Over the weekend, the National Hockey League and National Basketball Association announced that they would be closing clubhouses to media in the wake of COVID-19, the coronavirus currently crossing the globe.
Major League Baseball owners and the Commissioner’s office are going to do the same:
Major League Baseball will join the NBA and NHL in closing clubhouses to media due to fear over potential spread of coronavirus, sources tell ESPN.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) March 9, 2020
This is reportedly a temporary measure:
MLB will close clubhouses to media "on a temporary basis" and only "players and essential personnel will be allowed in" for this period.— Paul Sullivan (@PWSullivan) March 9, 2020
What this period of time will be has not yet been announced. However, Spring Training games will continue as normal:
After a conference call with owners Monday evening, MLB remains committed to playing the remainder of the slate of spring-training games as well as opening the regular season on time, sources tell ESPN. That plan, like so many, is contingent on how the coronavirus spreads.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) March 9, 2020
On Saturday I wrote about concerns in some metro areas, notably the Bay Area and Seattle, where the virus has spread to more people than in other places, about playing sporting events at all. In that article, I noted that teams were being asked to put contingency plans in place in case they might have to play games elsewhere or in empty stadiums. Relocation of games is apparently an option being considered if necessary:
MLB plans to monitor local markets and remain nimble if local health authorities recommend games not be played. One option, sources said, is for teams to play games at different locations outside of their metropolitan areas.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) March 9, 2020
Some writers are not happy at all about this:
Not sure why media members are considered greater infection risk that trainers and PR staff and front office staff and opposing players and umpires and stadium security and clubhouse attendants and coaches and television crews and field crews and bat boys and kitchen workers and https://t.co/TLXxXzICcz— Zach Buchanan (@ZHBuchanan) March 9, 2020
Absolutely agree. Terrible decision based on nothing more than fear of looking irresponsible if they don't follow the leader. Rather draconian response. https://t.co/NNsaKDBvlh— David O'Brien (@DOBrienATL) March 9, 2020
I am not wise enough to know if restricting media from clubhouses is a good preventive measure against coronavirus. I do know daily coverage of teams will be worse for it. Good relationships and stories do not often come from press conferences and mixed zones.— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) March 9, 2020
If the clubhouse closure is only temporary — and there doesn’t appear to be any indication it’s more than that — I think this is a bit of an overreaction on the part of the writers. For example, Cubs beat writers have gotten good video from starting players outside the clubhouse at Sloan Park after they leave games this spring, as they have in past springs. Stories can be written from those.
Granted, those “good relationships” referred to above are important and open clubhouses are a way for writers to build those. Again, if this is only a temporary measure, I don’t think the media has anything to worry about.
If MLB uses this as an excuse to keep clubhouses closed once the virus has passed, then sure, that’s an issue.
And, though the league says games will proceed as normal, I suspect they’ll have to add “for now” to that declaration. Things appear to be changing rapidly regarding COVID-19, so to say “we await developments” is pretty obvious.
The Cubs will resume the Cactus League schedule Tuesday against the Giants at Scottsdale Stadium. We’ll see if coverage from beat writers is any different.
UPDATE: MLB has issued an official statement.
“The health and safety of everyone in our communities is of the utmost importance to us. We have been engaging on an ongoing basis with a wide range of public health experts, infectious disease specialists, and governmental agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to obtain the latest information. We are regularly conveying the guidance from these experts to Clubs, players, and staff regarding prevention, good hygiene practices and the latest recommendations related to travel. We are continuing to monitor developments and will adjust as necessary. While MLB recognizes the fluidity of this rapidly evolving situation, our current intention is to play Spring Training and regular season games as scheduled.
“On a temporary basis, effective on Tuesday, only players and essential personnel may enter locker rooms and clubhouses at MLB facilities. In a joint step with other professional sports leagues, we are requiring that Clubs relocate media availabilities to another area in their facilities. Clubs will be expected to provide best efforts in facilitating usual media coverage and access to uniformed personnel and team officials in these alternate settings. Access for and coverage by the BBWAA and all media are vital to our game and we hope to resume normal operations as quickly as possible. We appreciate the media’s cooperation with this temporary step, which is being taken out of an abundance of caution for the best interests of all.”