Nothing that happened today – facility closings for the Phillies and Blue Jays, multiple other sports revealing positive COVID-19 tests – should be regarded as entirely unexpected. There’s a pandemic still spreading across this country, and athletes are not somehow magically immune to it. We knew some would be infected, and we hope that procedures are in place to minimize those infections and their health impact.
But at the same time, what happened today *did* do something: it highlighted for us all what’s really going on in the attempts to return to sports. Focusing, as MLB has, on the fights about money is not only galling to fans who are dealing themselves with the pandemic and a crushed economy, but is also galling to anyone’s sensibilities about what the REAL challenge of the moment is. Getting a deal in place is like a luxury relative to navigating a short season worth of games where players are going to be in close proximity for so long.
To that end, I appreciate what Joel Sherman wrote today: that the news of the day should serve as a wake-up call to the sparring factions in MLB (there are more than two). However you decide to proceed with respect to the money, none of that is going to change the thing on which you have to consolidate your focus.
https://t.co/I9lnmEVh42 New Column: A COVID-19 outbreak in #Phillies camp is a reminder that the common enemy for MLB/PA is the virus, which still gives them that to unite over to reach a deal and see if there is actually a way to play a season amid a pandemic.
— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) June 19, 2020
I won’t give you any flowery spin, though. That today’s news will allow the parties to set aside their differences and just agree to a deal so that they can focus on health and safety.
I will, however, say that’s what should happen at this point.
Like I said at the top, we always knew the positive tests were coming – but if MLB cannot use this moment to amplify their efforts on the health and safety side of this thing? If they proceed in intentional avoidance like so much of the country has? Then the whole thing was doomed from the start, regardless of any money questions.
Meanwhile, a couple other things to note this evening on a day that was completely silent (publicly) on the negotiating front:
There are no scheduled labor talks today with #MLB and the #MLBPA. The two sides are $250 million-$300 million apart in their last exchange of proposals, with owners proposing 60 games and the players 70 games.
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) June 19, 2020
Belief is commissioner Manfred still seeks to do a deal with players. Heard he might have to sell a potential counterproposal of theirs to some hardline owners who thought they already had a contingent deal. But Manfred much prefers to have players on board and avoid mandating.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) June 19, 2020
If the Commissioner cannot get a few more owners to just say OK to 64-66 games, then he will have failed in his duties as the steward of MLB. We get that at this point, yes?
Other players on other clubs have tested positive, by the way. It’s just that the Phillies news stood out because it was attached to a facility (which is where you fear uncontrolled spread). As Jared Diamond notes, those other positive tests, combined with today’s news, make some around the game wonder if the league shouldn’t reconsider the bubble concept:
NEW: Eleven players on 40-man rosters from seven teams have tested positive for coronavirus since June 5.
The rise in cases could force baseball to reconsider the "bubble" plan to have a season in 2020, with Southern California seen as a possible site.https://t.co/Sm3E2T9pYV
— Jared Diamond (@jareddiamond) June 19, 2020
It seems pretty late in the game to try to make something like that work, and given how hot spots keep popping up around the country, I’m not entirely sure a bubble is even going to be the best idea (how do you think the NBA is feeling about its bubble in Orlando right now? Nervous, I expect).
I don’t think we should go too far on this idea for now, because it feels more like some folks inside the game doing some speculating than anything else, and we know that teams have an extremely strong preference for having games at their home parks.
Also, we know that players were opposed to this idea for family reasons.