When he spoke to CNBC two weeks ago, baseball super agent Scott Boras surprised me with his confidence that training for baseball could resume almost immediately, and also his assertion that his players were willing begin that process under quarantine in order to start it up sooner rather than later.
That an agent would be pushing for a return to baseball was not, on its own, a surprise. But the fact that he was so firm and open about it, long before we know if testing is going to be in place to make a possibility, suggested to me that he was very confident it was going to happen.
But today, Boras took another turn, and I’m even more surprised – and maybe even confused – than the last time:
Scott Boras has a byline in The New York Times today: https://t.co/QwDBDho123
— James Wagner (@ByJamesWagner) May 5, 2020
Boras’s op-ed talks broadly about the importance and healing power of baseball, and about the need to balance public health and safety with mental health and life enjoyment – the thrust of his point on that front being this:
Now we have lost nearly 70,000 in our nation to Covid-19, each a tragedy beyond words. A growing number of us have found ourselves unemployed without warning, and with each passing day the fear and hunger will continue to rise for those in need. Nearly all Americans continue to make sacrifices. Some on the medical front lines have made the ultimate sacrifice. The “safer at home” policies our experts and federal officials recommended, and our state and local governments instituted, undoubtedly saved lives and prevented even worse devastation across the country.
However, we face a challenge in the coming weeks and months: How do we harmonize the concerns of health experts with the unwanted effects of those public health efforts? Experts believe we need isolation and social distancing, but that has led to lost jobs, increased stresses of every type and a diminishing of the social tapestry that binds and enhances our lives. After many weeks of following safer-at-home protocols, people are understandably restless and looking for an outlet.
It is time again for baseball to serve. The political universe, including President Trump; the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell; Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York; Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois; and Mayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago, have voiced an interest in the return of the game this summer when the time is right. Dr. Anthony Fauci, channeling the sentiment that President Roosevelt expressed in 1942, said in a recent interview that having “the great American pastime be seen” would help the mental health of the country.
We’ve seen this perspective before, and although there are merits, it feels like the parallels about baseball leading the way and serving … they just seem a little off at the moment, because what we’re really focused on is keeping as many people safe as possible. But I don’t really have a problem with Boras’s overall point.
I know that this conversation doesn’t land for everyone, and I wouldn’t be quite as grandiose about it as Boras is. But from my perspective, I do think there is a balance that merits discussion; everyone wants to see COVID-19 eradicated and see lives saved, but the nationwide impact on mental health right now is a worthy public health issue, too. Proceeding with a singular focus on one or the other is completely inappropriate in my view, which means – among many other more important things – yes, I feel like if baseball can return SAFELY, then we should be trying to make it happen. For the fans, sure, but also for the employees and associated industries that rely on the game.
In any event, I don’t actually think any of that is actually Boras’s primary message, which he instead gets into thereafter. Read it for yourself, but if I had to sum it up, it would be something like this: players should be permitted to return to training facilities (Spring Training facilities, I think?) immediately, where they would train up under quarantine. Doing so would allow them to prepare safely for a long period of time to be ready when it is determined that a season can begin.
Note that this approach does not square with what has prevailed over the past 10 days as the expected approach for MLB: trying for Spring Training Part Two in mid-June at home parks. In Boras’s vision, it seems much more like we’re talking about a pretty “normal” Spring Training process – pitchers and catchers report, then position players, then minor leaguers – but under quarantine, away from families, and subject to constant medical review.
Although the message squares with what he’s said before, I don’t quite understand who the intended audience is here. Is this to convince baseball that it’s best to start Spring Training under quarantine so that it can be safer, more controlled, and last longer (to reduce the risk of injuries early in the season)? Is this to get more players on board with this idea, by suggesting that HIS players – typically big-timers – are willing to do it? Is it to convince reticent politicians to get on board with opening up training facilities as deemed necessary? Is it to convince friendly politicians to push everyone else? Is it to convince the public to be on board with whatever idea the players and teams come up with?
Or is this something Boras perceives as an expected message from an agent, and therefore he wants to put it out there in (1) the best words he can craft, and (2) the most visible place? In other words, is this simply an advertisement for his firm?
So, then, is it really true that his players all want this to happen? And even if it is, would all players feel the same way? And even if they do, is it really necessary to push immediate Spring Training Part Two when we don’t actually know when or if a regular season can begin? Like, do players really want to wind up under quarantine in Arizona and Florida for the next three months if it’s decided that the regular season cannot actually begin until August?
Like I said, I find the op-ed surprising and a bit confusing. Surely Boras has as much information as anyone outside of Rob Manfred about what possibilities are on the table. So for him to very forcefully be pushing this version certainly suggests he *does* believe a lot of players are on board, and *does* believe this is a real possibility.
Perhaps as more information trickles out about whatever the latest machinations from the league are, it’ll make more sense why a powerful player agent would be pushing this approach. I don’t mean that to sound too cynical – it could just be about player injuries, and Boras might truly believe it’s totally good and fine and safe to go with this approach right away. But usually, it’s not too difficult to read between Boras’s lines and see how he’s moving a much bigger ball forward. In this instance, it’s harder for me to immediately see. I guess you could just keep it simple and say Boras wants baseball back ASAP because money (for his firm and his players), and he thinks this is the best way to do it.