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An update on a possible 2020 MLB season in Arizona

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They’re still looking into it.

Photo by Wild Horizons/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Lest you think I’m beating the proverbial dead horse here, I’m writing this article because there are, in fact, a few more thoughts about the possibility of a 2020 MLB season played in Arizona from Ken Rosenthal at The Athletic today, and I wanted to have a look at the various points he made.

So here goes! Here’s the reason you haven’t heard much about this recently:

The pause in the discussions should not be confused with a lack of activity. Both sides are speaking to medical experts, and MLB continues to investigate the Arizona plan, sources said.

“Different plans require different levels of restriction for players, different economics associated with it, different start dates,” one league official said, explaining why conversations with the union were on hold.

All perfectly valid, and unspoken there is the possibility that none of those things will work and we won’t have a 2020 MLB season at all. There does appear to be, however, some sort of consensus that the “Arizona Bubble League” might work:

The Arizona plan is drawing support from some federal officials, and might be the only way for baseball to return in 2020. The logistics would be complicated: Players would be tested for the coronavirus regularly and exist in a sealed environment of hotels and ballparks in the Phoenix area. But over time, the quarantine might be relaxed as the nation gradually re-opens, allowing the plan to evolve.

As league officials study all options, they say that staying nimble would enable them to pivot if state governments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) begin to lift restrictions on social gatherings, potentially creating a different road map for playing in 2020. The CDC has recommended against assemblages of 50 or more through May 10, and every state with a major-league team currently is operating with a stay-at-home order for its residents.

Rosenthal does go on to say — and I agree completely — that we are not likely to see games with any fans in the stands until there is a vaccine for the novel coronavirus. That would seem to rule out fans returning to baseball games — or indeed, any gathering of any large size — until sometime in 2021.

Here are some of the problems with placing all 30 teams in Arizona and playing in Chase Field, spring training parks and perhaps some other venues in the Phoenix area:

The Arizona plan, though, is fraught with obstacles.

Temperatures in Phoenix in the summer months routinely soar over 100 degrees, making for less-than-ideal playing conditions. The city’s location in the Mountain Time Zone potentially would reduce the size of night-time television audiences. The potential inclusion of families in the sealed environment – an idea many players advocate – would dramatically increase the number of people quarantined and tested.

No doubt, these are issues and some of them might be insurmountable. There had also been a plan put forth to have teams split between Arizona and Florida and have the “Grapefruit League” play the “Cactus League” in the World Series. But that has other issues, per Rosenthal:

Some of the 15 clubs that train in Florida, meanwhile, would prefer the league to explore playing in both that state and Arizona, sources said. Baseball is considering the two-state concept, but the training camps in Florida are more spread out than the complexes in Arizona, and some are in relatively remote locations, creating other challenges.

Also Monday, ESPN’s Jeff Passan said in an interview that the Arizona plan is likely to be the only viable one at this time:

Any idea of playing in MLB cities has to be scrapped, I’d think. Can you imagine what might happen if they tried to play games in an empty Wrigley Field? People would flock to the streets just to be near the ballpark. I can’t imagine the city of Chicago would permit anything like that in 2020. Other cities might have similar concerns. I don’t think we’ll see the Cubs playing in Chicago this year.

Beyond all that, there’s the issue of how these games would be televised — because putting them on TV is kind of the point, since there wouldn’t be any fans in the stands:

Television – which will be the sole outlet for fans to see games if they are prohibited from entering parks – is another issue the sport would need to address. If a quarantine was in effect, would broadcasts emanate from the usual on-site production trucks or off-site control rooms? Would the announcers be on location? Would robotic cameras replace individual operators? Whatever baseball decided, its local and national TV partners likely would need significant time to prepare.

Personally, if I were setting up such a system? I’d probably use robotic cameras and announcers not on site. That would greatly reduce the number of people needed on-site to put on events of this nature. It would be relatively easy to create a robotic camera setup controlled by a remote control room. Announcers could get feeds via the internet and perhaps even comment from their homes. Have no doubt, TV is driving this engine and as Rosenthal notes, this would take a lot of preparation time.

In conclusion:

“It’s just not at all clear at this point what’s going to be feasible and what’s not going to be feasible,” one league official said. “Right now, very little is feasible. We’re all sitting in our houses.”

I don’t think anyone can argue with that. It might not be possible to play professional baseball in any form in 2020. Or it might. Until all possibilities are ruled out, it’s certainly worth MLB’s time to discuss ways that it could happen.

Poll

Once again, regarding the 2020 MLB season...

This poll is closed

  • 32%
    Play it all in Arizona
    (202 votes)
  • 24%
    Play it in Arizona and Florida
    (152 votes)
  • 13%
    Play in empty MLB parks if cities are opened up later this year
    (82 votes)
  • 29%
    Scrap the whole thing and start again in 2021
    (183 votes)
619 votes total Vote Now