With a little under a month to go until the 2020 Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Star Game was set to be played at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, the first pitch of the regular season has yet to take place.
Historically, the All Star Game marks the midpoint of the MLB season. This year, it is likely that any All Star Game played will take place after the conclusion of the season. Assuming that there is a season.
The blame game for why the season has yet to commence is in full swing. Players blame owners. Owners blame players. Over the weekend the MLB Player’s Association, and the MLB owners halted negotiations on what a 2020 season would look like and tossed the ball over to the Commissioner’s Office to end the stalemate. It seems like the only thing both sides can agree in is that COVID-19 is to blame.
Speaking of COVID-19, on June 16, 2020, Florida and Arizona, the regular season home of the Rays, Marlins and Diamondback, as well as the home of all 30 spring-training facilities, reported their highest single-day total of positive tests for the virus. The Sunshine State of Florida counted nearly 2,800 positive cases. The Grand Canyon State of Arizona tallied in at 2,400 new positive cases.
In baseball terms, the launch angle for the COVID-19 spike in those states is headed for the upper decks and may clear the ballpark. Or, as Crash Davis, of Bull Durham fame, would say, “Man that ball got outta here in a hurry.”
In Texas, here at the gigaplex, we are also seeing daily increases in the number of positive COVID-19 cases, the number of hospitalizations, and the number of deaths.
Overall, 17 U.S. states reported weekly increases in the spread of COVID-19, as well as an increase in the percentage of people tested who are positive. If the virus was stable, the percentage of people who test positive would remain stagnant regardless of how many people were tested. Higher percentages of positives mean that more people are catching the virus, not that more people are getting tested.
But you don’t have to take my world for it, just follow the science.
The COVID-19 virus is real. It is deadly. It is not going away any time soon. And no, despite what some people try to say, the virus will not just magically disappear if we stop testing people for it. Social distancing and wearing masks are the only ways to control the spread until a vaccine is developed and widely distributed.
Still, with rising numbers from sea to shining sea, there are still rumblings that what the world needs right now is baseball. Unless baseball is code for a vaccine, or therapeutic treatment, for the COVID-19 virus, I am pretty sure the last thing the world needs right now is baseball.
As I have said many times, and in many ways, I miss baseball. I want baseball to return. I want to go see new Ballparks. I want to revisit old Ballparks. I want to eat hot dogs in the club level of Constellation Field next to a lime green mosquito mascot named Swatson.
So, when I say sit this season out to the MLB powers that be, I am not saying it as someone who could take or leave baseball. I am saying it as someone who loves baseball but also sees little value in a regular season lasting about as long as the postseason. Proceeding with baseball at this point will likely do more harm than good for the baseball brand.
The owners will say that baseball needs to happen this year in order for people to not forget about it. The owners will also say that they need a long postseason lasting deep into October so they can make money from the television rights.
But having a 50-60 game MLB regular season, and then going to the postseason, stains the spirit of the game worse than a steroid tainted home run record chase, or a trash can banging World Series run.
It is okay to sit this one out baseball. One of the worst things that can happen is to force a season to occur and then see a majority of the big-name players sit the season out in order to protect their health.
Why would a player risk their health from both the COVID-19 virus, or a freak injury, for an abbreviated season at prorated pay if they have the means to sit out four months and return to Spring Training in February of next year?
Still, the MLB powers that be seem determined to proceed regardless of the consequences, or the optics. Instead of following the herd and just being another sport to try and play, while hoping their star players do not get sick, MLB has a chance to be the sport that puts safety over profit if they choose.
When I was the Sports Information Director for a college, one of my main tasks was helping coaches and athletic department personnel craft statements and stay on message. I always told the people I was working with to consider the long-term impact of their words, and to not look at short term gratification. I also told them to make sure they knew the temperature of the room. If I was tasked with advising MLB during this current climate, I would suggest they release the following statement:
“We have the best fans in the world and we want more than anything to get back to work giving you our best effort on the field and off. COVID-19 gave us all a gut punch and forced the early termination of Spring Training. As much as we want to return to the game we love, the numbers of the virus infections just do not support us playing right now. Even with all of the safety precautions we have outlined, we cannot rule out members of the MLB family getting sick. It would be irresponsible for us to risk spreading the disease by traveling from city to city just to play games in empty ballparks without you our cherished fans there to cheer us on.
The short-term desire of playing baseball in 2020 cannot cloud our vision. The long-term health and safety of our players, trainers and other team employees is far more important to us than trying to rush things in order to try to squeeze in a season this year just to say we had a 2020 season. We will return when the science tells us it is safe to do so. Until then, take care of yourselves, and our players and staff will do the same. Stay home, stay safe. Wear a mask if you have to go out and about, and we will see you next year if it is safe to do so.”
I would then include a link on the press release to the official team masks of MLB which allow fans to show their team spirit, and keep their spit from going airborne.
Sadly, now that other professional sports have returned to action, it is likely adding to the pressure of the MLB to make this season work. Unfortunately, I think the desire to “play ball” will overcome the rationale to try again next year.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I feel the need to lollygag over to the kitchen and make a Ballpark inspired snack.
Copyright 2020 R. Anderson