It is no secret that the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has seriously disrupted the way in which normal life typically operates. Schools have been completely closed down, workplaces have had to lay people off because of lost revenue and large public gatherings have been outright banned in many places. In the world of sports, this level of disruption has been no different. The National Collegiate Athletic Association’s annual men and women’s basketball tournaments were canceled, a completely unprecedented circumstance. The Wimbledon tennis tournament did not occur for the first time since World War II. The world is definitely a strange place when sports aren’t happening- no sports on television and no sports talk. With the month of April just beginning, the world turns its attention to another sports league with a critical decision to make about its fast-approaching season: Major League Baseball.
At first glance, it is apparent that a traditional MLB season cannot be carried out in full form. Spring training practices and games had already been severely disrupted. Before a regular season could even begin, spring training would surely have to be extended to allow teams to have some preparation. The MLB season is long and grueling, and to jump right in with no prior warm-up would be ludicrous. When this period of spring training will begin is still very much up in the air. Most states within the United States, the hardest hit country by the coronavirus, with over 300,000 cases, have declared mandatory stay-at-home or social distancing orders. This would disallow games, even without fans, to be played in most states, in hopes of preventing the virus’ spread.
Then there is the issue of the season itself. Opening day was supposed to occur about two weeks ago, on March 26. Even if two or three weeks of spring training were to take place starting tomorrow, the season would already be taking off a month behind schedule. This presents a whole slew of problems for professional baseball’s 30 clubs across the country. For one, that is between 15 to 20 less games that each team would be playing. Some playoff races in years past have come down to just half a game on the final day, so a loss of even this small portion of the season could have a tremendous impact on the playoff picture come October. Logistical issues also present themselves with this loss of valuable time. Ownership of each club could lose revenue equal to the number of home games expected for the season. This could lead to future issues for the club, such as layoffs of club personnel and the halting of stadium renovations.
The MLB commissioner Rob Manfred and his associates have already been tirelessly discussing solutions to this complex and impending situation. One of the more popular solutions discussed would be to start the MLB season within the next couple of weeks at various spring training facilities in Florida and Arizona. These games would be played without spectators in attendance and would contribute to the income of both teams participating. The presented strategy would mean each organization, and the MLB as a whole, would take less of a hit financially, and the season would still have a large quantity of games in which playoff teams could fairly be decided. The situation is much harder to control despite how easy this plan sounds at first. The grouping of all 30 MLB clubs within a handful of cities could prove to be costly healthwise, as just one infection could spread like wildfire. Players, managers and other team personnel could become affected and put more people at risk. Then there is the travel and lodging arrangements to be made for each member during a national shutdown. The whole plan would be a logistical nightmare.
What do I think the MLB should do to solve these problems? I feel that the answer, although disappointing, is crystal clear: no baseball can be played right now. There are far too many risks to the safety of players and staff, and figuring out the logistics of this contained league would prove very difficult. As long as calls for social distancing remain in place, there can be no sports right now. I think that the MLB needs to stop wasting time trying to plan for the impossible and should focus on salvaging whatever they can later in the year. The season should be shortened, possibly to about 100 games, which still gives plenty of time to teams vying for playoff positions. Owners will still receive noticeable revenue hits, but they can begin to budget accordingly in order to maintain financial stability during the season’s 60 or so game hiatus. The MLB has long discussed expanding the playoffs to include more teams. Maybe the 2020 season is where they test this out, seeing as though the season will be cut short. This gives teams more of an opportunity to play, owners more of an opportunity to generate income and fans more of an opportunity to watch baseball.
The bottom line is that the season cannot continue as regularly scheduled. While a baseball fan (and huge Red Sox supporter) like myself wishes that the MLB could find a way to get games to us right this second, now is not a good time. The global situation we find ourselves in is so new and unknown that the focus should be on the safety of all people. Baseball, and all sports for that matter, are just going to have to wait a little while. Postpone the beginning of the season, wait until midsummer to assess the evolution of the situation and make a decision from there. At the end of the day, some things are just bigger than sports.