As I noted here Tuesday, discussions between MLB and the MLBPA regarding delaying the 2021 season have ceased and (at least for now) the season will begin as previously scheduled, with players reporting to spring camps in about two weeks, Spring Training games in about four weeks, and the regular season commencing April 1. (April Fool’s Day. Significant?)
I continue to believe that a delay would be helpful for several reasons. The most significant of those are:
- More people could be vaccinated against COVID-19
- More fans could be in ballparks with a later start
In this long article at The Athletic, Ken Rosenthal writes that both owners and players bear some blame for this impasse (technically, it’s not an impasse, as that would apply primarily to actual contract negotiations). I don’t necessarily agree with that; in my view, owners are more to blame for putting out an offer that they claimed benefitted players, when it really didn’t.
But this part of his article caught my eye:
An agent painted this scenario:
“Players get to spring training. They go to the market to stock the refrigerator of their rentals. They go out to dinner, some go out to bars, some go to the mall, some to other things. Cumulatively that will exponentially increase the odds of some player getting (COVID-19) and transmitting it.
“How long before a camp is closed? How long before games are canceled? How long before spring training is delayed? What happens if it then drags into the season? More importantly, what happens if someone becomes seriously ill? How is any of those things defensible if it was all avoidable?”
In its statement announcing the season would start on time, MLB said:
In light of the MLBPA’s rejection of our proposal, and their refusal to counter our revised offer this afternoon, we are moving forward and instructing our Clubs to report for an on-time start to Spring Training and the Championship Season, subject to reaching an agreement on health and safety protocols.
Presumably, those health and safety protocols would include provisions stating that players can’t go out to dinner or to bars or the mall... but how are teams going to enforce those? We know that some players didn’t hold to the protocols during the 60-game season, and that was with players on 28-man rosters. Now teams will have around twice that many players in spring camps. There are going to be some who won’t keep to the protocols.
The quote from the agent in Rosenthal’s article is the worst-case scenario, obviously. But delaying the start of everything by a month, when caseloads are supposed to be smaller and more people will be vaccinated, would have been a good idea.
In the Tribune, Paul Sullivan echoed the delay sentiment:
Baseball will start on time, and we’ll probably go through the same drill as in 2020, with sporadic outbreaks causing postponements and empty ballparks with fake crowd noise piped in until cities and states ease their COVID-19 restrictions.
Common sense says putting the game on hold for a few weeks or so is the right call. But baseball and common sense seldom are mentioned in the same sentence.
It’s almost certain, for example, that there won’t be fans in the two Chicago ballparks if the season opens on time April 1. This could apply in some other MLB locations, including New York and the five parks in California.
Sullivan isn’t wrong about baseball and common sense. There’s still time for MLB and the MLBPA to sit down, talk openly and honestly about the issues involved, and make a deal to delay things for a month. I hope they do so before they do start on time and then have to shut down.