Major League Baseball has played nearly its entire 60-game season; that will conclude Sunday and an expanded postseason tournament begins next week.
There have been a few disruptions to the schedule due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, but in general teams and players have been pretty good at keeping to the COVID-19 protocols, and no fans have been permitted in the 30 MLB parks this year.
Last week, MLB announced that while first-round wild card series would take place at teams’ home parks, the rest of the postseason would occur in a “bubble” scenario, using ballparks in Los Angeles, San Diego, Houston and Arlington, Texas. Players on postseason contenders are already quarantining and under certain conditions, can have some family members join them in the postseason bubble.
Now, Commissioner Rob Manfred wants to add some fans to some postseason games:
“We are pressing ahead to have fans in Texas,’’ said Manfred, with a ticket sales announcement expected soon. “One of the most important things to our game is the presence of fans. Starting down the path of having fans in stadiums, and in a safe and risk-free environment, is very, very important to our game.’’
I cannot stress enough how bad an idea this is. MLB’s doing everything it can to keep players and staff and media and broadcasters safe this year — and now thousands of fans are going to be added to the mix? This puts everyone involved at risk, so that fans might attend a maximum of 14 games (and possibly as few as eight). Not worth it, in my view.
Manfred didn’t say how many fans, but Dallas Cowboys games have had about 20 percent capacity at AT&T Stadium, which is next door to the new Rangers ballpark Globe Life Field, where under Manfred’s plan fans would be allowed for NLCS and World Series games. It should be noted that the other three playoff bubble parks — Petco Park, Dodger Stadium and Minute Maid Park — won’t have fans.
Zachary Binney, an epidemiologist at Emory University, said it is almost certain that a crowd of thousands would include someone infected with the novel coronavirus, given that health screenings and temperature checks likely would not detect asymptomatic carriers.
“We still don’t have rigorous enough testing and contact tracing to be confident we’re catching every outbreak that actually happens at a stadium,” Binney said.
“I don’t think I’ll be convinced by October this is a safe thing to do, or that the risks are outweighed by the benefits. Is the revenue really going to make a difference to baseball?”
Binney is right. The NLCS is scheduled to begin October 12. That’s less than three weeks from now. Can we be assured that there won’t be more outbreaks of COVID-19 by then in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area (or elsewhere, if fans travel from other places)? I’d say no. Further, a plan to allow fans to return to sports events in the UK has had to be scrapped for now:
A pilot program to allow up to 1,000 fans to attend sporting events in September, with the intention of opening sports Oct. 1, was placed under review early last month. The country’s alert level has been moved from 3 to 4, which calls transmission of the virus “high or rising exponentially.”
“We were looking at a staged program of more people returning — it wasn’t going to be the case that we were going to have stadiums thronged with fans,” Michael Gove, the cabinet office minister, told “BBC Breakfast” on Tuesday. “We’re looking at how we can, for the moment, pause that program, but what we do want to do is to make sure that, as and when circumstances allow, get more people back. The virus is less likely to spread outdoors than indoors, but again it’s in the nature of major sporting events that there’s a lot of mingling.”
I understand where Manfred is coming from. MLB has lost a ton of revenue this year with no fans. It would be exciting for fans and players to have some people at the NLCS and World Series this year, not to mention bringing in more money to the sport.
But the risks are too great, especially when we’re talking about a stadium with a roof. In past years, MLB has ordered roofs closed for postseason games at indoor stadiums even when the outside weather conditions are favorable and I don’t see them changing that policy this year. That increases the risk of virus transmission, as it can be much worse indoors than outdoors.
Having fans at sporting events in the USA in 2020 is a bad idea. I’m aware that some NFL and college teams are doing this now, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe nor does it mean we won’t see virus outbreaks from those gatherings going forward.
My advice to Rob Manfred regarding fans at baseball games is the same as the mantra stated so many times over the decades by Cubs fans until 2016: “Wait till next year.”
Fans at the 2020 NLCS and World Series...
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