As you know, Major League Baseball’s 2020 season is on hold during the coronavirus pandemic.
Last week, I wrote up this proposal of how MLB could have a 108-game neutral-site season by playing all the games in Arizona, at Chase Field, spring training venues and other fields in the Phoenix area.
Now, it appears that MLB and its clubs are actually considering doing something very similar to what I wrote:
Putting all 30 teams in the Phoenix area this season and playing in empty ballparks was among the ideas discussed Monday by Major League Baseball and the players’ association.
The sides held a telephone call to talk about paths forward for a season delayed by the new coronavirus pandemic, people familiar with the discussion told The Associated Press. They spoke on condition of anonymity because no details were announced.
ESPN’s Jeff Passan posted further details of how such a season might work, including sequestering players and essential staff at Phoenix-area hotels, where they would go only to and from the ballparks. In addition, changes to game play might include:
• Implementing an electronic strike zone to allow the plate umpire to maintain sufficient distance from the catcher and batter
• No mound visits from the catcher or pitching coach
• Seven-inning doubleheaders, which with an earlier-than-expected start date could allow baseball to come closer to a full 162-game season
• Regular use of on-field microphones by players, as an added bonus for TV viewers
• Sitting in the empty stands 6 feet apart — the recommended social-distancing space — instead of in a dugout
Passan’s article says that it’s possible that if all these protocols could be instituted, a season could begin as early as May, though it’s my view that’s somewhat unrealistic — May is now only 23 days away. June 1 might be a better choice, with regular-season games then running through October and a postseason ending just before Thanksgiving.
As I wrote last week, the Phoenix area has at least 12 possible venues: Chase Field, the 10 spring training venues and Phoenix Municipal Stadium, a former spring venue which is now home to Arizona State University baseball. They could even possibly configure a baseball field at the area’s football stadium, State Farm Stadium, which could host multiple games a day because it has a roof.
If MLB wanted to go a bit farther afield, there are two former spring venues in Tucson: Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium, former spring home of the White Sox and D-backs, and Hi Corbett Field, former spring home of the Rockies, now home to University of Arizona baseball. Those are a two-hour bus ride from the Phoenix area.
Further, the AP article suggests that up to three games a day could be played at Chase Field. Theoretically, teams could play at 9 a.m., 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Arizona time, to allow for the differences in time zones, since one of the points of playing these games is to provide entertainment for people under stay-at-home orders. 14 MLB teams are located in the Eastern time zone, eight in Central time, one in Mountain and seven in the Pacific time zone (including the D-backs, who are essentially on the same time as the West Coast during the summer). So early games could be played in the morning for early-afternoon TV in Eastern time, and the late games for the West Coast.
Games at spring venues would have to be played at night, because it’s simply too hot to play during the day in the Phoenix area during the summer. Presuming such a revised regular-season schedule would stretch into October, by that month players could probably play outdoors during the day. The average high temperature in Phoenix on October 1 is 94 degrees, hot but not extraordinarily so. That average falls to 82 by the end of October. In fact, per Passan, this adjustment for hot weather has already been considered:
The plan could include teams carrying significantly expanded rosters to account for the possibility of players testing positive despite the isolation, as well as to counteract the heat in Phoenix, which could grow problematic during the summer, sources said.
In a setup like this, the schedule would have to be completely re-done from what exists on paper for the 2020 season, especially if seven-inning doubleheaders are considered, as noted in Passan’s article.
Of all people, superagent Scott Boras summed up why playing a season in this manner would be a good idea:
“It allows for immediacy of a schedule, where you might be able to begin it and televise it, provide Major League Baseball to America,” said Scott Boras, baseball’s most prominent agent. “I think players are willing to do what’s necessary because I think they understand the importance of baseball for their own livelihoods and for the interest of our country and providing a necessary product that gives all the people that are isolated enjoyment.”
“It gives them a sense of a return to some normalcy,” Boras added. “You talk to a psychologist about it and they say it’s really good for a culture to have sport and to have a focus like that, where for a few hours a day they can take their minds off the difficult reality of the virus.”
I mean... that makes a whole lot of sense, doesn’t it? It is going to be a while before it’s “business as usual” not just in the USA, but on the entire planet Earth. “Some normalcy,” as Boras put it, would be something that could unite people across this country and give some hope for everyone’s future. Granted, Boras has the motive of having his clients (and therefore himself) being paid, but his points are valid.
If the logistical challenges of putting something like this together can be overcome, I think it would be a great way of giving us some baseball in 2020. I should point out here that Craig Calcaterra at NBC Sports has posted an article this morning calling this idea “irresponsible” and “profoundly misguided.” I’m not sure I agree with Craig on all his points, but he does raise some important caveats.
Passan’s article concludes:
As consequential and potentially tricky as some of the challenges might be, sources said the league and union are motivated to make the plan work because they realize the alternative might be worse for both sides: no baseball at all in 2020.
UPDATE: Major League Baseball issued a statement on this topic this morning:
“MLB has been actively considering numerous contingency plans that would allow play to commence once the public health situation has improved to the point that it is safe to do so. While we have discussed the idea of staging games at one location as one potential option, we have not settled on that option or developed a detailed plan. While we continue to interact regularly with governmental and public health officials, we have not sought or received approval of any plan from federal, state and local officials, or the Players Association. The health and safety of our employees, players, fans and the public at large are paramount, and we are not ready at this time to endorse any particular format for staging games in light of the rapidly changing public health situation caused by the coronavirus.”
The 2020 MLB season should be played...
This poll is closed
As proposed, with all players in Arizona, using Chase Field and spring training venues without fans
At empty MLB stadiums throughout the USA and Canada
As normal, with fans in the stands
The season should be cancelled entirely
Something else (leave in comments)