem isn’t the relatively small seating areas the facilities have. There are only 10 parks in the Phoenix area because a number of teams share facilities: the Diamondbacks and the Rockies, the Reds and the Indians, the Royals and the Rangers, the White Sox and the Dodgers, and the Mariners and the Padres.

That’s just 10 stadiums, 11 if the A’s former facility at Phoenix Muni, currently the home of the Arizona State Sun Devils, could be pressed into service. And then there’s Chase Field, home of the Diamondbacks, making it a dozen

To have all 30 teams playing every day, there would be need to be 15 stadiums. Perhaps a few college or junior college sites could be pressed into duty, but those facilities wouldn’t have the level of workout and medical facilities Major League players are used to. There are a couple of former big-league spring sites in Tucson that could be pressed into duty, but it’s a hike to get there down I-17.

And then there’s the weather. They don’t call it the Valley of the Sun for nothing. The average temperature in May is 94. In June it jumps to 104, then to 106 in July, and the average doesn’t get down to double digits until October. There’s a reason the Diamondbacks play in a domed stadium.

Even night games can be brutal, but perhaps moving starting times back to 8 p.m. (MT/PT) would mitigate the worst of that. Sunset in June in the Phoenix area comes about 7:40, so the beating down of the sun wouldn’t be an issue for the games, although it would be for the pregame workouts and batting practice.

But there would likely be pushback from teams based on the East Coast. An 8 p.m. start in Phoenix would be an 11 p.m. start in New York or Philadelphia or Atlanta. Viewership would likely fall off the cliff. If anything, those teams would probably press for a 5 p.m. start (8 p.m. ET), and the heat of the sun be damned.

The plan under discussion is about the nuts and bolts of getting baseball going. It depends on many external factors, including the availability of COVID-19 testing and an easing of the rate of infection.

Presumably the games will be televised, and that will be the primary source of income for the sport. But the differential in take-home revenue for teams like the Yankees and Red Sox and Dodgers and teams like the A’s and Brewers and Rockies is substantial. Will some kind of revenue sharing be part of the plan?

Major League Baseball issued a statement Tuesday morning saying that while the one-location plan – a Florida-centric plan also apparently had been tossed around – had been discussed, MLB had “not settled on that option or developed a detailed plan.”

“MLB has been actively considering numerous contingency plans that would allow play to commence once the public health situation has improved to the point that it is safe to do so,” the statement from MLB read. ”While we have discussed the idea of staging games at one location as one potential option, we have not settled on that option of developed a detailed plan. While we continue to interact regularly with governmental and public health officials, we have not sought or received approval of any plan from federal, state and local officials, or the Players Association.

“The health and safety of our employees, players, fans and the public at large are paramount, and we are not ready at this time to endorse any particular format for staging games in light of the rapidly changing public health situation caused by the coronavirus.”

MLB isn’t alone in this. The NBA is talking about conducting its entire postseason in Las Vegas. In England, the Premier League is talking about isolating teams to get football/soccer going again.

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