Last night, the AP added more to Ken Rosenthal’s original report about a plan to open the season at quarantined Spring Training locations, specifically indicating Arizona would be the location, and the plan was discussed yesterday by MLB and the MLBPA.
Overnight, Jeff Passan added considerably more detail, and everyone should give it a read:
NEWS: Major League Baseball and the MLBPA are focusing on a plan backed by federal health officials that could have players in training camps by May and games soon thereafter.
Details at ESPN on how MLB may return — and the difficulty in doing so: https://t.co/zDoNa3k4pm
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) April 7, 2020
As has previously been discussed, the TV-focused plan would involve players and essential staff being quarantined in Arizona, where games would be played entirely at the 10 Spring Training locations there, Chase Field, and other local fields as necessary. Per Passan, federal officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Health are apparently supportive of a plan that adheres to strict isolation and promotes social distancing – indeed, it kinda sounds like federal health officials have been offering this plan to the league for a while now? And this plan could have baseball being played competitively by some time in May, though June may be more realistic.
There would be no fans, very limited personnel, and the players might even sit in the stands to stay properly separated from each other. (How do you keep them separated on the field, though? Sure, baseball is better in that regard than the other sports, but they still inevitably come into close contact with each other …. )
The plan could include other variations to a “normal” season, including seven-inning doubleheaders frequently, electronic strike zones for umpire distance, and mic’d up players (hey, that one would be a HUGE positive to come out of this).
It’s not yet clear whether the players, en masse, would actually support a quarantine plan like this, which could last many months. It sounds like leadership is for it, and I would bet that a majority of players would want to make it happen (this is their livelihood, after all). But I’m not sure this is the kind of thing where you can just take a simple majority vote and then force the vote losers to come play in an Arizona quarantine for four months. Consider that another logistical hurdle among the many we’ve already discussed with a plan like this.
Speaking of which, as Passan notes, and we’ve been reiterating for a while now, a plan like this must be predicated on the kind of widespread, rapid testing availability that would allow players (and coaches, and essential staff) to consume tons and tons of regular testing on a near-daily basis, not only keeping them safe but preventing team or league-wide shut downs if someone tests positive. They must be able to deploy the tests without limiting what’s available to medical facilities, and it’s pretty hard to imagine that world as we sit here today (every Google search you make will return a new article about areas of the country suffering COVID-19 outbreaks without the ability to test everyone with symptoms, let alone as some kind of prophylactic measure). But apparently, per Passan, with emphasis added: “Most important would be a significant increase in available coronavirus tests with a quick turnaround time, which sources familiar with the plan believe will happen by early May and allow MLB’s testing not to diminish access for the general public.”
That’s not just huge baseball news or even just huge sports news. Widespread availability of rapid testing by early May would be enormous NATIONAL news, because it’s one of the key first steps – after the virus hits its peak – in some kind of return to working life for a lot of Americans. We know that capitalism has provided a monster incentive for medical manufacturers to ramp up the production of those kinds of tests, and maybe there is reason to believe it can be pulled off in a month. I have absolutely no idea at this moment, and that’s a part of this story that I’ve been trying to follow closely. I’ll dig in more, but if I had to guess? That information may have found origin in the President’s Saturday call with the commissioners of the major sports leagues. And, while I won’t say that means it is false, I do think it’s fair – given how this administration has proceeded throughout this crisis – to say that it probably skews extremely optimistic.
That said, I am surprised by a lot of the reaction to these *contingency plans* among the baseball commentariat (not so much you folks here, but out in the public sphere). To sit here in the first week of April and presume to know what will or will not be possible in five or eight or ten or whatever weeks is just crazy to me. Really think back to the world and your life eight weeks ago … grab a calendar and look. In eight weeks, our lives might once again be completely unrecognizable in ways we cannot predict at this moment. I am not the least bit comfortable telling anyone here that I have some privileged level of thought or knowledge that allows me to see the future at a time like this.
Maybe this plan can work out because a whole lot will have changed in our world over the next X number of weeks and months. Maybe this plan will, in hindsight, look utterly absurd. To me, anyone who forecloses either of those possibilities at this moment is selling you on wisdom they do not actually have.
So, then, of course MLB is coming up with – and apparently pursuing – a plan that could allow baseball to return, even in a weird way, if doing so is safe, and if the alternative is sitting around and waiting for a more normal return that might not actually materialize this year.
I’d probably still caution you against getting your hopes up at this point, as I would with all things touching upon a global pandemic that is killing thousands of people daily at the moment. We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the deadly, dangerous virus is precisely why all of these plans have to be so carefully crafted and contoured. There are no slam dunks right now, and it is probably more likely than not that a “best-case scenario” doesn’t play out. But if it’s possible, there are plenty of good reasons for MLB and its players to be exploring this plan, not only for themselves, but also for the country.
UPDATE: MLB released a statement, presumably trying to make sure people understand this is just contingency planning at this point:
— William Boor (@wboor) April 7, 2020