I will always understand why the players pushed back against the idea, and I’ll also understand that there are geographic and climate and logistical issues that it would’ve been SO much harder for baseball, but the experts were right: bubbles can work for sports.
The medical and epidemiological experts who opined back in March and April on how and if sports could safely return virtually all described the same kind of setup: put all the teams in one particular area, remove the travel component, test them constantly, and have very strict/well-monitored rules about behavior between the hotel and the game facilities. Colloquially, we’ve called this concept a “bubble,” and it has been more or less flawless so far for the NBA and the NHL, the latter of which just reported yet another round of COVID-free tests.
It’s too late, realistically, to figure out a bubble for MLB (if it was ever possible at all), but it’s not too late to start planning ahead for the postseason, where a bubble could be both doable and sensible.
From the Cubs GM:
Jed Hoyer said, considering how much of a challenge travel has been, "I think a bubble situation for the playoffs could be in the best interest" of the league to complete the postseason.
— Maddie Lee (@maddie_m_lee) August 10, 2020
The biggest thing you’re not going to want is all the travel that takes place during a typical series. For the initial round, which will be just three games at one ballpark, that’s not really an issue. But after that, you’re talking about multiple plane trips and hotel stays during the course of a single series. That seems unnecessary in this environment, particularly where it’s highly unlikely you’re talking about having fans at home ballparks.
I’d like to hope that the league is already making bubble-ish plans for its expanded postseason, even if it means only something as simple as every game in a series is played at one team’s location. The Commissioner does have the authority under the March Agreement to explore neutral sites for games, but without fans, I wonder if that’s even worth it. The primary goal should be minimizing travel, so to that end, maybe just say this year, home field advantage means you REALLY get home field advantage.
Consider the added risks of a flurry of positive COVID-19 tests during the postseason. Do you just remove the positives and power through it, since you can’t postpone for a week? Do you force the team with positives to replace anyone who was physically present with the positive people, even if that means nearly the entire roster is replaced? What if the spread goes from one team to the other? Should the team with positives just have to forfeit? How many positives means forfeit? And on and on. It’s bad enough to have an outbreak in the regular season. In the postseason, it would be devastating.