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Yesterday, baseball Twitter was ablaze with teams, MLB and media trumpeting the announcement that the players had accepted MLB’s 60-game season proposal and would not stand in the way of a season getting started. Yet despite all of this hullaballoo, in the shadows there were reports of Colorado Rockies star Charlie Blackmon testing positive for COVID-19, and today, there were more reports of several Toronto Blue Jays players and staff testing positive for the virus.
So how do we move forward with a 2020 season?
Florida, where the Blue Jays’ training facility is located, is an epicenter of the latest wave of COVID outbreaks and are currently on an insane pace of infections. Florida reported over 4000 new cases in a day just a few days ago and is consistently reporting daily new cases in the thousands. Ontario, by contrast, has been reporting about 200 new cases per day for the past week or so.
With outbreaks in Phillies’ camp, in Blue Jays camp and others and with many players and coaches testing positive, how are teams going to successfully insulate players, coaching staffs and other team employees once players report to team camps on July 1?
To me, the details of the proposed 2020 season (I say “proposed” because I’m not confident that we’ll even have that season) are almost irrelevant to this massive wave of new COVID cases coming out of the US.
That said, let’s look at other roadblocks for the Toronto Blue Jays going forward. First of all, where do they play? Ken Rosenthal has reported that the Blue Jays have asked the Canadian government for special dispensation for baseball to be played in Canada, bypassing the 14-day quarantine rule. If the government does not allow permission to bypass the 14-day quarantine rule, it looks like the Blue Jays would play in the US, either in Dunedin at their recently renovated spring training stadium or somewhere like Buffalo, close to Toronto and with the facilities to handle the major league team.
Additionally, with the 60-game schedule, the league would plan to have teams play 10 games against the other four teams in their division with another four games each against the National League teams in the corresponding division (so the Blue Jays would play four games against each of the teams in the NL East). The DH would be in effect in both leagues and rosters would start at 30 players for two weeks, drop to 28 for another two weeks and finish at 26. In addition, the teams would keep a 60-man roster of players eligible to play in 2020, consisting of the players on the 40-man roster and an additional 20 players.
Additionally, the minor league rule for tiebreakers in extra-inning games will be used, starting each half inning with a runner on second base. This rule has been extremely effective in cutting down long extra-inning games in the minor leagues.
In their attempts to control nature (see Jeff Goldblum’s character’s many statements about this in the Jurassic Park series for my own thoughts about this), players will get tested for the virus every other day. They will get temperature/symptom checks twice per day and will have antibody tests conducted once a month. They will be “encouraged” to social distance while on the field and at the park, with players and team personnel not participating sitting in the stands. Team personnel must wear masks in the dugout and bullpen (it’s not clear if it’s players who aren’t in the game, or just team personnel).
There’s going to be no exchange of lineup cards before the game, no “celebratory contact” (i.e., high fives, etc.), no spitting or chewing of tobacco or sunflower seeds although gum is allowed (I guess since chewing gum doesn’t require spitting). They’ll throw out a ball once it’s been touched by multiple players (although do they count a pitcher and catcher “multiple players,” in which case they’d have to use a different ball on every pitch?). And of course, from MLB’s website, “fights are strictly prohibited.” As if they were totally fine before.
The MLB website notes that they reserve the right to relocate teams to neutral sites for health and safety reasons.
Again, I don’t necessarily share a lot of folks’s optimism that all of these regulations will still result in a season. With COVID-19 cases trending up in much of the US, I think we’ll see the numbers of players testing positive start to go up.
At what level will the MLBPA step in and say that there’s just too much risk to the players to continue to ramp up towards a season? While the MLBPA is looking after their players’ financial interests by getting a season underway, are they really looking after their physical best interests?
What do you think of MLB trying to get a season going?
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