Moment of Truth: Will There Be Baseball in 2020?
On March 27, Major League Baseball and the Players Association (MLBPA) agreed on a few key economic issues amid the coronavirus shutdown. Advances on player salaries and service time highlighted the agreement, and while still many other issues remain in flux, the players union got some form of protection if the worst-case scenario played out.
Of course, that scenario would be no baseball played in 2020. Advances worth $170 million give Major League players some form of income for 2020 and gaining whatever service time they accrued in 2019 helps players get closer to that goal of free agency, even without playing an inning this year.
Good. The last thing MLB needs right now is giving fans any reminder of 1994. Everyone's money, even the minor leaguers (kind of), is taken care of. Now, about that thing called the regular season.
According to a report by ESPN's Jeff Passan, there are three conditions in the agreement that could seriously affect the pulse of the regular season:
- There are no bans on mass gatherings that would prohibit play in front of fans.
- There are no travel restrictions in the United States and Canada.
- Medical experts determine that there would be no health risks for players, staff or fans, with the commissioners and players union still able to revisit the idea of playing in empty stadiums.
The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) currently has a recommendation in place, prohibiting mass gatherings of 50 or more people in place through May 10. If the spread of the novel coronavirus hasn't improved by then, that date could very well be pushed back.
On Saturday, President Donald Trump held a conference call with commissioners and top executives from 12 professional sports leagues. On the call, President Trump said he hopes to have fans in stadiums by August and September. While that perfectly lines up with the beginning of the NFL season, it could seriously affect the start of the MLB season or the resumption of the NBA, NHL, or MLS seasons.
On a positive note for the survival of the MLB season, MLBPA executive director Tony Clark told USA Today Sports that the players are "very open" to playing in empty stadiums.
That brings us to the bottom line: If MLB is going to have a season in 2020, there will have to be games in empty stadiums for at least a portion of the season. The best-case scenario seemed to be a start in June, but now the trend from MLB leaders seem to have July 4 as a possible target for Opening Day. Any start in August would surely put the conclusion of the World Series some time in December, which is where things begin to get a little fuzzy.
“We would play as long as we possibly could,’’ Tony Clark told USA Today Sports. “Obviously, the weather becomes a challenge the later you get in the calendar year, but we would do our best to play as many as possible regardless of when we start.
In order for the baseball season to go that deep into the calendar year, neutral sites would certainly have to be a part of any agreement between MLB and the MLBPA. Eight of the 30 ballparks in Major League Baseball have a permanent or retractable roof, making them ideal locations for neutral site games.
- Rogers Centre (Toronto, ON, Canada)
- Marlins Park (Miami, FL)
- Tropicana Field (St. Petersburg, FL)
- Globe Life Field (Arlington, TX)
- Minute Maid Park (Houston, TX)
- Miller Park (Milwaukee, WI)
- Chase Field (Phoenix, AZ)
- T-Mobile Park (Seattle, WA)
According to The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal, MLB is considering quarantining teams and playing games in empty stadiums in Arizona and Florida, where Major League clubs play their spring training games. It's not a be-all end-all for MLB, but they have to consider all options if they are to save their season.
Unless both MLB and the MLBPA can come to an ironclad agreement to play in both empty stadiums and neutral sites, there won't be baseball in 2020. Period. Not to rain on any optimist's parade, but it's time we really look at this realistically. If there is baseball in 2020, it's going to look a lot different, even if it is just temporary.
If there is a season, the game of baseball will be drastically impacted this year. Expanded rosters, empty stadiums, neutral sites, games played around Thanksgiving, possible uptick in player injuries – all of these and more are just symptoms of a regular season forcibly played amid a pandemic. Not to mention, how badly will a shortened offseason affect the 2021 season?
Even if all goes well and MLB and the MLBPA take every step necessary to salvage the season, it could all be out of their hands. If the spread of COVID-19 worsens, baseball could do everything right and still have no baseball played in 2020.
Unfortunately, that's a reality we all need to embrace.
Do you think baseball will be played in 2020? Leave your opinion in the comments below.
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